First Published in The New York Sun, June 27, 2006
By Andrew Wolf
Bronx Community Board 4 has in recent days become among the best known of the city’s 62 community boards. This is the board that voted against the plan to build the new Yankee Stadium. These boards only have advisory power. But having the weight of these “official” representatives of the local neighborhoods behind a project can influence the higher officials who really make the decisions.
Tonight, at Bronx Lebanon Hospital on the Grand Concourse, the board will hold its final meeting before old terms expire and new ones begin. Fireworks are expected. The board that will be in place next week will look quite different from the one that will meet tonight. Members of the board who ignored the wishes of the Bronx president, Adolfo Carrion, have been removed, and new, presumably more pliable members will take their place.
It is the Yankee Stadium matter that has proven to be the undoing of the current board. All of those who voted against the plan and whose terms expire failed to win reappointment. Even the chair of the board, Ade Rasul, who actually voted for the Carrion-backed Stadium plan, was removed. It is said that Mr. Carrion was displeased that he couldn’t keep the other members in line. Since the boards’ powers are so limited, there is little precedent in the Bronx for such an approach. Usually board members who show up on a regular basis are retained without question.
The controversy over the board appointments has begun to seep from the immediate area into the citywide press. This is because Mr. Carrion is viewed as a potential candidate for higher office, perhaps even mayor.This has become the first widely publicized glimpse at Mr. Carrion in action.
To many of us in the Bronx, the idea of Mr. Carrion taking over City Hall is ludicrous. But Mr. Carrion has assumed the mantle of the city’s leading Hispanic politico from his predecessor in borough hall, Fernando Ferrer. Yet while Mr. Ferrer was tolerant of opposing positions taken by his community board appointees, Mr. Carrion is not.
Each community board can have up to 50 members. Members serve for two years, with half of the board appointed or reappointed each year. All of the appointments are made by the borough president, although half are chosen from among nominees of City Council members. In most districts, the full complement of 50 is appointed. But in some neighborhoods, such as the area served by Community Board 4, finding people to serve in what is usually a thankless, often boring position for no pay is nearly impossible.
Mr. Carrion’s “Memorial Day Massacre”has drawn additional criticism because Board 4 is down to only 39 members. Mr. Carrion could have added all of the new appointees without removing a single incumbent. Some of the axed members have served for decades.
Mr. Carrion has done this before. In 2002, he refused to reappoint Mary Lauro to Community Board 12 in the northeast Bronx. Ms. Lauro had blown the whistle on an episode in Mr. Carrion’s career that continues to haunt him. In 2000, while Mr. Ferrer was still borough president, a rezoning plan for the Board 12 area was proposed by Mayor Giuliani, designed to limit the possibility of more “hot sheet motels” from being constructed. At the time there were 18 such establishments, viewed as hotbeds of prostitution and other crimes, within the area served by the board.
A small number of property owners, eager to keep the option to develop their properties for these motels open, hired an attorney named Linda Baldwin, then a law partner of Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez. Ms. Baldwin convinced the community board to narrowly reject the Giuliani plan to thwart the motels.It was Ms.Lauro who disclosed that Ms. Baldwin was also Mrs. Adolfo Carrion. Mr. Carrion, then a city council member, had received a $2,000 contribution from one of the property owners, Oscar Porcelli.
In Riverdale, Mr. Carrion packed the board with supporters and then contrived to have his campaign treasurer, Anthony Perez Cassino, made chairman. Mr. Cassino resigned his campaign post, but he remains board chairman.The perception grew that the road to approval of land use projects becomes smoother when the way is greased with campaign cash.
This kind of inside baseball rarely sees the light of day, particularly in a borough in which the district attorney has shown no inclination of investigating any Democratic machine loyalist. But the harsh light of a mayoral campaign is different. That is why there will be close attention paid to this final meeting of Community Board 4 tonight.
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