Developers, Celebrities Celebrate a Tale of Two Cities At a ‘Macabre’ Halloween Party in The South Bronx

Homeless man to the left, along with his cardboard box where he seeks shelter as to the right you see party revelers and the party's location.
Homeless man to the left, along with his cardboard box where he seeks shelter as to the right you see party revelers and the party’s location.

Income inequality couldn’t have had a better show than what transpired this past Thursday, October 29th, with many of New York City’s elite and society names descending on the South Bronx neighborhood of Port Morris to celebrate death in an event dubbed by developers The Chetrit Group and Somerset Partners as ‘Macabre Suite’ in an attempt to rebrand the neighborhood as the Piano District and bring attention up north to their latest and first project in The Bronx.

Disturbing as the event was, more so was reports of the appearance of our Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr (who according to an inside source was quite jovial) at this fête and the fact that Holly Block, Executive Director of The Bronx Museum, DJ Kool Herc, and Rosa Garcia of owner of the popular Mott Haven Bar and Grill were listed as co-hosts of this event. Of course, SoBro was part of the event unofficially but in attendance as well.

Baz Luhrmann, Keith Rubenstein, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn. Photo: Steve Eichner.
Baz Luhrmann, Keith Rubenstein, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn. Photo: Steve Eichner.

Even Baz Luhrmann who’s producing ‘The Get Down’ series about The South Bronx in the 1970s for Netflix was in attendance and also lent his name as host to this, indeed, macabre spectacle.

Email invitation showing all the co-hosts of the events which including several surprising names.
Email invitation showing all the co-hosts of the events which including several surprising names.

How quickly some of these individual, and specifically Ruben Diaz Jr, forget where they came from and what they came from.

Not even the burning of the South Bronx was sacred to these revelers who danced and drank the night away with bullet ridden abandoned burnt-out cars used as sculptures and garbage cans set on fire outside as if to set the mood of the South Bronx everyone in the world remembers.

The Bronx does know how to party but we didn’t throw this one.

Oh and not to mention drug fueled frenzy going on as one anonymous tipster (the individual wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing employment) who was working the event told us that cocaine and drug use was pretty rampant and at one point it was just being done quite openly at the VIP bar.

How could these individuals cosign such an event where there was no concern for the real world issues which the community faces outside the gates of the party on a daily basis? The struggles? The parents trying to provide food on the table for their families as they are working non-living wage jobs and are overburdened with rent?

Meanwhile, just across from the party lives a homeless man in a cardboard encampment and just a couple of blocks north you’ll find Mitchel Houses, one of the largest public housing projects in the city where folks live in abject poverty and know all too well the realities of death, drug addiction, and many other issues which plagues our communities.

The Bronx is Burning is what revelers could think of when posting to social media yet how many actually understand the socio-political complexities about what exactly happened but more importantly, do they even care?
The Bronx is Burning is what revelers could think of when posting to social media yet how many actually understand the socio-political complexities about what exactly happened but more importantly, do they even care?

The list of co-hosts for the event, with a net worth in the billions, illustrates the great income divide that continues to widen in our city and nation.

Community District 1, which encompasses most of Melrose, and all of Mott Haven and Port Morris is an area where 61% of the population receives some type of public assistance located in the poorest congressional district in America. How does this event fit in with all of this?

The attendees of this event cannot begin to comprehend this whatsoever.

Yet, Somerset Partners head, Keith Rubenstein is hell-bent on rebranding our neighborhood into The Piano District but he doesn’t stop there—he’s calling “SoBro the next SoHo,” as well as ‘the next best thing’.

These multibillionaire developers’ clearly lack not only empathy but also any moral compass when they preyed on the histories of people of The Bronx, particularly the South Bronx all in the name of development, gentrification, and the displacement that is to come once their ivory towers are built creating a separate community away from the realities we face daily.

