Saturday, February 18, 2006

2/17/6, the Sun: "The State of the Bronx"

The State Of the Bronx

February 17, 2006

When it happened, I'm not really sure, but most borough presidents, relatively powerless under the current city charter, deliver an annual "State of the Borough" speech. Although there has been precious little good news to report, the Bronx is certainly no exception to this practice.

During Fernando Ferrer's long occupancy of borough hall, this speech began to take on imperial trappings, aping the president's annual speech before Congress. This, of course was a bully pulpit for a candidate who spent the final eight years of his tenure running for mayor (before taking his quest private, courtesy of term limits, on January 1, 2002).

It is humorous to watch the pomp and circumstance at these events. During the borough president's speech, one can follow along through the obligatory simultaneous translation into sign language.

But sometimes these ceremonial events deteriorate into reflections on the dark side of ethnic politics.

One public official, Miguel Martinez of Washington Heights, held a gala "swearing in" ceremony last month to mark the beginning of his second term in the City Council. At this carefully scripted event, Mr. Martinez gave the national anthem of the Dominican Republic equal play with the Star Spangled Banner. While it is true that there are a lot of natives of the Dominican Republic living in this carefully gerrymandered district, Mr. Martinez misses the point. Certainly, in a district of more than 150,000 people, there are natives of many other lands, folks who didn't get to hear their ancestral national song. These public events should reflect the unifying American values that brought people here in the first place, and not single out one particular group.

The current president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrion Jr., delivered his 2006 State of the Borough speech a couple of weeks back, and omitted the Puerto Rican anthem. In Mr. Carrion's Bronx, in any events, things are just peachy keen. "The borough has prospered and rebuilt itself," he announced. Unemployment, according to Mr. Carrion, is down 41%.

The truth is we have no idea how high or low the unemployment rate in the Bronx really is. But the number can't be good. To be unemployed, you had to have been employed in the first place. Thousands enter the job market each year, but many, perhaps most, simply don't find jobs. The number of available jobs, particularly in the private sector, has been shrinking. Moreover, as industry has left the borough, many of those who become unemployed drop off the statistical radar screen after they stop receiving benefits.

It could be that official unemployment figures are down because fewer become unemployed as there are fewer industrial jobs left to lose.

The only area of growth in the Bronx economy has been in the public and quasi-public sectors, particularly in the health care industry. But even this has slowed down. Recently, it was announced that Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center, once the flagship of the health care industry sponsored by the Catholic Church, will be absorbed into the prestigious Montefiore Medical system, a well-known Jewish sponsored institution. The sum of the two will result surely lead to cost savings derived by downsizing.

How bad is the Bronx economy? There still is no truly functioning and representative Chamber of Commerce, nor is there a single real hotel in this borough of one-and-a-half million souls (unless you are planning an extremely short stay).

Mr. Carrion points with pride at the planned shopping center that is slated to be built on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market, not far from Yankee Stadium. But of course, he had nothing to do with this project, which is a Bloomberg administration initiative. What Mr. Carrion likes best about this plan is the "community benefits agreement" he helped negotiate, a sort of extortion scheme that links permission to build with concessions that the local politicians can dispense to their supporters, a new form of patronage coerced from the private sector.

The imminent start of construction on a new Yankee Stadium is a good thing. The departure of the Yankees would have been the coup de grace of any hope of reviving the Bronx economy. But Mr. Carrion, like his predecessor Mr. Ferrer, is desperately overreaching in trying to make this positive development more than what it is. One of Mr. Carrion's initiatives is to create a "sports career high school" as part of the stadium complex. In this he has a willing partner with the Bloomberg administration.

Few ask what jobs there are in sports that one could prepare for in such a school and what these jobs pay. Front office jobs are few and pay little. There is no shortage of eager young people willing to work for peanuts in order to bask in the glow of Derek Jeter. Complicating matters is that the baseball end of the Yankees business is being run out of Tampa, Fla., jobs lost to the Bronx during the administration of Mr. Ferrer.

The Bronx yearns for a borough president with vision and energy who can be a sparkplug for private development with no strings attached.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger Save Our Parks! said...

And we donĀ“t have a problem with a new stadium (or, even better, a renovated one!) as long as it is SOUTH of 161st Street!

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous MIB said...

If a "sports high school" is to prepare students for jobs in sports, wouldn't a public park--where the next generation of baseball players can cut their teeth--meet that need more than a glorified gym glass? Considering the community's educational needs, would a "sports high school" meet those needs? Probably about as well as a new stadium would meet the community's economic needs.


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