18, No. 17
Sept. 8 - 21, 2005
Rivera and the Filter Plant
The controversy concerning statements by Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the
Bronx Democratic Party chairman, has mainly been fueled by his comments
about Jewish politicians reprinted in The Riverdale Press. In an
interview with a student from the Columbia Journalism School, Rivera
made comments clearly insensitive to Jews.
“They got power, you know what I mean,” he told the student, Lani
Perlman, a former Press reporter. “God bless ‘em, I don’t hate ‘em, I
don’t envy ‘em, I would someday hope that my people would imitate them.
What’s good for them, it’s got to be good for us.”
But the main issue, as far as we’re concerned, is that in the interview,
Rivera admits that he based the monumental public policy decision to
support the construction of the water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt
Park not on what was best for Bronxites, but on his personal dislike for
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who happens to be Jewish.
“If I were powerful enough, I would build it right outside the terrace
of Jeff Dinowitz,” he told Perlman, who was interviewing Rivera for her
Rivera believes that Dinowitz supported putting the plant at Fordham
Landing near Rivera’s home in Fordham Hill when that site was also being
considered. But Dinowitz publicly opposed any Bronx location for the
plant at a community board hearing. And even if he had favored Fordham
Landing, what political leverage would he have had to get the plant
sited there? Dinowitz would have never gotten the support of the rest of
the borough’s Assembly delegation, virtually all of whom support Rivera.
Strangely, Rivera says that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s original
commitment to Dinowitz to stop the city’s plan to put the plant in the
park was a matter of “blood taking care of blood.” But everyone knows
that this vow was just an extension of the Assembly’s standard operating
procedure – when a piece of legislation affects a single member’s
district, that member is deferred to. So in the world as Rivera sees it,
where Jews take care of Jews, Silver should have stuck with his promise
for two reasons. But he didn’t. The powerful speaker abandoned Assembly
tradition and his promise to Dinowitz to allow legislators to vote how
they wanted on the bill that gave the city the power to build in the
The bitter irony of Rivera’s tortured logic is that thousands of poor
Latino, black, and other minority Bronxites living across the street
from the construction site in the park, will endure years of digging,
blasting, dust, fumes, traffic and other assaults on their quality of
life because of his schoolyard scrap with another legislator. In other
words, he used a stereotype of Jews sticking together to shaft his own
Rivera is probably not an anti-Semite, though he sounded like one. City
Council candidate Ari Hoffnung wrote in an interesting Riverdale
Press op-ed that while he thinks Rivera’s words were anti-Semitic,
his actions – traveling to Germany to protest Ronald Reagan’s
visit to a cemetery for members of the SS in Bitburg, sharing warm
feelings about Jewish neighbors after an appearance at Hoffnung’s
synagogue, and visiting Israel with Jewish officials – speak louder.
Nevertheless, Rivera’s comments were wrong and his apology was welcome.
Most of all, though, he owes Norwood residents – not an insignificant
number of whom are children with asthma— more than an apology for
turning their park into a mammoth construction zone because he doesn’t
happen to like their assemblyman.
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