On Saturday March 9, 2011 a little bit of history was made in the South Bronx when a mayoral candidates forum was held at the Resurrección UMC located on 158th St. and Elton Avenue. This has never been done, or at least in my lifetime living in the South Bronx I have never heard of a forum for the NYC mayoral candidates.
I have seen many forums and debates for candidates running for mayor taking place in other parts of the city, but never in my neighborhood. It's like, people in the Bronx don't count?
Perhaps that was the image and state of the borough in the past, but what this forum demonstrated was that the Bronx and especially the South Bronx is not the same community that it was in the past decades. Yes, the Bronx still has many of the problems of the past and in particular the South Bronx still suffers from some of the worst statistics in the city and nation, but the level of interest for change among the residents that live here has changed and we are demanding respect. This mayoral forum is one of the many indicators proving that there is a wave of change that is slowly developing in the poorest congressional district.
The forum was organized and supported by a number of community organizations and coordinated by the South Bronx Community Congress. The attendance was standing room only and the only thing missing were the majority of the candidates running for mayor. We did get to hear from some of the candidates. The first two candidates were third party candidates one from the Green Party and another Independent Party. Both candidates though running for parties that do not have a chance of winning should be given credit for at least raising issues that are important to the poor and working poor in the city. They should also be commended for coming to the South Bronx and promoting their issues and most important for being on time.
The majority of the people present were activists, or working in programs, or issues that affect our lives daily and that are important to the South Bronx. Issues like health, housing, gun violence, education, labor. We would have loved to hear the major candidates come and present what is their position on many of these issues? Unfortunately, that was not the case. Once again we are reminded of what the outside world, especially the elected officials running for the top citywide office think of the South Bronx.
The one exception was Comptroller John Liu who took the time to come to the South Bronx. He did arrive over an hour late, but then again, he is a major party candidate and is probably running to more community meetings than his peers.
The most important lesson from this first mayoral forum is not what was said, or not said by the candidates that showed. The lesson is that the major party candidates did not show. Their message: "we do not count." However, we don't need to organize a mayoral candidates forum to know that the South Bronx is not a priority stop for any of these candidates. This is especially true if the invite is coming from community organizations that they might not be familiar with.
Therefore, the highlight for me was not from the candidates who attended, or the fiery speeches from the same activist that we see in every event we have in the South Bronx, but from the many new faces I saw. I briefly spoke to and heard from many new people and that convinced me that the Bronx is indeed changing.
Like one women expressed, "we can continue to have great meetings like this, but if people like us in attendance don't do more that coming to a forum like this then nothing is going to change." The forum was good and I am proud that the South Bronx Congress took the time to help coordinate this event. I am also proud that our organization, the South Bronx Community Association supported this event and proud of the few members that did attend.
Now let's take it to the next level in whatever work we are doing to improve our community. Personally, I am doing what I believe I need to do. I am running for City Council in the very district where our host church is located and where I have grown up since I was 4 years old. As such, I will continue to do what I have always been doing, support the correct issues for our community. I look forward to the next level as we let the rest of the city know: This is not the same old South Bronx.