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16th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 16, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

The state of the Bronx is, well, awful. This is nothing new, of course. Those of us who were born here, grew up here, and still live here are used to bad news.We’ve had it for the better part of the last half-century. And the bad news is likely to continue since there is a near total absence of creative leadership, the missing ingredient in what could otherwise be a successful renaissance.

The Bronx was once known as the Borough of Universities, a clever marketing ploy by the borough’s former, longtime president, James J. Lyons. A leather salesman by trade, Lyons made his mark in the private sector by coming up with the idea of wing-tipped shoes, selling damaged leather filled with pinholes that was glued to the shoe’s front. 
Lyons was a Bronx booster in the “Babbitt” mold, a creature of his times, an era when private enterprise was once celebrated here, much as it is ignored today.The Major Deegan of much-cursed expressway fame was not a war hero who died in action but the head of the Chamber of Commerce who succumbed in a Bronx hospital bed after a failed tonsillectomy.
Business continues to flee the borough. There are now fewer than 10,000 manufacturing jobs here. This past year saw the departure of one of the most visible Bronx businesses, the Everlast Company, makers of boxing equipment, which left for Moberly,Mo. The firm’s chief executive officer. George Horowitz, projects savings of $2.8 million. That’s bad news for the 100 employees, mostly immigrants living in the surrounding neighborhoods.
There has been growth in one sector. According to a study done by Lehman College, more than 30% of Bronx households are headed by single women. This is almost unique, a distinction shared by just one other county in America, Holmes County, Miss., and by three Indian reservations in South Dakota.
We’re not talking about well-to-do women on the East Side of Manhattan trying to do an end-run around their biological clock. We’re talking about generation after generation in the same family perpetuating a cycle of poverty and failure. What’s worse is that perhaps 80% of the live births in the Bronx are to women in this predicament.
Some children will manage to do just fine and rise above their modest backgrounds, but for the vast majority, statistics tell us that trouble lies ahead.
So is it any wonder that on the list of the “dirty dozen” most dangerous schools announced by Mayor Bloomberg last week, five are in the Bronx. This includes two junior highs, the only middle schools so “honored” in the city.
The problems created by these troubling demographics are also reflected in the fact that the Bronx is the state capital of Schools Under Registration Review, the most troubled of all in the system. At the Bronx High School of Science, only a tiny minority of the 2,500 students enrolled actually come from the Bronx. The school is now being supervised by a regional superintendent with a long history of antagonism toward the gifted-and-talented ethic on which the school was built. Tweed says no problem, but parents and alumni are nervous. However, there are a few bright spots.
Two charter schools, the KIPP Academy and the Bronx Preparatory Charter School, are winning kudos for their rigorous programs. The Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in Riverdale, a highly regarded Jewish day school, has been the engine that has made Riverdal a key center of Orthodox Jewish life in the city. This has spurred the school’s expansion, as an impressive new high school is rising in North Riverdale, due to open in September.
On the public school side, the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy will graduate its first high school class in June, but its growth has been hamstrung by the “progressive” policies of local educrats. On the other end of the Bronx, M.S. 101, the Maritime Academy, became the highest-scoring middle school not just in the Bronx but in the entire city. However, efforts by parents to expand this wildly successful school to include the high school grades has been quashed by regional superintendent Laura Rodriguez and the educrats at Tweed. Meanwhile, proposals for small high schools from left-wing activist groups such as Acorn are winning approval.
What can fix the Bronx? Leadership. And what is the state of leadership in the Bronx? Well, it’s all relative.
You see, the 25-year-old majority leader of the City Council, Joel Rivera, is the son of Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic leader. Council member Jose M. Serrano is the son of Rep. Jose Serrano. Yet another Bronx City Council member, Helen Diane Foster, “inherited” her seat from her father, the Reverend Wendell Foster, who could not run for re-election due to term limits.
The Diaz family reversed the process. Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. was elected to his post before his father, the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., was elected to the City Council. After serving just a few months in the council, Mr. Diaz moved on to the State Senate, defeating the incumbent, Senator Pedro Espada Jr. Mr. Espada then ran for and won the council seat being vacated by Mr. Diaz. However, when the newly minted Council member Espada tried to pass his seat on to his son, Pedro G. Espada, he was unsuccessful, ending, at least temporarily, one Bronx “dynasty.”
Not surprisingly, none of this process has yielded the kind of leadership we will need to pull the borough out of its decline.
The president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrion Jr., related to no one but wholly a creature of former Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez, has been successful — at raising campaign funds, much of which has gone right back to his mentor, Mr. Ramirez, as “consulting fees.” So weak is the borough’s ability to attract new business under Mr. Carrion, he was recently reduced to cutting the ceremonial ribbon at the opening of a Mailboxes Unlimited store in Parkchester.
Unfortunately, until there is the kind of leadership that can take this adversity and work it to our advantage in the form of growth and development, the state of the Bronx will continue to be a sorry state indeed.

© 2004 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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