Eight in Race to Replace Ousted Councilman in Dominican District 10

Friday, September 11, 2009

by Marianne McCune
They say all politics are local. But in the northern tip of Manhattan, that may be more so. The 10th Council District includes much of Washington Heights, Inwood, and the Marble Hill section of the Bronx. There are eight City Council candidates vying to replace former Councilmember Miguel Martinez, whose seat is open because pleaded guilty to misusing taxpayer dollars and resigned. Now, as WNYC’s Marianne McCune reports, voters are looking for a candidate they know and trust.

This is the Dominican district.

MC for Dominican band: (IN SPANISH) You guys want Dominican music?!

Its perimeter was purposefully shaped to elect the first Dominican City Council member in 1991. Yes, there are others here - Puerto Ricans, African Americans and a handful of white people who aren’t Hispanic. But if there’s a street fair on Dyckman Street – you can be sure the band will play Merengue.

So when Dominican-born City Councilmember Miguel Martinez pleaded guilty to stealing more than $100,000 of public money and resigned, leaving his seat empty -- many here took it personally. As if Martinez was a nephew and what he did reflected badly on the whole family.

Polanco: No me enojo …

It’s sad, says Martin Polanco, but I’m not angry because we all make mistakes. A woman on another corner invokes the Bible, saying we’re all just fishermen and that hopefully Martinez will repent. Others worry all Dominicans will drop in the world’s esteem. And over an animated game of dominoes, Ramon Echevarria shakes his head disapprovingly, saying the Dominican community has to make sure it’s not seen as a jungle.Echevarria watching dominoes and talking politics.

Echevarria watching dominoes and talking politics.

Ramon Echevarria: … una jungla. Somos una communidad de avances.

And so, among the candidates for City Council, many here are looking for someone they can trust. And in the seemingly small town that is this neighborhood, someone they can trust often means someone they know – personally.

At a picnic celebrating the candidacy of community board chairman and teacher Manny Velasquez, Ana Julia Coronado says she’s voting for him because, as Dean at her son’s school, Manny helped turn her son around.Chickens and bunnies on asphalt.

Chickens and bunnies on asphalt.

Ana Julia Coronado: Le dio disciplina …

Manny gave him a lot of discipline, she says. An African American voter on a bench nearby says Manny is trying to help her grand kids at their school, too.

Margaret Thomas: Everything’s in Spanish so the black people gotta wait and no one is helping us. But Manny has been talking with school district and principals over there.

Velazquez tells voters like Margaret Thomas that, as a teacher, he knows it’s hard to get what you need in this neighborhood. So he wants to create a community center.

Velazquez: Children could get educational services. Grandparents could get counseling or job training. And grandparents could get quality of life services. That would really unify the family and allow the family to come out and receive those services that are much needed.

Back on Dyckman, where the street fair is still going strong, Sabrina Cordero’s kids are looking at bunnies and chickens sharing a cage on the asphalt, while little kids get paraded around on tiny ponies. Cordero is voting for Ydanis Rodriguez – also a teacher. She’s seen him a bunch on TV, and --

Sabrina Cordero: He also goes to church.

Her church.

Cordero: And we see him in the community.

Sabrina Cordero goes to church with candidate Ydanis Rodriguez. She trusts him.

Sabrina Cordero goes to church with candidate Ydanis Rodriguez. She trusts him.

Ydanis Rodriguez is the candidate with all the big endorsements and three times the money his competitors have raised. This is his third time running for City Council, so he has the best chance of getting his face and name in the minds of the people. Suddenly, with great fanfare, he’s walking through the crowd on Dyckman with mayoral candidate and City Comptroller Bill Thompson. Thompson introduces him and then he’s leaning toward the mic -- throwing his hands toward the audience, saying if he fails to get them music and art in the schools and an indoor swimming pool, a vocational school – we will all fail together. On this stage, he doesn’t bother with English.

As for the issues, of course they matter. But most of the leading candidates have similar ideas – keeping rents down and landlords honest, creating vocational schools and things for kids to do, keeping the economy vibrant. In fact the leading candidates are so similar, Migdalia Quinones says she’s just not going to vote.

Migdalia Quinones: I just don’t vote.

Quinones says none of the candidates are talking about what irks her – the noise and lawlessness on Dyckman Street.

Quinones: People drinking in the street, they sell meat from the trunk of a car, you have motorcycles that run up and down, and politicians who absolutely don’t want to face this issue!

In fact, says another irritated resident – the politicians here, with their decked out trucks and loudspeakers -- are just making this neighborhood noisier.


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Comments [2]

S Egan

Local politicians in Washington Heights have a campaign tradition involving motorcades more than 50 cars long, all idling or moving at <5mph. Add to this the constant honking horns, earsplitting music with a pumping bass line, someone shouting on a loudspeaker, and left behind, a trail of plastic water bottles and trash. How are voters learning anything about the candidates this way? If anything, I am keeping track of the worst offenders and making a mental note NOT to vote for any of them.
Politics in this neighborhood may be personal, but a politician should attempt to represent everybody. There are significant minorities here: Russian immigrants, Upper West Side ex-pats, and African-Americans, for example. Many of the current candidates seem to be doing their best to alienate as many of them as possible.

Sep. 13 2009 05:15 PM
Seaman Drake

Thank you for picking up, at the end of your story, on the absolute anger that many Inwood residents have towards these greedy, power-lusting local sacks of malleable clay who call themselves politicians. The neighborhood faces serious economic and quality-of-life issues, but the politicians all campaign on ethnicity first and unattainable promises second, of lower rent or radically different schools (neither of which a city councilman has much say over). They imitate the thugs who equate noise and flash and disrespect for law with power via their blaring, enormous, polluting sound trucks. What's the difference between a street-mod motorcycle, a bass-thumping SUV and a campaign truck terrorizing Broadway? Nothing.

When a demanding issue does arise, like congestion pricing/bridge tolls, the candidates all rail against such measures despite the fact that District 10 represents the East of Broadway neighborhoods where car ownership is rare and residents depend on mass transit but suffer tremendous traffic pollution at home and congestion on the bus routes. Graffiti and litter are rife, along with petty crime, and yet these matters are completely silent on the campaign trail. Who exactly do these candidates answer to? Not the greater good nor their constituents, apparently.

Inwood needs an intelligent candidate who does not run a third-world election campaign and gives the actual municipal issues of the day more attention.

Sep. 12 2009 12:41 AM

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