Throughout the evening, social media was ablaze with pictures from attendees chatting about how ‘cool’ and ‘great’ this event was in the South Bronx—people who would never step foot in our borough unless if to attend a Yankee game or just simply passing through.
Watch the video of the macabre festivities:

People who can freely do drugs without the legal consequences and destruction of the family unit that people suffered in the South Bronx and decades later the families still feel the impact of all those lost to substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and the swath of health disparities, and issues which are rampant.

The irony of celebrating death with a party by and for the bourgeoisie in the area that was ground zero for New York City’s largest outbreak of Legionnaires in history does not go unnoticed either nor the fact that we have the highest rates of asthma, hospitalization rates for asthma, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and the list goes on.

But is it shocking when one of the organizers of the event, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn who owns the New York City art gallery Salon 94 was quoted in W Magazine in a 2012 article about her  saying, “As I see it,” Greenberg Rohatyn added, “my job is to take unlike things and put them together in new contexts.”

W added:

“Those mashups between the domestic and daring, grand and gritty, overlooked and of-the-moment have helped make Greenberg Rohatyn one of the contemporary art world’s most formidable power brokers. She is certainly one of its chicest and most talked about…”

Where were all these people when the Bronx was burning? Where were and where ARE these revelers as we face all these issues?

Where were they when we rebuilt The Bronx and the South Bronx through organizations like Nos Quedamos, Banana Kelly, and health organizations like Urban Health Plan, founded by Dr Richard Izquierdo, who took care of us when hospitals were shut down or Dr Evelina Lopez Antonetty “the hell lady of The Bronx, who founded United Bronx Parents and created a groundswell of activism which changed our course towards a brighter future?

What these developers and the clueless bourgeoisie do not know is that there was and still remains LIFE, ART, and CULTURE that continued through the burning and the rebirth WE ushered. Not outsiders.

Edwin Pagán, who documented our borough through the worst of it all but managed to find that life, art and culture said, “It’s bad enough that land speculators are swooping in after years of being missing in action now that there is a fortune to be made. The recent extravagant celebrity-laden socialite affair in Port Morris is a slap in the face to those of us who have stayed and improved the community from the inside, and anyone who attended is guilty of disrespecting the community who lives here. Their attempts to rename the region after a long bygone era as the “Piano District,” regardless of its historical axis, is nothing but a vile attempt of negating and overstepping the contributions of the people of the South Bronx during the last 50 years.”
But one elected official was not amused by what occurred in The Bronx and that was New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and second most powerful politician second only to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Not known to mince words or sugarcoat things, the Speaker sent out a tweet where she expressed that, “Trivializing legit community concerns not welcome. Neither are attempts to erase neighborhood’s culture & history.” She goes on further and says, “Lack of empathy & basic awareness are signs of an ailing society. Who thought “Bronx is Burning” theme a good idea?”

Speaker Mark-Viverito also questioned the intent of the burnt out cars used as props:

So much for Bronx Borough President’s New Bronx mantra which has been the ultimate rebranding campaign in The Bronx trying to whitewash the past.

Image via Tats Cru
Image via Tats Cru

In the words of Dr Evelina Antonetty:

“We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us. We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here. We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do. They will never take us away from here. I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave. And after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children and very strong grandchildren.”

If ever there was a time to rally behind these words of Dr Evelina Antonetty, it is now. The time has come to drop that which divides us and unite and fight for what’s ours. Do not let all the struggles of our past leaders, many who passed away too early in life, be for naught. Bronxites, including myself, are not against enhancing the quality of life for our residents but the cost and toll it will take on our residents is what we are against. The Bronx has been privy to the devastation of working class low and middle income neighborhoods across our great metropolis only to be turned into the playgrounds for the haves, leaving out the majority who make up our communities. Today, we are all Dr Evelina’s children and grandchildren. Check out the gallery of images found across social media from the event just to give you a taste of what a tale of two cities looks like in the poorest congressional district in America.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.