This photo was taken before the 15th Council debate started. Bronxnet head Michael Knobbe is standing next to host Gary Axelbank thanking the 6 candidates for coming, while a Bronxnet stage hand appears behind the candidates making final preparations for the live show.
Host Gary Axelbank went over the rules of Monday night's one hour Bronxtalk 15th Council debate, and said since he was off the ruled ballot by the Board of Elections that Kenny Agosto would not be appearing. The 6 candidates pictures above from left to right were, Raquel Batista, Rev. Joel Bauza, Cynthia Thompkins, Albert Alvarez, Joel R. Rivera, and Ritchie Torres. Note that Joel R. Rivera is not current term limited Councilman Joel Rivera.
Axelbank went right into questions with no opening statements. The first going to candidate Batista on her role with Vantage Housing on tenant landlord problems and asked which side she was on? Batista replied that her role at Vantage was to represent tenants, and that she would like the council to have more control over housing. Thompkins rebutted that Housing Court is one way, and that tenants need more help. Candidate Rivera said that it takes up to 5 years to get into a housing program, an intentional dig at candidate Torres. Candidate Alvarez said that more senior housing is needed in the district. Batista ended by agreeing more resources were needed. Candidate Torres then spoke of the needs of public housing& lack of funds for NYCHA. Batista then ended again by questioning the management of NYCHA.
Candidate Bauza was then asked about his religious background, and how it might affect him as a councilman. Candidate Bauza said that he had been a pastor for 25 years, he has advocated for people finding jobs, food, and with clothing drives to help the community. He then went on to say that his words are misunderstood, that he does not hate the LGBT community, and he does not hate them and will take care of the LGBT community. Thompkins rebutted saying "As a gay woman the LGBT community does not think Bauza is hateful, but his message is taken the wrong way which leads to violence to the LGBT community. Alvarez said that the LGBT community needs a center in the Bronx to help themselves that would be better than government help. Rivera said that as a Christian he has always helped everyone. Batista said that it is the problem of who Bauza has aligned himself with stopping short of any names. Bauza ended by inviting all to his church to see that he does not preach words of hate, and he is against what is said by some other churches on the LGBT issue. Torres then agreed with what Thompkins about Bauza's message.
Candidate Thompkins was asked about her law background and if she was a one issue candidate. Thompkins replied that she is a multiple issue candidate such as violence, youth programs, better education, housing issues, and health issues. Alvarez rebutted that he has lived in the district his whole life, that he wants to bring the police and community together through the precinct councils, and likes the parent coordinator position in schools. Thompkins answered by saying that she is the President of the 46th Precinct Council and wants more money if Alvarez is elected. Bauza said that he belongs to the 42nd Precinct Council that he is trying to reestablish communications between people who do not trust the police and the local police department. Rivera said that for 6 weeks in the 44th precinct officers spoke with the community and played sports together. Torres agreed and said he wants more PAL programs. Rivera then attacked Torres on what Rivera said was his answer on Stop N Frisk at an endorsement meeting being different then and what Torres says now. Torres came back with that was not true, and he has the Working Families endorsement. Batista mentioned the recent legislation passed by the city council about the police department that was vetoed by the mayor. Thompkins ended by saying that in Stop N Frisk police need the tools to police, but that a balance is needed with more training.
Candidate Alvarez was asked about the record of Councilman Joel Rivera who he has been Chief of staff to.. Alovarez said that pilot programs were started in the district giving two examples one more mobil health units and the other a program with the Department of Education that improved reading and attendance at one school. Rivera rebutted that the West Farms community has been neglected, but that Councilman Joel Rivera did a decent job. Alvarez countered by saying that the district hours are the same for any other council member, and that he attends community meetings where complaints are heard. Thompkins said that she would have more community outreach with Town Hall type meetings. Bauza said that he is in the community every day, and that people ask him who is the councilman. Alvarez ended that he has been out in the community and at meetings.
