In many Bronx council districts up for grabs in the coming primary, several candidates are vying for the win, even where those folks are running against experienced incumbents. Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito faces five challengers. Her Council colleague Andy King faces three. In the 15th and 16th Council districts, a total of 12 candidates are running for two open seats.
But in District 17 in the south Bronx, incumbent Maria del Carmen Arroyo is only facing one candidate—Julio Pabon. And while there aren’t any polls of likely voters in Bronx Council districts, it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Pabon won or came close. He had hundreds sign to get him on the ballot and contribute to his campaign.
Many neighborhoods make up the district, including Melrose, Mott Haven, Concourse Village, Longwood, Hunts Point, Soundview, Clason Point and Harding Park.
Coverage of the race has focused on many of the signatures Arroyo submitted to get on the ballot, coming from famous people like Yankees star Derek Jeter, model Kate Moss, and the late music legend Tito Puente—all non-Bronxites who clearly didn’t sign. Even regular residents named on the petition forms insist their signatures were forged, the Mott Haven Herald reported.
The Board of Elections invalidated more than 1,800 of the 3,800 signatures Arroyo filed, but that still left her well above the required 450, according to the Daily News. Pabon filed a lawsuit trying to get Arroyo tossed from the ballot, but courts have ruled in her favor and the race between the two is still on.
Arroyo acknowledges that things went very wrong, but insists it has nothing to do with her.
“No one is more disappointed and frustrated than I about what happened,” she said in an interview with Bronx Bureau. “If I had handled those petitions, we wouldn’t be here.”
Arroyo said that two of the three people involved had worked for her in the past. “I’m perplexed about why they did what they did,” she said, adding, “My expectation is that people responsible will be held accountable and experience justice.”
The petition story is not the only bad press Arroyo has received in recent years. As she geared up to run for Council in 2005 she changed from her married name, Maria Aguirre, back to her maiden name, which incorporates the name of her pioneering mother. Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo in 1994 became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state assembly in the U.S. But the mother-daughter relationship may not be as politically helpful now, after it emerged that the elder Arroyo claimed to have won close to $30,000 in 2012 by gambling, but failed to report it until after her taxes were due this year.
In 2010, Maria’s nephew and her mother’s grandson and former chief-of-staff, Ricardo Izquierdo Arroyo, was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after taking $115,000 from a nonprofit his grandmother started and supported with taxpayer money.
Neither the councilwoman nor her mother has ever been charged with wrongdoing.
Emphasizing district’s needs
Arroyo is hoping for a third and final term, available to her because the 2008 term-limits extension orchestrated by Mayor Bloomberg—while rolled back by a 2010 charter revision for all future officeholders—was grandfathered in for everyone already in city office.
In detailed interviews, the two candidates focus on clear but different issues.
The lack of school — and after-school — programs is a crisis, Pabon stresses.
“Our kids in this district are being shortchanged if they don’t have access to the Internet, don’t have access to technology, once again being ignored and not being prepared for the future,” he says, adding that the lack of those resources in schools is exacerbated by the dearth of after-school programs.
“If they don’t have after-school programs, they can’t be developing their minds,” he says, adding, “If you cut these programs,” he adds, “it’s all going to cost society something.”
Like many 60-year-old Bronxites who grew up here, Pabon agrees that the South Bronx looks much better than it did when fires destroyed building after building, especially in the 1970s.
“People today don’t see that and they think that the South Bronx is no longer poor,” he says. But Pabon makes a point of highlighting the area’s continuing economic struggles. “Some officials and workers have told me that I should stop saying that. I’m not going to stop saying we’re the poorest until we become not the poorest.”
On his campaign website, Pabon lists a 17-point plan , including several ideas for addressing youth jobs and income in general, such as expanding summer youth employment programs and raising the minimum wage.
Pabon raged about what he says is the MTA’s poor attention to central stations like East 149th Street, next to Hostos Community College, where there are no elevators or escalators available for people who can’t handle the steps. He wants action and is leading a petition drive.
In general, he believes that if Bronxites learn more about what community boards do, and what individual citizens can accomplish, that will create more community participants.
“I think that the more that people understand processes of government, that would help us as a whole,” he says. “The big problem is lack of organization [and getting] more people organized in our district. … An organized community is a very powerful community. A lack of organization makes us vulnerable to all of the things we’ve been suffering from.”
Pabon has a diverse work background. It has included occasional employment by various officials running for office — like Liz Holtzman running for comptroller and one of David Dinkins’ run for mayor; he was a co-founder of Latinos for Dinkins. He is also a co-founder of the first South Bronx bed and breakfast, called Mi Casa Tu Casa. He founded a sports media and marketing firm called Latino Sports, as well as Morivivi Language Services, another minority owned and operated company.
Unlike Pabon, Arroyo doesn’t list her priorities and long-range experience on a website, as she and her staffers fear hackers. She says another Council member she wouldn’t name (and Bronx Bureau was unable to find any coverage of) had their website hacked and now, “when you open the website, it immediately has you with an opponent’s website.”
But Arroyo, who lives on East 133rd Street close to the Triboro Bridge, just a few blocks from the 136th Street home her family moved to from Puerto Rico when she was 8, is happy to talk about work she’s proud of.
She stressed the problems faced by Villa Maria and West Farms homeowners whose properties were developed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development) in partnership with the New York Housing Partnership. The properties included improperly installed sewers close to homes, causing many problems, particularly affecting “older people having to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to repair work no one was paying attention to,” Arroyo said. Legislation she introduced, that passed in 2008, stresses that sewer lines must be beyond the “footprint” of the homes, Arroyo said.
Aside from laws passed renaming local streets, Arroyo has led passage of six pieces of legislation she sponsored. One, passed in July of this year, addressed tracking people entering and leaving “special medical needs shelters,” like those created to help people after a storm. Another, in 2010, created harsher penalties for those engaged in gang activity.
Arroyo chairs the Health Committee and sits on the Aging, General Welfare, Juvenile Justice, Public Housing, Land Use, and Sanitation and Solid Waste Management committees.
In 2008 she was one of 29 Council members who voted in favor of extending term limits to three terms from two; 22 opposed it.
She believes her eight years of experience will be critical to achieving improvements for her district in the Council over the next term.
“It takes four years just to figure out where the bathrooms are,” she said, pointing out that she’s joking, but stressing that experience is critical. “It takes time for an individual to figure out and learn how to manage and deal with processes in place to bring results to achieve changes in the community.”
An issue she stressed is that Council appropriations to NYCHA needed to be sufficient to actually get the desired work done. “We were not putting in enough money to get a project started,” she said. But this year she said the right amount was appropriated to get cameras in Mott Haven, Bronxchester and other city properties. “Now I know, without an appropriate level of funding, NYCHA can’t do anything with the money,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo leads in fundraising
Pabon has received $26,282 from 379 contributors
according to reports on the New York City Campaign Finance Board website, and Arroyo has taken in $90,926 from 491 supporters. The incumbent has received $1,000 or more from 25 contributors, while only four of Pabon’s supporters have provided that much.
A few of Arroyo’s biggest contributors are the health care union SEIU’s Committee on Public Education, which gave $2,750 in July; Rella Fogliano who donated the same amount in April but whose job was not listed; Elena Velazquez, a state court attorney who contributed $2,500; and Ricardo Oquendo, an attorney who gave the same amount.
Pabon received $1,000 checks—his biggest contributors—from Social Justice Political Action; Juan Rodriguez, president of Toli Management; the IBT Joint Council No. 16 PAC; and Dario Lopez of Latin Media Ventures.