“Right now, that area is dark, it’s dormant, it’s just a very morbid place,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr of the thriving Port Morris/Mott Haven area where FreshDirect wants to set-up shop during an interview on BronxTalk last night. He went on to say that FreshDirect would liven up an otherwise empty area.
Are we talking about the same area? The same area that was declared by NYC & Company — New York City’s official marketing and tourism agency — as one of the ‘Neighborhood x Neighborhood‘ as a destination for tourists to explore outside of Manhattan?
Local residents and business owners are not only disappointed but also upset with Diaz Jr’s comments.
“I think Mott Haven/Port Morris is rich, dynamic and full of life. Unfortunately, this community has had to defend negative stereotypes for decades,” said Mychal Johnson, resident of Mott Haven and member of South Bronx Unite, which is against the FreshDirect move. Johnson, who was a former Community 1 Board member, added, “It is these types of “leaders” that perpetuate our community having some of the worst air quality in New York City. We need true leaders who understand this history and defend the community against the onslaught of projects like FreshDirect that add 1,000 additional diesel trucks through our community every day.”
Tamara, manager of the very popular sushi fusion restaurant Ceetay was shocked that our borough president would say such a thing and her face when she listened to Diaz say those words was one of disappointment. “That’s us he’s talking about,” she said, “I think it’s unfair, this community has done a lot throughout the years and our beautiful clientele is proof of that. I find it interesting to hear him say these words just week after we catered an event for ‘Taste of The Bronx’ highlighting the borough’s great restaurants.”
A local resident who also works in the neighborhood at Daza Restoration was at Ceetay for lunch and agreed. Eddie said, “FreshDirect won’t make anything better, it will make things worse. We already have problems with all the trucks and traffic in the neighborhood, with the Waste Management Transfer Station, and moving companies.” He said that Diaz Jr is obviously out of touch with the neighborhood and perhaps should spend more time in the area to see how it is thriving.
These sentiments were echoed when we walked over to Bruckner Bar and Grill, long considered one of the pioneering businesses of this now vibrant corridor. Rosa Garcia, owner of the establishment could not believe Ruben Diaz Jr. would say such a thing, particularly given the fact that he’s often seen in the area at the very local establishments he claims “aren’t there”.
Garcia said, “I don’t think we need FreshDirect to get things we already have in this neighborhood. I feel he [Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr] really needs to think before he speaks since he eats here and knows we exist.”
Michael Brady, who lives in the area and is a Community Board 1 member which covers Mott Haven, Port Morris along with Melrose, wasn’t as diplomatic with his words and had this to say about the interview which he watched in its entirety: ” The Mott Haven / Port Morris section of the South Bronx, is home to a thriving artist community, a very strong Merchant Organization, and a community that is aware and mobilized for change. Indeed, the Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr. agreed with this statement when he attended South Bronx IGNITES on June 14, 2014. At this gathering, the Borough President, Speaker Mark-Viverito of the NYC City Council, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo attested and rallied the growth of the Mott Haven / Port Morris area. This one day event connected with thousands of individuals, and generated over $250,000 in new revenue for the area on that day. I find the Borough President’s use of the area’s grassroots growth and recent characterization of the area as dark and morbid to be insulting to the community which resides here, and an example of the double talk that plagues Bronx politics – politicians who flip-flop depending on which audience they are speaking with. Unfortunately, this tactic is indicative of Bronx Borough Hall and is no surprise to me; however, this mentality and methodology gets in the way of the progress occurring in the Bronx–a progress that is dependent on grassroots community development; in addition to the brick and mortar development that is occurring. This double-speak builds community distrust in a government machine that is already broken and ripe for reconfiguration.”
Brady, who’s co-owner of Charlies Bar & Kitchen and is also Principal at Brady & Co, a governmental relations firm went on to say, “The Borough President’s words fly in the face of the grassroots business development occurring in this area. I am horrified at statements from our Borough’s leader which undermine the private dollars that are being invested in the Mott Haven / Port Morris area. Two phrases come to mind in describing this segment of the interview, “out of touch with the South Bronx”, and “double faced broken Bronx politics”
“It’s incredible that our borough president called our neighborhood dark, dormant, and morbid on public television,” said neighborhood resident Leah Kozak. “How can he not see the potential of our neighborhood, the waterfront area, and the beautiful Bronx Kill? There’s so much potential for visionary community-driven green development that he is clearly blind to because of the luxury real estate dollar signs in his eyes,” said Kozak, who is a member of South Bronx Unite and Program Director at The Micah Institute of the New York Theological Seminary.