Episode 141: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Bronx borough. President welcome to maximum Murphy. Thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me on. How are you doing? Well, how are you doing? My secret the Jerry or Ben both of us. Hey, Ben, he. How you doing? I'm fine. How are you? Good. Good. So why don't we start with the thing that you've been most, you know, seemingly out there on in recent days and weeks, which is this jail plan, the mayor and and really the city council or moving forward on four jail sites. They're they're put them all together in one big package to go through the city's land use review process, which has just started. And you have a problem in your borough with the site that's been chosen. Do you want to explain? That I am in favor of closing down Rikers island have and I wanna be unequivocal about that. This is not about whether Rikers island should be closed. But it's a bad plan for three reasons. Number one bad sight on number two. We have a better location and number three. We are setting a bad precedent in having this Euler for four different sightings in four different boroughs on the one vote. So going back to number one. It's a bad location because for many many decades, we've seen at the surrounding area has been, you know, have come has come we've done a lot of development in the area. And the people of the eagle Beekman house is pleased that I'm familiar with since is to deliver meals on wheels lunches there when I was a teenager. They went from having, you know, high crime, and and drug lords there to creating one of the, you know, a very safe, you know, much safer neighbor. Hood and not only have they been able to do. So in a way where civil Cup studios has come in. And we have breweries and everything, but they also have an actual plan, and I've had a plan for years to develop the topa the to- Powell where the site has been located and the city is not only, you know, dismissing and discounting and devaluing all of the years of hard work that they have put into this plan and to restoring and and and bringing up the community, but they did so without even input from anyone in the community or anyone who's in the Bronx of that matter before they made this decision. The better location is one that is consistent with what the advocates and experts have said a long when you speaking of criminal Justice reform, and how we should be doing jailings in this country. And that is an even with the from the, you know, the the. The very words of judge Lippman. He says an experts say that if you're going to do Jalen that we have to have it. So that the close to quote, well, we have the property here on one hundred and sixty first street next to the the the family courthouse house over here. And I don't understand. Why is it that the city has not talked to us prior to making this decision? Be why they haven't fully examined this better location. They're choosing political expediency at at a cost to the communities concerns and anxiety. And then the last thing is to all of my colleagues in government, all of the borough presidents or the city council members having one Euler for all four boroughs sets a bad precedent. We don't wanna do that. At the very least what we should have is more conversations. And in the Bronx being that, we have a stand the standalone building, we should have our own you. Process we've seen and heard from folks in Q gardens folks in in from Chinatown all of the different communities have their own concerns. And those should be addressed individually not put into all in one vote. So. You mentioned the proximity issue, and obviously part of the rationale behind closing records is that it's out there on an island. It takes a long time to get to court houses that adds to delays in people's cases and keeps people in detention longer. And so as you said the rationale for relocating jails to the boroughs is to cut down those distances in the Bronx location. The CD's proposed is different from the ones in queens or Brooklyn Manhattan, which I think are all going to be potentially connected to their courthouses by a tunnel or a bridge. The Bronx would be think about a mile away. Correct. This is the reason here, we are, isn't it ironic? We're talking and speaking of criminal Justice reform, and the and the biggest injustice is being perpetrated on the Bronx. Are we any less than the other boroughs has said? Has said that the site you've talked about which is the courthouse is for those who don't visit the Bronx regularly or live. There are on one sixty I and you've proposed a site that is there the city's comeback has been that. It's simply too small for what they what they need is that an invalid objection because number one what data do they have this shows that they haven't even examined us. I in a courthouse. Number two, if they're referring to the property that they own and only that property, then perhaps it is more. But what we're seeing is that they should take the family court which has been under utilized. This you can you can d map the street between the family court and the criminal court house. And then you have all of the space that in some of that space belong to the state, and maybe they don't wanna get into it with the governor. Because the man the government, you know, don't get along. And so they've chosen the path of least resistance is towpath because e DC owns that property. So again, they choose in political expediency. But if you took the the. Family courthouse the street and the state's own property and the property behind the courthouse you can build up and have the necessary bed. And by the way, even if you don't go up as high as initially you would want to well, you know, what Ben and Jerry, they have reexamined the proposals in Manhattan, and in queens, and they've