Vol. 13, No. 22   Nov. 16 - 29, 2000



Velella Must Act on Armory

The race for state Senate in the 34th District (including parts of Norwood and Bedford Park) is over. Incumbent Guy Velella won. Challenger Lorraine Coyle Koppell lost. The race was bitter and explosive, but the good news is that we had a race at all. Koppell, to her credit, bucked Bronx Democratic Party chief Roberto Ramirez whose non-aggression pact with Velella has meant that citizens have few choices in the Democratic primary and on the day of the general election. This is America. We have contested elections here. The Bronx is just beginning to learn this lesson.

Koppell's challenge ensured that there was at least some debate about critical issues. Velella would not have felt the same need to discuss his views of, and record on, gun control, school aid, and health care without a serious opponent. Elections are essentially job interviews and voters this year had a choice between two very different candidates with very different positions.

In his bid for reelection ,Velella stressed the value of his clout in Albany and at City Hall. The only Republican elected official in the Bronx, Velella has the ear of Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. His rapport with the mayor played a significant role in Norwood getting the Beacon School at MS 80, an after-school program that benefits literally thousands of area families. Then there's the thousands of dollars Velella has secured for various local programs and initiatives. So, Velella's clout and ability to deliver for the community is clear.

But in interviews, and at a debate that Velella pulled out of but dispatched a surrogate to, Velella strangely said he was virtually helpless to do anything about the Kingsbridge Armory. It's not in his district, he said, and he therefore must defer to the senator who presides over the district that includes the Kingsbridge Armory.

There are two problems with Velella's position. First, the state senator for that district, Efrain Gonzalez, has been a complete and total no-show on the armory and many other important local issues, most notably the filtration plant. Gonzalez never once saw fit to attend any of the dozens of community meetings on the plant or the armory.

Second, the redevelopment of the armory will affect thousands of local schoolchildren, - many of whom live in Velella's district - because of its potential to alleviate severe overcrowding throughout District 10. By choosing not to get involved in this issue, Velella is not representing this constituency to the best of his ability.

And Velella has previously intervened in jurisdictions that are not typically that of a state senator. The Beacon Program is a city, not a state, program. Velella may have consulted with June Eisland, the local member of the City Council on the matter, but that did not preclude him from making his wishes known to Mayor Giuliani.

Senator Velella was reelected at least partly because of his experience and his influence with fellow elected officials. The fate of the armory will largely depend on local politics. If Velella agrees with the mayor's decision to make the armory a shopping mall and athletic facility, he owes it to the constituency that just reelected him to make his position clear. If he doesn't, he should act accordingly.

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