José Rivera the 72 year old powerhouse of the Bronx Democratic Organization for over seven years as Bronx party Boss is no more the grand “cacique” as other restless Bronx chiefs and their “Rainbow” faction have won a court battle to unseat Rivera and make Assemblyman, Carl Heastie the new Party Boss.
The Bronx Party organization has now gone full circle from Italian, Irish, Jewish, Puerto Rican to now African-American. This was due to a faction of Bronx elected officials that were made up of African-American, Latino and Jewish leaders who had lost their loyalty to Rivera and challenged his leadership due to many concerns stemming from lack of leadership to family patronage.
Rivera had lost several of the last local elections, but was still trying to keep control of the party at the raucous Democratic Party meeting that took place among Bronx elected officials and required two rounds of vote to have each faction claiming a victory. Apparently the courts ruled and agreed that the Rainbow faction with Assemblyman Heastie was the new party chair.
Rivera was party boss during some of the biggest construction projects in the Bronx and many felt that the community was shortchanged as a result of his lack of leadership. One project, the New Yankee Stadium has still left many in the community with bad feelings. Besides the issue of the parks that were taken to build the stadium and the process that many felt was not “democratic’ the major concern was and still remains that the Yankees did not live up to their part of the agreement of providing 25% employment and 25% of construction contracts to the local community.
Rivera’s was either blind sighted, or just plain ignorant when he allowed the then Bronx county attorney, Stanley Schlein (rhymes with?) to negotiate the “community agreement” with the Yankees. Many who have read the agreement believe that the agreement had loopholes to allow the union’s to only hire “union”, thereby keeping the community off the site. Unions has historically kept African-American and Latinos out of their ranks, thus it was no surprise to know that the only workers on the Yankee stadium construction were going to be overwhelmingly Anglo and union. This meant that the 25% was just as the contract stated, “a good faith effort.” Many felt that Rivera and Bronx Borough President, Adolfo Carrión were bamboozled by the Yankees.
What’s really telling is that soon after the Public Hearings were over and the Yankees’ began construction Mr. Schlein broke off with Mr. Rivera and immediately began to work as a “Yankee Consultant.” Convenient, or planned, Rivera was played and the community had been shortchanged.
Rivera also fumbled on several other projects where the Bronx continued to be the dumping ground for city shelters, incinerators, sewage plants and anything else that the other boroughs did not want. It would not be fair to blame José Rivera for all those projects. Bronx Borough President, Adolfo Carrión and every elected official must also be held responsible for what this borough has gone through. Where were the voices speaking up for the community?
The fact that Rivera was becoming too comfortable and arrogant by appointing his family and Puerto Rican’s that were not really qualified for key positions was not helping his cause. His son Councilman Joel Rivera, is majority whip, but is known more for his personal family escapades than he is for any leadership, or community development. His daughter an Assemblywoman is less visible from public “gossip,” but also is not a force in any issue.
The Bronx community, particularly the South Bronx has slowly been developing because it had hit ground zero and had no other way to go except up. However, a strong, committed and honest leadership could have helped expedite much of the economic empowerment and development that the borough desperately needs and help empower its community, majority Latino. Many still ask how did the Bronx real estate market go from Jewish own, to almost total destruction and abandonment, back to Jewish and other Anglo owned? Meanwhile those that remained and suffered the most, majority Puerto Rican and African-American were skipped in the process of owning, or inheriting what was abandoned? Where was the Leadership going back to Borough President, Freddie Ferrer and the first Puerto Rican Party Chair, Roberto Ramirez.
The fact is that the Bronx is a Latino enclave, or as another known activist, Felipe Luciano used to say, a “Puerto Rican Mecca.” This Mecca is not going to change because of an African-American Bronx Democratic Party chair, so let’s not allow the divisive remarks to confuse the reality of the only Latino borough in the city, the “Condado De La Salsa.”
One day when we look back at the history of this borough we will have to wonder “what if’ José Rivera had not forgotten his street organizing? “What if” this once vocal and respected activist had not replaced a bullhorn for a video camera?
One day as our kids look at all the tourist entering the New Yankee Stadium to see a game that they can not afford to see, or try to get an apartment that they can not buy, José Rivera will have all the footage of what the South Bronx was and could have been. He will be watching it in a private showing with all the elected officials that served during this period and history will be the best judge.