Vol. 14, No. 3   February 8 - 21, 2001


Three Candidates Remain in City Council Election


When voters in the 15th Council District go to the polls for a special election on Feb. 20, three candidates will be on the ballot: Joel Rivera, a 2-year-old Fordham University student, community activist Edwin O. Ortiz, Jr., and Julio Muñoz, a former member of Community Board 6.

The 15th Council District covers parts of Fordham Bedford, Belmont, Crotona and Tremont. The winner will take the torch from Councilman Jose Rivera, who was elected to the state Assembly in November. Joel Rivera is Jose Rivera's son.

Two other candidates were knocked off the ballot and are charging that the Board of Elections made it too difficult for them to run. (The Board of Elections did not return calls from the Norwood News.)

"They made it almost impossible to get on the ballot," said former candidate Joseph Padilla, who complained that he visited the office of the Board of Elections three times to obtain a copy of guidelines and procedures for candidacy, but was never given the information. "They give you the runaround. They said they didn't have the information readily available."

Juan Ramos, Jr. was removed from the ballot after the Board of Elections declared hundreds of signatures on his petitions to be invalid because signers or witnesses were not registered voters. (Candidates are required to collect at least 900 signatures from registered voters living in the district.) Ramos is waiting for the results of an appeal of the board's decision.

Both Ramos and Padilla believe the Board of Elections intentionally discouraged them from running because of Joel Rivera's political connections. "His father was in office a long time," Ramos said. "I guess they just worked things out for themselves."

Jose Rivera denied the allegations. "If the other people don't meet the simple requirements, whose fault is that?" he asked.

Rivera remarked that his son did not challenge any of the candidates on technicalities, including Ortiz, who is considered Joel Rivera's primary opponent. "If we have political connections, why haven't we challenged Eddy Ortiz?" Rivera said.

At press time, Muñoz was also in court fighting charges that some of his signatures on his petitions were invalid. "They said people weren't registered when many of them had just moved within the district," he said.

"This is a normal process you have to go through," Muñoz said. "... The New York State electoral process is so antiquated. It makes it hard for us candidates that are new."

Political observers consider Joel Rivera a strong contender because of his father's political ties, which helped him secure the official backing of the Bronx Democratic Party. But Ortiz is also getting some powerful assistance from Congressman Eliot Engel and south Bronx State Senator Pedro Espada, both Democrats who have formed an alliance to counter the county political machine headed by former assemblyman Roberto Ramirez.

Guide to the Council Candidates in the 15th District

The Norwood News asked each of the three candidates questions about their experience and priorities. Their numbered answers correspond to the following numbered questions: 1. What are your qualifications and experience? 2. What three accomplishments make you qualified to be a member of the City Council? 3. What are your top three priorities for the district? 4. What legislation or strategies would you propose to fight for those priorities? 5. What can the City Council do about school overcrowding? 6. How would you address the high crime rate in the Fordham Bedford area?

Joel Rivera

(22; graduate of New York Military Academy; Fordham University Student)

1. Together with the life experience and exposure to issues relating to the urban community of the 15th Council District, as a member of various boards, i.e. Tremont Crotona Day Care, Friends of Crotona Park, the Not in My Neighborhood You Don't anti-drug campaign, I have been able to advocate for youths, the beautification of parks. As a member of the Bronx Young Democrats, I have been involved in registration drives as well as local political campaigns. I also have had the privilege of familiarizing myself with the city budget and have vast knowledge of the capital projects of the 15th Council District.

2. As a young representative of this community, I have been the voice for youths by addressing their issues, i.e. gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, higher education through workshops, retreats. As a board member to nonprofits, I have had input with the budgets for parks, day care, etc. I have created linkages with city, state and federal elected officials and have gained their trust.

3. Education; Quality of Life Issues/Crime; Affordable Housing

4. I propose to become very involved with school boards, principals, parents, and hear their concerns. I will also work hard to bring about more funding and lobby for new construction of schools which will relieve the overcrowding, and insure that safety programs are implemented. I will make sure that quality of life issues are addressed, i.e. noise, loitering, graffiti, sanitation, by holding meetings with the appropriate city agencies and community organizations. I will fight to insure that resources are allocated and properties that have been abandoned are identified and secure funds for affordable housing for all populations.

5. Same as above.

6. By bringing about awareness to the community through newsletters, meetings of the different programs available Ð precinct council meetings, auxiliary police, civilian patrols, Explorers program. As well as encourage involvement of residents, businesses, religious groups, etc. Advocate for hiring of more police officers.

Edwin O. Ortiz, Jr.