Candidate Rivera was asked about the similarity of his name to the current councilman and that only the middle initial was different that the candidate is not using. Rivera said that he is using the middle initial R now that he has not in the past. That he has been endorsed by neighboring Councilman Cabrera, been at the rallies, he was the only one at a day care closing, at town hall meetings, and that he has put up his own posters not paying anyone to. Thompkins rebutted that she was not sure of when these town hall meeting were, and that she had not gotten any notice of any. Alvarez and Rivera went back and forth a couple of times as to just who sponsored these town hall meetings, where there were, and for what reasons. Bauza said he did a rally for immigration where 10,000 people, and Rivera's father was there not him. Thompkins said that when violence happened that she walked the area with the people not the elected officials. Rivera ended by saying that he did not do anything with Senator Diaz as Bauza had.
Candidate Torres was asked about the supportive housing he now lives in, and if his boss Councilman Jimmy Vacca pulled any strings to get him in there. Torres replied that he only earns 20,000 dollars a year which qualifies him for the housing program, and that ho strings were pulled to get him in the program. Torres added that he has lived in poverty, and it is wrong to say that someone like himself does not qualify to run for council because of it. Rivera rebutted by saying that it was ironic that Torres tries to put himself as a person of poverty and from the community when he is supported by the richest people in Throggs Neck and Riverdale. That Torres has raised the most money, where as the two got into a heated back and forth about Torres fundraising at Villa Barone Manor, Torres was a puppet of Jimmy Vacca and others. Torres challenged Rivera to have both reveal their previous tax forms, said that Rivera had his campaign office out of the district, and accused Rivera of fraud by running in the 15th district where he had the same name as the term limited councilman while living in the 16th council district. Thompkins said that she has raised the least amount of money $10.00 contributions from people who want to see her elected.
To a question on Stop N Frisk Batista said that it is unfair and spoke of meeting at the 46th Precinct Council. Torres said that this year there was still less crime. Rivera said that less than 5 percent of the community causes the crime. Bauza said that the person being stopped has no control over what happens. Batista added that illegal immigrants are put into Rikers and are being deported. Thompkins has the last words by saying that less Stop N Frisk is from better police training.
To a question on obesity, lack of fresh food, and education Bauza said to stimulate the economy of the local bodega for more fresh fruits other than bananas and mangos. Alvarez said to continue to educate the public on eating better foods. Thompkins said to work with the markets, give tax credits for good health. Rivera said education is great, but money is the problem. Good food is expensive, and the community can only afford cheap fast food. Batista said that fresh food must be kept in the bodagas. Bauza agreed when you have only $2.00 to spend for food it is not going to be healthy. When asked who they were supporting for mayor all but Bauzer who said Erick Salgado said no one right now. closing statements were next.
Torres said that he is running to improve the living conditions, better education, find more jobs for a community with 40 percent below the poverty rate in a city with a 70 billion dollar budget.
Rivera said that he has heard the speeches and broken promises. That like candidate Torres at his age he wanted to run for office, but told to wait and get experience saying that it is 16 years later.
Alvarez said that he is the only candidate who lived and was educated in the district,and that he has worked in the district his whole life.
Thompkins said that children are not playing in the streets any more, because it is unsafe. She wants more people to get out of poverty, and that she was the best qualified candidate.
Bauza said that he has been in the community doing the work, he does not work 9 - 5 but 24 hours a day, and that he does not have the endorsement of the rich, but of the poor people of the district.
Batista said that she is running because it is time for a real leader, a woman who has worked for the community, and for woman's rights.
After the debate the candidates posed for the photo below with current 15th Councilman Joel Rivera standing center between host Gary Axelbank and candidate Ritchie Torres who has his hand on the councilman's shoulder. From left to right Joel R. Rivera, Joel Bauza, Raquel Batista, Ritchie Torres, Councilman Joel Rivera, Gary Azelbank, Cynthia Thompkins, and Albert Alvarez.