On Eve of Release, Adolfo Carrion Rested and Ready
By HANNAN ADELY and JORDAN MOSS
Dressed in an olive-drab prison uniform, complaining about the bad prison food, Councilman Adolfo Carrion, Jr. is noticeably thinner. The modern federal prison in Brooklyn, on the edge of the East River, is sterile and solemn, but Carrion is in high spirits. It's just nine days until he leaves prison, and he is revving to go.
A candidate for Bronx borough president, Carrion is anxious to rejoin the campaign trail and make up for lost time. "Once we're out of here, we're going to hit the ground running," he said.
The councilman is one of the "Vieques Four," the group of New York City politicians sentenced to unusually harsh prison sentences for civil disobedience after protesting U.S. military exercises on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.
When Carrion leaves jail on the morning of June 29, he and two of his fellow inmates -Bronx Democratic Party chief Roberto Ramirez and Fordham Bedford assemblyman Jose Rivera -will parade through Bronx streets in a caravan of vehicles to thank their supporters. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was sentenced to 90 days, will remain in jail until Aug. 15.
The procession is sure to generate plenty of attention for the politicians, who have been in the media spotlight since their sentencing. Mostly, they are portrayed as martyrs to the cause, with Latinos holding rallies in their behalf, wearing shirts that read, "Free the Vieques Four."
Carrion says that although the Vieques issue is not directly related to Bronx residents, "the issues are very close in the sense that you have children who are deprived of a good life. They sit in schools where fighter jets are flying over while they're sitting at their desks and they shudder from the sounds of bombs -the environmental degradation there is incredible. They suffer from asthma. The kids in the Bronx suffer from asthma."
Carrion says his involvement in the Vieques issue "is really about a life's work. The reason I'm a public servant is because I think we can make things better."
While in jail, Carrion spends his days reading -he just finished the novel, Chesapeake and is working on The Life of Ghandi. He also keeps busy working out and writing position papers on the economy, the environment and housing. He also has endless conversations with Ramirez, Rivera and Sharpton. They are the only inhabitants of their 124-unit cell block.
Carrion also spent time reviewing the City Council budget, and briefing Council colleagues on his budget priorities so they could take the message back to City Hall. He said that from behind bars he secured $13 million for capital projects for his district, including the renovation of the Jerome Park branch library and the construction of two youth centers.
He's not too busy worrying about his campaign, though. "I think I have very good chances," he said. "I'm not too worried about the current field."
That field includes State Senator Pedro Espada, who has a strong support base in the south Bronx, where he is executive director of the Soundview Health Center. Carrion, on the other hand, has the official backing of the Bronx Democratic Party.
Espada and Carrion are both Hispanic, which political observers say is a boon to Councilwoman June Eisland, the only white candidate in the Democratic primary.
Asked about Eisland's chances, Carrion responded, "I think what people are looking for in the borough president is someone who can cross over into the communities with comfort, who they can identify with, who makes them feel comfortable because he or she speaks their language and understands their issues. And when I say, 'speaks their language' I don't mean other than English, I mean, speaks to their heart. I think the other two candidates have more difficulty in that area than I do."
Carrion admits all the fuss about the Vieques Four may have given him a boost politically. "Having this kind of experience has certainly put my name out there," he said. But, he added, it has also "shown people that I'm willing to stand up and fight for moral causes even at the expense of my own comfort and career, and I think people need to know that a leader will do that."
All the media attention still hasn't made jail the easiest place to spend 40 days. The politicians do not escape the strictness of federal prison. Each of them must endure a strip search before and after every visit from outsiders. Carrion, a big-shot on his home Bronx turf, is just a prisoner in Brooklyn. He even got a scolding from prison personnel for talking to Norwood News reporters before they could be briefed on the rules by a prison official.
Carrion said little about the conversations he's had with Sharpton during their time together, except to say that the two have gotten to know each other a lot better and that the reverend would make an excellent stand-up comedian. Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer had been trying to recruit Sharpton to endorse his candidacy for mayor in order form a black- Latino coalition. So, the close quarters Ferrer's close allies are sharing with Sharpton would seem to present delicious political possibilities. But Carrion's not telling if he got anywhere with the popular minister. "You'll have to ask him yourself," Carrion said.
With little time left in jail, Carrion looks forward to having a good meal, to spending time with his wife and four children, and to focusing like a laser beam on his campaign.
"There are 61 neighborhoods in the Bronx," Carrion said. "I'm visiting every single one of them as soon I get out."
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