decreased the amount of heights there. So again, why cheating other boroughs different than than that you need the Bronx. But the space is actually there. So and you hit on the second thing. I you know, what I've heard from the divisor administration is both the size, and they have the control of this Topalli. They don't have full control. And you might have hit it something they'd have to negotiate with the state. And by the way, I'm sorry. By the way, I've already spoken to the state. The state is willing to just give the property to them. No good to nuggets enough. So we want to move onto other topics. But but one more let me just say this topic before we move on. It is critical. It is important something that we're gonna have to be dealing with for generations to come for us to get it right here. I wanna I wanna ask one more thing on it, actually, which goes back to this question of who got briefed. And who didn't and who's in and political expedience. The city council member who represents the district with the towpath with the city site is Diana yellow, and she has been on board with this from when they announced it so is is there some sort of disconnect there. I mean, what's the, you know city council members. And I supported that Yala. She won the district from because district is split between the Bronx and Manhattan and the Bronx is there for her. But respectfully, she doesn't live in the Bronx in the Bronx part of this. So no one who made this decision. We will only told once a decision was made. But no one who was in the room when this decision was made lived in the Bronx. I mean that was admitted at the press conference where they announced this that you had not been briefed or brought into the conversations. And then by the way, the towpath still present all of the all of the different concerns from transportation to not having the defense attorneys being able to have access to their clients. If all of the all of the things that we talk about Rikers island, presenting in terms of the criminal Justice reform. You're still gonna have all of those concerns at the toll pound. I if we're going to do it. Let's do it. Right. Let's do about a courthouse. So one of the things that this episode gets out his actually a larger issue wanted to ask you about which is. There's a charter revision commission happening right now. In one of the things that's being discussed is the powers and the role of the borough presidents. Do you think anything related to the powers of the borough president's needs to be changed in the city? Charter is there anything that you either want changed or any warnings? You have about making changes. I mean, we have we have. So my Representative and we're going to be discussing that more nuance. But off the bat, I think that when you look at the Euler process, maybe the borough president, should you know, our role has to be more than just advisory or, you know, this right now, the Euler process only the city council can can say no to a project. Their vote is the only vote, that's actually binding. I'll vote is is not a binding vote. And by the way, I'm not going to be the borough president forever. But I think that when you look at borough president the that's the only position in the entice New York. Where the person or the people holding bills the officer bar presidents represent an entire borough. So just off the bat that's something that, you know. I mean, and I don't wanna get into all the nuances of of budgetary. And and how our budgets perhaps should be independent of of, you know, the vote from the city council and the mayor's office and so on and so forth in how do we do capital, you know, allocations, so so the all these things we're gonna come up with some suggestions and give them to our Representative. And hopefully, those will be taking up in the future when we're talking about the charter revision commission and potential vote. So as the commission moves forward here, your office is planning to to put forward some concrete proposals or daily. Absolutely. I'm not here for window-dressing. Didn't know if you're just having those privately with your Representative on the commission who I believe is former city councilmember Jimmy Bob Walker. Correct. Are you just going to be communicating with him privately or do you plan on putting those out publicly? We we are starting to talk privately. I eventually, yes, we want to put out our you know, what we come up with. So we've been you know, brainstorming here, obviously, there's some things that obvious others that you more detailed and more complicated. So we want to flush those out. But when the time comes we'll come out with our proposals. And of course, we'll make them public. You're listening to maximum WBAI ninety nine point five FM, we're talking with Bronx borough president Ruben the as junior if you wanna give a call ask a quick question. It's two one two two zero nine two eight seven seven Mr. borough, president to shift gears your borough, which is also where I live is home to two of the nine specialized high schools in the city Bronx science and high school for American studies. My full disclosure. And my son goes to the ladder of those two and equity and issues around access to the H SAT have been an issue for many years, and they've percolated up again with the results of the tests affecting next year's incoming class. And the question about whether people in your borough or having an adequate access to those institutions, what do you think of the proposals? The mayor has put on the table to reform the emissions process. Do you agree with them? Do you have your own take on what should be done? And and kind of what the end goal is. Generally. I agree that the status quo is not working, and when you have lightly less than eleven percent of all of the seats at the specialized