Harlem’s Mark-Viverito Called Vindictive By critics

January 5, 2014

RK1_3040.JPGIt was supposed to be a friendly talk about an East Harlem art space.

But when board members of the nonprofit Casabe Housing Development Fund met with Melissa Mark-Viverito, now front-runner for the City Council speakership, they faced a lashing out of left field.

“You used the occasion to rant against [board member Yolanda Sanchez] . . . because she had not actively supported you the first time you ran for City Council,” Casabe directors wrote in a February 2011 letter to Mark-Viverito. “The clear implication that your office engages in ‘quid pro quo’ practices . . . completely shocked us.”

The senior-housing group also wrote, “In your vitriolic rant, you voiced dismay that the African-American constituents consider you a racist and that the Puerto Ricans dislike you.”

Many activists interviewed said they feared what would happen if Mark-Viverito headed the council — claiming that advocates who stand up to her are often blacklisted.

For Casabe, it all started when Fernando Salicrup’s arts group, Taller Boricua, was evicted from a city-owned cultural center in 2011 after more than a decade.

Mark-Viverito said Salicrup wasn’t running the space properly and asked the Economic Development Corp. to find a new operator. Casabe stepped in to propose their ideas, which the angry lawmaker rejected. The center now languishes vacant.

Salicrup could not be reached for comment, but a source said he was booted in retaliation over his support of now-Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez.

“Everyone in our neighborhood is afraid of Melissa,” said Gwen Goodwin, an East Harlem activist who ran against Mark-Viverito for City Council last year. “It brings into question the discretion of the person you’re asking to be the next-most- powerful person in the city.”

The lefty lawmaker was the first council member to support the bid of Mayor de Blasio, who in return has been pushing her for speaker.

“It’s too much power to put in her hands,” said Jo Ann Lawson, who claims Mark-Viverito booted her from the community board in March 2013 after 10 years of service in order to add more Latino members.

Lawson said Mark-Viverito would often call board members and tell them how to vote.

Neighborhood resentment deepened in 2012, after the lawmaker helped cancel a city contract held by a Puerto Rican nonprofit for 20 years for the Leonard Covello Senior Center — giving it to an Upper East Side group.

While the wealthy councilwoman donned “99%” T-shirts during Occupy Wall Street protests, she’s come under fire for taking advantage of tax breaks reserved for the poor.

The Puerto Rico-born politician, the daughter of a rich hospital administrator, owns $1.5 million in real estate. Yet she obtained an interest-free loan under a city program to help low-income people buy homes.

“It’s a shame that Melissa has not only gotten [into office] but that she really is a fraud,” said Goodwin, who last week filed a million-dollar suit against her.

Goodwin claims the councilwoman put a grotesque mural of an impaled rooster on her building while they ran for district leader last year. She says the painting is a “death threat.”

Still, Mark-Viverito lavishes money on supporters, giving $65,000 in the past two years to low-income advocates Community Voices Heard and helping to push $160,000 in council funds to Picture the Homeless, run by her ally Lynn Lewis, according to budget data.

Franklin Plaza, a 1,632-unit co-op, received a $1-million grant from Mark-Viverito. The board posted flyers requesting residents re-elect her.

But Army veteran Sgt. Jose Sanchez, who lives at the co-op, says he hasn’t been able to get the lawmaker to help fund a children’s boxing club. The councilwoman canceled the last three meetings scheduled with El Barrio Boxing Association, he said.

“I was asked to vote for her,” Sanchez told The Post. “I felt disgusted about it. She can give my building $1 million but not $40,000 for our group? This is for the kids of East Harlem.”

A rep for Mark-Viverito called claims against her “false.”

“While she can’t help fund every group, Melissa has an outstanding . . . relationship with the overwhelming majority of community groups,” said spokesman Eric Koch.

“It’s demonstratively false to claim otherwise.”


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    It is certainly true that Melissa Mark-Viverito grew up in a good
    neighborhood thanks to the hard work of her parents. In regards to the
    low/moderate income house that she owns, to say that she is taking advantage is
    completely disregarding her past and how she came to own it. She purchased the
    home in 1996, when she did meet every
    eligibility requirement. She did not game the system, she did not find away
    around it, she met the requirements and earned that home through her own hard
    work and effort. And while it is true that today she is far from poor, for us
    to expect (or in some cases demand) that she give up a house that she worked
    hard for is ludicrous.

    Julia de Burgos Cultural Center: Everyone knows how important the Julia
    de Burgos Cultural Center is to East Harlem and that it is a
    place that we cannot lose. But to say that she is the “responsible for the
    debacle of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center. No one else.” is blatantly
    disregarding the facts and shows that the writer of this article isn’t giving
    Melissa honest criticism – rather, just attacking her for personal and
    emotionally motivated reasons. The problems with the Center happened because of the slow bureaucratic process, the unfortunate impact of Hurricane Sandy
    (shifting priorities in NYC) and the change in leadership in the corporations that were involved with Julia de Burgos Cultural Center. The project itself was not killed, only delayed -and while this delay is certainly not a best-case-scenario, Melissa has stated that she remains committed to making sure the Center gets additional resources to make the space available – she has done nothing that proves otherwise.

