Last night at the Bronx Library Center located on Kingsbridge Road off Fordham Road there was a District 15 Forum on Creating a Healthy Environment. Six of the seven candidates for the 15th council seat attended. Candidates Kenny Agosto, Albert Alvarez, Raquel Batista, Joel R. Rivera, Cynthia Thompkins, and Ritchie Torres were on hand while the seventh candidates Rev. Joel Bauza did not. The New York League of Conservation Voters Education fund, Bronx Health Reach, and Mary Mitchell Family & Youth Center were the sponsors and made up the panel of questioners. Questions from the audience written down on cards were also mixed in during the forum/debate. While there were many empty seats at the beginning of the event those seats began to get occupied as the night went on.
Candidate Kenny Agosto was first to give an opening statement of three minutes. Candidate Agosto said that he was born and raised in the district as well as the Male District Leader. He told of his 30 years of community activist experience, and 10 years of government experience as Chief of Staff to two assemblymen now working for a state senator also getting in his advocacy for the LBGT community.
Candidate Albert Alvarez was next. Candidate Alvarez said that he was the Chief of Staff to current 15th Councilman Joel Rivera, and also was born and raised in the district. He seemed a little nervous as he continued with the work of the past 12 years in the district mentioning only a few things that had gotten done by Councilman Rivera and himself. Alvarez later told me that he only had three minutes, and would need much more time than that.
Candidate Raquel Batista was next. A very pregnant Candidate Batista (nine months she told me later) spoke of her 15 years of work in the community . She added that she was born & raised in the district also coming into this world at Union Hospital. She ended with her work as an attorney on Women's Rights, Tenant's Rights, and said that she would be the strong advocate that the district does not have.
Candidate Joel R. Rivera was next. Candidate Rivera said that he has been fighting for the community using Stop N Frisk as an example. In 2005 that he started a youth organization, and wants to expand youth programs as more young people wind up in jail rather than going to college.
Candidate Cynthia Thompkins was next. Candidate Thompkins said that she was from Pittsburg, is a former police officer, and came to the Bronx in 2009 to the Fordham Hts. area. She added that she is a lawyer for civil rights and that violence needs to end.
Candidate Ritchie Torres was next. Candidate Torres asked if the Bronx is safe when it comes to food saying that there are to many fast food restaurants. He added that to many people live near highways, obesity, diabetes, and asthma are problems in the Bronx, using some family members as examples including himself who as a child had asthma.
Questions were then asked of individual candidates with two minutes to respond, with a 30 second rebuttal by any other candidate. To candidate Agosto a question of his sustainability priority in his first 100 days was answered with green housing, renters on the rent guidelines board not landlords. Rebuttals were- Alvarez - Schools and asthma free zones, Torres- mold concerns in housing, Thompkins- have children learn about the environment, Rivera- cost of food in the district, Bautista- healthy food initiative.
To candidate Alvarez the change of funding to youth centers by Mayor Bloomberg was answered that his office has provided monies to the Mary Mitchell Center, but that the mayor wants to do away with smaller providers in favor of larger one that serve more people. Rebuttals were Agosto- all programs need to be looked at and see which ones are working, Bautista- Council needs to have discretionary funding, Thompkins- believes in small community organizations, because she has one, Torres- local organizations know the needs of the community they serve, Rivera- Spoke of the credits to big business, Bloomberg's friends, and City Time scandal.
To candidate Rivera a question of childhood obesity was answered that some schools have no gyms, and the disgusting food children are served in schools. Rebuttals were Agosto- need more classroom space to open up gyms that are being used for classrooms, Alvarez- Need obesity prevention programs, Thompkins- have phys-ed more than one day a week, Torres teach better eating habits, Bautista- what are the priorities of the schools?
To Candidate Thompkins a question of the quality of public housing was answered by there heeds to be more green housing, and that NYCHA needs to fix their public housing. Rebuttals Agosto- Grew up in public housing, 5-6 year wait list, and cameras are needed, Alvarez- NYCHA housing is not for luxury development, Rivera- spoke of town hall meeting he attended, Torres- spoke of a murder at a NHCHA unit.
A question to candidate Agosto about more fresh food in the district to help prevent diabetes was answered by saying that he was a diabetic and it is important to have fresh food. Agosto added that he fought to have low fat milk in schools. Rebuttals Rivera- the fresh food in the district is rotten and no good, Thompkins- Need more green carts, Batista- need to get the food from Hunts Point into the district, Alvarez- more farmers markets, Torres- said that the Bronx is not getting its fair share.
A question to candidate Batista about rising rents and falling wages was answered that the Bronx is the "Final Frontier" of affordable housing, and that renovations by owners should not be passed on to tenants. Rebuttals Torres- rents are lower, but so is income making housing less affordable, Thompkins- Build green and provide tax incentive's, Agosto- rent guidelines board is made up of landlords not tenants, Alvarez- coll roofs & rent freeze, Rivera- mentioned this years increases by rent guidelines board and said that people have to decide between rent, food or lights.
A question to candidate Rivera on fast food restaurants was answered that people need to be educated better on food choices. Rebuttals Agosto- limit Popeyes & Walmart, Alvarez- Spoke of his office wanting a ban of them near schools, Thompkins- asked what is needed in the Bronx, Torres- in city hospitals & schools the food needs to be better.