high schools over to black and Latino students this year, there's something fundamentally wrong with what we're doing here. And I've been thinking about this and working on this since two thousand eleven I remember putting out a report that report was actually quoted in a lawsuit at the end WC P had. Against the department of education based on this issue. Some of the recommendations that we've put out were everything from perhaps looking at doing away with the exam or doing exam. Plus, you know, when you look at the Ivy league schools, Princeton Yale Harvard, they don't just take into consideration one exam. And when and and and and so we need to look at other measures in other metrics besides examination to see if we can continue to have more of a of of a representation of the student body in our specialized high schools, the other thing, I would say is that we need to have more, gifted and talented classes, if you look when blacks and Latinos were better represented in specialized high schools because we had a robust, gifted and talented program all over the state of New York that was in essence, the the. The farm system into the specialized high schools when you see that the department of education is moving away from gifted and talented, then you see the amount of blacks and Latinos decrease the other thing, and we and we we need to invest more on the discovery program. So that we can have our kids better prepared for this examination. If we're gonna continue with the examination, so. Do that. And then and then I'm sorry. The other thing that we should not be doing is putting one community against the other. And this is where I disagree with the mayor and his rollout, you know, it would became offensive to the Asian community. I think that the an, and we know that the overwhelming majority of Asian students don't come from affluent families, it it, you know, it's very it's cultural for them to to you know, to to to focus on on academe IX, and they're living the American dream, and that should be celebrated. So what we need to do is increase the amount of seats. Only three of the high schools are codified by state law. The other five were created, and we need to create more we have to. So is that is that your top line? I mean, I know you in a few things there. But at this point, would you rather not see changes to the admissions process? I believe when the when the mayor not says plan, you you're pretty supportive of it. And he wants to phase the test out altogether. No, I think that again one of the things if. If we should look at it. We know that in years past whether it's specialized SAT's or regular SAT's, many folks have made a storm argument that some of these tests, perhaps Aren culturally sensitive, so maybe looking at the test, we should at least examine doing away with the tech before we do with the examine it and see what that would mean. Or if we're going to stick with the examinations, then do testing plus leanings look at look at the we we should look at other interests of the students, we should look at other talents. We should look at grades and their GPA. You know, we there's there's so many other things that we should be looking at in the same way that Ivy league universities and colleges do so that we're not Basting basing the engines on one day or whether or not that student had a good or bad day taking that test or whether in many cases, black and Latino students and students who at the city. The city of New York. They don't they don't, you know, they have to travel long distances. They're not great test, takers. They were not they didn't have the resources and preparation for for the exam. So, you know, then they're not being you know, some- someone could say that a lot of this is an indictment on the overall public school system. Not preparing our students. That's why we should identify those that have excelled academically and create more and more programs. We don't have to call them gifting and talent giftedandtalented programs because we know that gifts and talents come in many, different ways, many shapes and forms. So I think that the time has come for examining. And and come to the realization that the status quo is just not working in the city of New York in two thousand nineteen when you have thousands of students applying, and you know, again, you know, eleven ten percent black and Latinos when we make up seventy percent of the student body. Something is wrong here. And I don't I don't accept the notion that we cannot compete intellectually like other communities can Mr. bell president. It's about a year since the Jerome avenue rezoning, the first of the two blase rezone as to affect the Bronx that might be another one coming on southern boulevard year later, what do you think about the efforts? The city has made to make good on the promises it made in terms of investment and particularly around protections for tenants and efforts to shield existing affordability and the neighborhood have those efforts been adequate. The jury still out we were to identify something like twenty three hundred twenty five hundred residents around the Jerome corridor outside of his owning where we can do not only rehab because we know that a lot of folks take exception to the fact that not only are they seeing new buildings go up, but maybe they don't have a real shot of getting into those new buildings, but they also not satisfied with the current conditions that they're living in. So we identified units around the corridors so that the city can go in work with the landlords to rehab those units, but we also have been working with organizations like CASA and others and they've been doing the groundwork and organizing to see what tenants are being harassed by their their landlords. And this is the reason why we were. Able to incorporate a