(College of New Rochelle, Self-Employed)

1. I am a community activist. For more than 17 years I have developed community programs and services to help people in my district. I have worked with over 2,000 families who were at risk of losing their homes through evictions. I have spent my life in public service, working to improve the lives of people in the areas of housing and tenants' rights, youth empowerment, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and in the war against illegal drugs. I have served on Bronx Community Planning Board 6 and am a past member of the Latino Commission on AIDS. In 1994, I received the prestigious Mother Hale/Patrick Daly Award for Community Service.

2. Seventeen years ago, when housing abandonment and arson ran rampant throughout the Bronx, I led the fight to preserve 795 Garden Street (an occupied 87-unit apartment building). I organized a tenants' organization with my neighbors and family. We successfully worked with government agencies and community groups such as the Crotona Community Coalition to lobby the city to provide the needed dollars to renovate 795 Garden Street. I was a founder of YAADA (Young Adults Against Drugs and Alcohol). The program has been in existence for 11 years and has worked with thousands of young people in our communities, educating them and training them as leaders and spokespeople in their community. I was successful in raising over $700,000 dollars to fund youth related programs. I have organized grassroots campaigns to prevent youth involvement in drugs, alcohol and tobacco in the Fordham, University Heights, Belmont, Bathgate, East Tremont, Crotona and West Farms areas. Most recently, I involved local youth in a successful graffiti removal effort along the East Fordham Road and East Tremont Avenue commercial strips.

3. In my view, the top priorities for the district are housing, senior programs, education and political reform. However, once elected, my first act would be to conduct an extensive survey of the district to find out what the priorities of the people are Ð what they want me to concentrate on. Then, I would go down to City Hall, put up a big sign in my office that says, "I'm Not a Part of the Machine," and I'd start looking for other Council members to work with me on our agenda. My job is to be a political messenger for the people of the 15th Council District.

4. I am a strong coalition builder and I would work to build coalitions with other City Council members around the needs of my community. I also believe we have to build partnerships in the community and link community people to existing programs. For example, in the area of housing, many people in our community need help connecting with programs like Habitat for Humanity, HPD, and other agencies that can provide much-needed access to home ownership or affordable housing. I see my Councilmanic office as an activist office, that is a resource to the community and available to help them navigate programs and deal with problems.

5. One of the things the City Council could do is to identify sites where I could give capital monies to build safe and good schools, and work with others in the Council to add their dollars. And we would make sure that the grounds were environmentally safe for our children.

6. Right now we have a police commissioner who desperately wants community involvement. I would be sure to talk to him about what I have seen in my youth programs and how we can better police our community and address young people's needs.

Julio E. Muñoz

(High School Diploma; College Degree; New York State Investigator (Peace Officer)

1. I have worked in the district as a volunteer for the past 20 years, i.e. Community Planning Board 6 (chairman) ; Area Policy Board - CDA 6, upper Bronx, NAPRA; Daycare center; West Farms Task/Planning Committee; Bathgate Industrial Park Local Development Corp; 48th Precinct Council/Civilian Patrol.

2. As a member of Community Planning Board 6, I helped coordinate a volunteer community civilian patrol with the 48th Precinct. The patrol was the eyes and ears of the police during an outbreak of drugs and murder in the district. As chairman of the Bathgate Local Development Corporation, I worked with the city to help keep an industrial company from leaving the Bronx and laying off 84 workers. Today the company is planning to expand and hire more workers. As a member of the West Farms Planning Task Force we designed and constructed a garden for a local school.

3. Crime; Education/Training; Economic Development

4. On crime, I would ask that I be assigned to the Public Safety Committee and therefore be in place to fight to increase the number of police officers in our district. I would work to increase training between community and police to earn each other's respect. On education, I would work to increase the teachers' pay; with a volunteer program of teachers to work with our children at evening centers and summer schools. The teachers would earn credits on economic development. I would work with the city programs to help the small businesses in our district.

5.I would put together a committee of parents, teachers and administrators, together with staff from city planning, to work on identifying city-owned lots and private lots, which could be bought at a fair cost. Then I would ask the colleges that specialized in construction and design to come up with a new concept for what a new school should look like (with parent and community input). If we increase the teachers' pay, then we should be able to compete with the surrounding suburban area.

6. I would increase the number of police officers on foot patrol under the Safe Streets/Safe Community Funding. My staff would work with the school administrators to establish safe passage programs to assure that our children could go from school to their homes without becoming victims of crimes. Out of my budget, I would establish seed money for local civilian patrols. The money could be used to buy radios and pay for gas for volunteer vehicles. I would work with the NYPD to provide training to the volunteers. As for Fordham, I would identify funding for a private security force under their BID program.

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