The following is an open letter by City Island resident Steve Swieciki.
Editor’s Note: We are publishing this letter in the hopes to shed a light on a problem that has been plaguing several communities in The Bronx, particularly in the East Bronx and that is of racism and bigotry. The majority of residents by far aren’t bigoted nor racist, however, there are a very vocal few (some with community leadership roles) that have caused strife for those looking to end the toxicity that permeates the air, especially on social media including several Facebook Groups dedicated to East Bronx communities being breeding grounds for hateful commentary which targets Blacks and People of Color.
This isn’t fake news this is fact. There have been several off shoots of groups on Facebook that have splintered from the original groups because the BIPOC residents of those areas simply did not feel welcome and in fact felt threatened by the constant barrage of racist and bigoted comments they witness on an almost daily basis.
It is for these reasons that we are publishing the below letter without hesitation. The Bronx is the last place any of this should be happening in what is the country’s most diverse county.
Dear Mr. Maniotis, Ms. Nova, and Mr. Sorell,
Please let me first thank you for stepping up in the name of bringing unity to City Island. I know there’s been some confusion as to the nature of your group, with the City Island Civic Association erroneously claiming you are one of their new committees while some of you have disputed that, but regardless of whether you’re an independent initiative or not, I sincerely appreciate anyone that decides to get involved in making a positive contribution to the neighborhood.
Much like our nation, City Island is deeply divided, and while I think prioritizing unity above all else is problematic for a number of reasons, I certainly understand the desire for a return to normalcy and neighbors being able to just get along.
Much has been made of the divide on City Island, which has been widely characterized as left-leaning Millennials vs. more conservative older folks. In these kinds of arguments, to a semi-disinterested outsider looking in, it often appears both sides may have some valid points and so the “truth” must therefore be found somewhere in the middle. This is known as an argumentum ad temperantiam, or false equivalence.
One side says red, the other says blue, and people assume the truth is purple. This, however, is a classic example of a logical fallacy. And with regard to the instant matter of division on City Island, while no one may claim to be without fault, the behavior of these respective factions is not equally objectionable.
I’d like to direct your attention to the attached screenshots, which document a number of actions and statements from current Civic leaders like President Bill Stanton, Treasurer Tom Smith, Municipal Services committee chair Cathy Cebek, and Membership committee chair Candy Mancuso. And please bear in mind this is merely a small sample of abhorrent behavior that has spanned years.
As you can see, the leaders in question have variously espoused or alluded to derogatory sentiments and stereotypes about ethnic/racial minorities (including our Congress Member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), women, LGBT people, and the poor.
The question I would like to formally submit to your committee for consideration is: How do you propose we unify with people in positions of leadership within our community that not only hold exclusionary and hateful views like this, but are comfortable sharing them in public and on social media?
While you reflect on that, I’d like to propose what I believe is the most obvious and straightforward solution to achieving unity: the individuals in question simply stepping down.
If what Stanton et al. claim is true and unity for City Island is what they desire, they should realize that achieving unity is impossible with them continuing in their roles. When service becomes more about holding onto your perch — when it becomes more about you — than the good of the community, that’s when it’s time to go.
Particularly at a time when confronting bigotry in all its forms has been elevated to the very top of the national discourse, particularly for Stanton and Smith, who have collectively been entrenched as Civic officers for close to forty years, and particularly for Cebek and Mancuso, who have sown division for the last six years including threats of violence and count among their group a man who referred to a neighbor with a homophobic slur and a woman believed to have used the n-word in the May 2018 Civic meeting, now more than ever is the appropriate time to just step aside and let a new generation of inclusively-minded island residents serve, without the cloud of bigotry hanging overhead.
And if these leaders cannot bring themselves to do so, they cannot sincerely claim to desire unity.
What they would appear to desire is the continuation of their perceived dominance in local affairs and the stifling of any dissent criticizing their performance. It is my genuine hope they’re willing to prioritize what’s best for their community before what’s best for their egos.
Thank you for your attention to and consideration of both my question and the proposed solution. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and I stand ready to work with you in moving City Island forward.
Screenshots below provided as evidence.
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About the Author: Steve Swieciki is a public high school teacher, union organizer, and activist. When he’s not working, he enjoys reading, biking, swimming, and traveling. He is a lifelong resident of City Island.