Mott Haven Up For Grabs in Mayor's Race

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Vicente Mino, a regular at Camaguey, says a business background is appealing in a mayoral candidate. But he's had enough of the current businessman mayor.

Photo by: Matthew Perlman

Vicente Mino, a regular at Camaguey, says a business background is appealing in a mayoral candidate. But he's had enough of the current businessman mayor.

This article is an installment in The Five Borough Ballot, a collaboration between City Limits, City & State and WNET's MetroFocus. In each edition of the print and video series, we return to a location in each of the five boroughs to ask real New Yorkers their take on the 2013 election as it unfolds. For a complete overview of the series, go here

On a sunny Saturday in April, Gloria Cruz walked passed St. Mary's Park in Mott Haven, on her way to Camaguey Restaurant. Kids were playing outside. Mothers went by pushing strollers.

Cruz was talking about gun legislation and the recent debate in Washington.

“It's a national issue now,” she said. “But it's been a problem here for a long time.”

A stray bullet killed her niece in 2005, only blocks away. The next year Cruz began helping organize the Bronx chapter of the Million Mom March, an event that honors those lost to gun violence and raises awareness about the issue.

Inside Camaguey Restaurant on 138th Street, sitting in a booth along the mirrored wall, Cruz talked about recent setbacks to national gun control, and the frustration it made her feel. “I spent the whole afternoon talking to crying mothers.”

Closer to home, Cruz feels Mayor Bloomberg is doing a better job. “He's addressing the needs he needs to address,” she said. “He wants to make the city he loves better, safer and viable.”

She doesn't know which candidate she'll support in the upcoming mayoral election. She doesn't know them well enough yet.

“I haven't heard their visions for the future.” She says that's because the candidates haven't come to her community. “We're the bottom of the barrel,” she said. “If they want to know what's going on in the community, they have to be here.”

Whoever gets elected, there are a few things she hopes they know a lot about: education, business and city planning.

“Or they should surround themselves with the right people,” something she said Bloomberg has done well. Cruz also appreciates the mayor's pragmatism, citing his Young Men's Initiative, a private-public partnership that connects black and Latino young men to educational, employment and mentoring programs. Cruz sees it as an example of the mayor perceiving a need and finding the money to get it fixed.

“I'm hoping the next mayor is just as proactive,” she said.

On a different day in Camaguey, the television played a soap opera as customers ordered plates of yellow rice with roasted chicken or bowls of savory orange stew. Bernard Aguero, an electrician from Woodside, finished his lunch and fiddled with his cell phone.

“My ideal mayor would fix the education system,” he said.

Aguero's daughter is hearing impaired and he sends her to a private school so she can receive the attention of a specialized program. “The public standards are so low,” he said about special education in the city. “I understand that my kid is my responsibility, but if the city could help,” he said, trailing off and shaking his head. “I hope it changes.”

For Aguero, the problems with city schools are related to a wider sense that Bloomberg's New York City caters to the upper crust—a common refrain in Mott Haven. “He's helping the high class of New York, but he's doing nothing in the boroughs.”

The music in Camaguey in the late afternoons fades in and out like the stream of regular customers. And it alternates between salsa and pop songs. A familiar fixture on one of the counter stools is Vicente Mino, 68, a retired mechanic who lives in an apartment above the restaurant.

During a lull, he talked about the possibility of former Congressman Anthony Weiner entering the mayor's race. “These guys always make mistakes,” he said. “They're never going to change.”

“That's it.”

Mino acknowledges that a business background is good preparation for a mayor. “They know how to run a company, so they know how to run a city.” But, he adds, he has had enough of Bloomberg. “What is he? A dictator?”

Mino moved from Ecuador about 40 years ago, and has lived in Mott Haven for three decades. He says the neighborhood used to look like World War II. It's gotten better, he says, but problems persist.

“Number one,” counting on his hand, “has to be the drugs. It keeps young people on the streets.”

He has yet to choose a candidate for the election, and also said it seems like the campaigns are all focusing on Manhattan. “None of them come here to see what's going on.”

Later in the evening, as the music in Camaguey grew louder and more consistently salsa, Angel Ortiz, 53, sat at the counter making small talk. The television played a movie, but the volume was either turned off or completely drowned out.

The bad thing about picking somebody to make decisions for you, he said, a smile breaking across his face, “is they aren't you.” But to make the process better, he said, the candidates should talk to all the communities they want to represent.

“Politicians are the ones who create the environment that people live in, and people need to know about the decisions being made for them.”

Ortiz doesn't have many specific requirements for the next mayor, he just hopes they'll try to understand the needs of all New Yorkers, not just people like themselves. “A good mayor will recognize his shortcomings, and invite people into his cabinet that reflect the poorer communities.”

“We're all in this together,” he said.