pilot program with his certificate of no harassment. We were able to be successful in the campaign to have the right to counsel. And we identify those folks who need lawyers in housing court, and you know, the the workers ongoing look Jerome avenue corridor if that's going to be an ongoing process as well. So the jury's still out it's still less than than is about a year since since we actually did the Euler, and we had so many things from increasing amount of school seats. I know that the deal has been working with Cabrera and Vanessa Gibson identifying locations so that we can increase the amount of school seats. We're making sure that when it's all said and done that the the police precincts will have police officers that are going to match the amount of increase in population. We're working with the MTA for transportation and bus services to be adequate for the increase in population. So this is an on. Ongoing process. But we we definitely are focused to make sure that the city comes up with the end of the bargain, and we'll definitely be keeping track on that. And then following up as things really get moving there. I'm Sor just in our last minute or two here with you Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz junior I wanted to shift a little bit more towards the political things. Just in our last moments. You've made no secret, obviously that you're planning to run for mayor, obviously anything can happen to to change plans. But that's the plan at least of your state of the borough address recently. And I'm kind of wondering what is a what is a Ruben day as junior vision. What's the Ruben Diaz junior sort of lens for thinking about New York City what what should voters very very early obviously in this next cycle, but what should voters? No in terms of the type of leader type of city that Ruben Diaz junior would would be would lead. That I love the city that the city has provided opportunity for my family, and I and for my entire political career. That's what I've been focusing on in one. If not the most challenging part of borough of the city creating jobs since I've been here the last ten years, we've caught unemployment by more than half hundred seventeen thousand more Bronx or working today. The first thing that I took office forty five thousand units of housing we've seen unim- we've we we've seen investments to the tune of over ninety six million square feet of economic development and about nineteen billion private dollars invested here. So we've been doing that not just having businesses do business in the Bronx. But doing business with the Bronx citywide, look it. We're the biggest the best city on the planet. And yet you have so many different communities in all the different boroughs. I've go around who. Don't feel like they are benefiting from the progress that we see throughout the city that means that many of our students are and being educated in the way that other communities are that means that many men and women in business and firms are not getting a crack at investment and development when their minority or women of women own. So for me, I love the city has offered me a lot of opportunities, and as we speak of equity that's going to be the message here that this is the city here where we can provide a better future not just for some before. All and we could do it. They do this together. We could do this in a practical pragmatic progressive way. Well, we will have you back onto discuss that campaign when it really gets going, but it's good to hear some initial thoughts. I thought you might mention jobs in development since that's been a big theme for you. So we'll get get more from you on that. But Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz junior, thanks for taking some time with us. And we come once again faster than we would like to the end of another exciting episode of maxim Urfi ban. Your thoughts about what we heard from the borough president. Well, I think I'm interested as certainly as that mayoral campaign ramps up, and as there's more scrutiny on the Burr Bronx borough president that we get more firm positions from him on things. You heard him on the question of the specialized high schools, you had some ideas for things he wants to see change enhance. But that was like a very much something for everyone type of answer. So that that's just one thought I have generally on the Bronx borough president is, you know, he's going to have to really come in with some real positions on things a little more clearly than I think he has to as borough president. I think he was clear and concrete on a very narrow issue, which is the jail location is she does raise some legitimate questions about bad about what the city is plan planet when it's explanations have been doesn't mean as dispositive that site will work. But I think this is obviously beginning of a discussion. About of the Euler discussion about those sites. And I think the the Bronx is clearly where the the most intense conversation is likely and he's not wrong about the location issue that that's clearly an issue as he said, the Lippman commission recommended put the jails as close to the courthouses as possible yet. There's also questions about that site and about, you know, whether you know, there's political motivation, obviously in in opposing community jail, anywhere. So you know, there there's questions there, and you need a real planner engineer at cetera to really figure out if his arguments, you know, hold water about the site. Well, you can learn more about that. And other issues you discussed today and many more by reading Gotham because at that calm city. Limits dot org. We'll be back next week at five. He's been max from gothic because that I'm Jared Murphy from city limits. Thanks for listening have a great week in the greatest city in the world.