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16th February

First Published in The New York Sun, February 16, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

The president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrion Jr., gave his state of the borough speech at Hostos Community College last Friday. He had a difficult job. It could be argued that things in the Bronx are better — at least better than they were in 1977 when Howard Cosell famously told the nation, “The Bronx is Burning.” But things in the borough are not good now and Mr. Carrion’s prescriptions hold little promise for a better future.

In 1977, when the city was bankrupt and crime was on the rise, the situation in the Bronx was just an extreme version of the rot afflicting the entire city. But New York City has bounced back. Mayor Koch provided inspired leadership that helped restore confidence and civic pride. Recent federal tax policies may have helped the city’s economy rebound, as did welfare reform a decade ago. Perhaps nothing was more significant to the city’s renaissance than the successful war on crime waged by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. The city coffers are now awash in cash. Even the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, failed to stop the momentum of the rebounding city. But the good times seem to have passed by the Bronx.

Mr. Carrion spoke of the importance of the beginning of construction of the new Yankee Stadium, tangible proof that the team will stay. But the die was cast on the Yankee project by the conclusion of the Giuliani years, before Mr. Carrion took office. As the city’s crime rate plummeted, Yankee attendance skyrocketed, exceeding 4 million a year. Not even dramatically increased admission prices could dampen the enthusiasm of fans to watch baseball in the Bronx.

In his speech, Mr. Carrion alluded, with some degree of pride, to the “community benefits agreement” between the team and the borough’s public officials, a sort of legal shakedown, negotiated by a politically connected attorney representing both the Yankees and local politicos. This extra cost of doing business in the Bronx may have been something that the Yankees were willing to absorb, but sends the wrong message to the kinds of businesses that the borough desperately needs to attract.

Mr. Carrion boasted 10,000 new “private sector” jobs created under his watch. But many of these jobs are with the private contractors working on publicly funded projects such as the huge Croton Water Filtration Plant. Not exactly a triumph for the free enterprise system.

Although Mr. Carrion has been generally supportive of big box retailers coming to the Bronx, he was silent on the topic last Friday.

Another claim made by Mr. Carrion is that the unemployment rate in the Bronx has declined by 50% to 5.4% from 11.3%. The conventional way unemployment rates are calculated, however, gives an overly rosy picture. Persons who never worked, and there are tens of thousands in the borough, are not counted, nor are those who once worked, but haven’t had jobs recently.

A better measure is the mania that occurs on the rare instance when a significant new employer arrives on the scene. When a new Home Depot opened and was flooded with 14,000 applicants for 400 positions. Even the opening of a small local supermarket can draw over a thousand applicants.

Mr. Carrion reported that 800 new office buildings have opened here in the past five years. If so, these must be the smallest and least visible anywhere. I certainly haven’t noticed such a dramatic development. Such a huge boom would be difficult to hide and certainly would generate a huge number of jobs.

The truth is, the Bronx economy is nowhere. After reciting the long list of public works projects initiated by others, the new schools, the renovated subway stations, the highway projects, and then a long plea for more government intervention and cash to solve every conceivable social ill, we come to Mr. Carrion’s vision for the Bronx of the future — tourism.

Mr. Carrion proposes a “Hip-Hop Museum,” to be constructed “where West 149th Street meets the Bronx River,” in the heart of the South Bronx. This must have come as a disappointment to City Council Member Larry Seabrook, who plans an identical project in his Northeast Bronx district. Mr. Seabrook has an even clearer vision, having secured an appropriation of $1.5 million to get the ball rolling, money that was earmarked to a community group he controls.

After it was noted in these pages that this organization was cited by the state comptroller’s office for magically making other public funds, obtained by Mr. Seabrook for a never-built youth center a decade ago, disappear, Mayor Bloomberg pulled the plug on Mr. Seabrook’s project.

This bit of loose change lying on the table apparently inspired Mr. Carrion, who notes, “Cleveland has the Museum of Rock ‘n Roll, The Bronx will have the Museum of Hip Hop … why not?”

Mr. Carrion, who is term limited as Bronx president, fancies himself as Gotham’s next mayor and is raising huge sums of campaign cash. To my mind, for him to earn serious consideration for a promotion, he’ll have to do better in his current job.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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