    Seniors: The issues raised here by this article are flat-out falsehoods, which can easily be disproved with a little bit of research. Melissa Mark-Viverito
    has shown commitment to seniors, even if it is isn’t always just showing up to
    their centers. She was at the forefront of the ‘Save Our Senior Centers’
    campaign against Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal that saw a possibility of
    closing up to 105 senior centers. She helped ensure that space on W. 108th St. would be used for senior housing, when the land was about to be used only for garage sites.
    Similarly, she worked with City Council on the housing project on E. 99ths St
    to make sure that 176 houses would be used for low-income elderly and/or
    disabled. In regards to the Covelo Senior Center in East Harlem, the author
    writes that Viverito ‘gave it away’ – this is not only untrue but also show
    that the writer did not do any serious research before spouting off his/her
    misinformation. By looking into the Court Case that was brought up by the
    Covello Senior Center after control was given to Carter Burden (information is
    available on the Internet: ‘Matter of Institute for Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly
    v New York City Dept. for the Aging’) it is apparent that this she was not an
    instrumental part of this decision at all.
    The original owners of Covello Center, Suleika Cabrera’s administration, originally had a 10 year contract, which was up for renewal in 2012. Three vendors made proposals and bids on the building that year, including Cabrera and Carter Burden, and the reviewers of the committee on the Department of the Aging decided that, unfortunately for Cabrera, that the Carter Burden administration was more qualified to run the growing only Covello Senior Center. It is also
    important to note that Cabrera submitted 8 proposals for different centers and
    won 7 of them – the Covello Center being the only one that Cabrera lost. This change in hands is not a secret plot to gentrify the neighborhood. The Department for Aging’s decision to terminate their renewal contract was within the agency’s discretion and Cabrera will have a chance to bid on Covello Senior Center again in 2016.

    She has shown to have our best interest at heart many times, having passed the Tenant Protection Act, protecting tenant from unscrupulous landlords and creating a fine against landlords who harass their tenants. She has introduced resolutions to continue Rent Control Programs, prevent tenant discrimination, lead the Asthma Free Housing Act, among many other bills.

    She has helped develop the East 125th Street Development Project which will create 600+ permanently affordable houses in East Harlem; the Phipps Houses
    (339 houses houses); secured 102nd St housing for at least 100 affordable homes; and even secured space on 108th St for affordable housing to be built above existing structures. While little can be done to stop increased rent rates on private property, Melissa Viverito has shown time and time again that she is working to make sure that existing affordable housing
    remains affordable and that new affordable housing home are developed.

    It is easy to say that politician ‘divides a community’ by picking one or two issues and saying that Melissa Viverito’s choice in this ONE issue has show that she is in favor of one community over another or that she has favorites -that she votes in favor of one group every time. But she does not. As I’ve mentioned previously, time and time again, she has proven to walk both sides of the line, working to make sure that the entire community is served rather than just one sub-section. For example, while it certainly would have been nice to have the mural project open to only members within the East Harlem community, the project (Los Muros Hablan) got much wider exposure and a higher attendance due to it being an International Urban Art Festival – drawing in more people from all over New York. And yet, to help local artists, she was at the forefront of El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 which
    allows for affordable housing and a community gallery for local artists As you can see, it isn’t always black and white. There are very tough decisions that need to be made as City Council Member and it is impossible to make 100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time; but
    I think it is a mistake to demonize Viverito and to pretend that she has not
    helped develop and worked toward bettering the larger community of East Harlem.

    What they didn’t tell you: It’s easy to put Melissa Viverito in a bad light when you make up facts, insult her, and don’t look at the bigger picture in the decisions that
    she has made. Viverito has topped the New York City Council’s Human Rights
    Report Card – ranking ahead of all 51 council members (in categories such as
    housing rights, workers rights, criminal and juvenile justice and government
    accountability) by consistently voting for and sponsoring legislation to
    promote the basic human rights of New Yorkers. She has led legislation in NY
    against police harassment and misconduct; allocated more than $6 million for youth programming and extracurricular activities; worked to create more
    opportunities for small business in East Harlem; created public community
    gardens and spaces for recreation; helped prevent a proposed Bloomberg proposal
    that would have forced many senior centers to close their doors; and passed
    legislate to preserve existing affordable housing. Where is anybody mentioning
    any of these things? Nowhere.

    Now with respect to Gwen Goodwin, I don’t even want to touch that subject because I don’t like to explain STUPIDITY, and to say something about that issue it would be giving it validity and the topic is just plain stupid and disrespectful to the entire community of East Harlem.

    We as citizens can’t be making decisions with faulty information that
    only serves to disempower us. Only be looking at the bigger picture can be make
    clear-headed decisions that are in our best interest.

    I believe the Melissa Mark-Viverito has been a force for good in East Harlem, and while I don’t agree with all of her policies, I
    certainly believe that she has proven to have East Harlem’s cultural and
    economic interest at heart. And now she will do the same for the entire City Of
    New York.

    Raphael Benavides
    East Harlem Business Owner

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