As Vanessa Gibson prepares to take office as the borough’s leader next month, three Bronx “beeps”—Robert Abrams, Adolfo Carrión Jr. and current Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.— sat down to discuss the role of the office, their most memorable moments and advice for their successor.
At the start of the 2022, The Bronx will have a new borough president: Vanessa Gibson, a City Councilmember who won the crowded primary election in June, will be sworn in. She’ll be the first new Bronx borough president to take office in more than a decade, and the first woman and Black New Yorker to hold the post.
The Bronx is home to nearly 1.5 million residents. Like the rest of the city, it faces a slew of challenges as it continues to endure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: The borough has the highest coronavirus death rate in the city, and the unemployment rate in The Bronx was 11.2 percent in November, higher than any other county in the state.
What should Gibson focus on first when she takes the borough’s helm in January, and how should she approach her upcoming tenure? Her predecessors have some advice. On Monday night, BronxTalk—a weekly news show on public access channel Bronxnet—invited three Bronx “beeps” to share their thoughts on the role of the office, their most memorable accomplishments and what they learned from the post.
Robert Abrams, Adolfo Carrión Jr. and current Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. took part in the interview, conducted by BronxTalk host Gary Axelbank (Fernando Ferrer, who served as BP from 1987 to 2001, was also invited but was unable to take part).
“The best job in the world is to be the borough president of The Bronx,” said Carrión, the borough’s 12th BP, who served from 2002 to 2009. “You have everything. It’s the borough of universities, and parks—hidden treasures that no one knows about.”
While borough presidents lack direct control over city agencies, the office holds a unique bully-pulpit position, with an advisory voice in land use decisions, the ability to appoint community board members and introduce legislation via partnerships with city councilmembers. The office also oversees a modest capital budget, allocating some $35 million in discretionary funds in the most recent fiscal year.
“The borough president’s office has been denuded over decades,” said Abrams, the 9th Bronx BP who held the post from 1970 to 1978. Back then, borough presidents served on the city’s Board of Estimates alongside the mayor, comptroller and City Council president, giving them a direct role in approving city contracts, budgets and land use proposals. The board was abolished in 1990.
“Now the borough president is more of that spokesperson for the borough,” Abrams said.
“It is like making sausage,” Carrion added. “You’re like the chief sausage maker as borough president, because you’re really rallying people around an agenda.”
Abrams said his biggest accomplishments during his tenure included the founding of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, building the new Lincoln Hospital and keeping the Yankees in the borough (“I didn’t want my legacy to be in the guy who’s going to be the borough president when the Yankees leave The Bronx,” he quipped. It wasn’t the last time the team would threaten to move).
“Whenever the Yankees are in season, you need to be up to date with their statistics,” Diaz Jr., the 13th and current Bronx borough president, offered when asked what advice he’d dispense to Gibson.
He’s held the office since 2009, and pointed to his advocacy around a number of development projects to raise the borough’s profile during that time, including the push to get four new MetroNorth stations built and securing the borough as home of the incoming Hip Hop Museum.
“You’re the one managing the team and making sure that it all comes together,” Diaz added of the BP role. “Be a good listener. Make sure you have the support of all The Bronx electeds—they’ll make you that much more formidable.”
You can watch the full conversation below, or tune into watch on BX OMNI channel 67 Optimum/2133 FiOS in the Bronx, or online at bronxnet.tv on the following days and times: Wednesday at 3:30 and 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 9:30 a.m., 3:30 and 9 p.m., Friday at 3:30 and 9 p.m., Sunday at 11 a.m. and Monday at 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
You can also tune in to hear from incoming BP Gibson herself in the latest episode of Bronxnet’s In the District, where she speaks with host Kibin Alleyne about her vision for the borough.