Ernest Kaufman voted

Three incumbents and a newcomer win easily

Voters took to the polls across Mott Haven on Nov. 4, hoping to have their voices heard on a familiar array of issues and concerns. Although all of the incumbents and one newcomer cruised into office in landslides, voters sounded off on funding for education, crime prevention, basic maintenance for public housing and attention to the environment.

In addition, many said jobs are increasingly hard to find or complained that their wages have stagnated.

When the dust settled, Carmen Arroyo (D) held onto her seat as Mott Haven’s representative in the State Assembly, while newcomer Michael Blake (D) won the 79th Assembly District, which had been vacant for a year after his predecessor, Eric Stevenson, was ousted and sentenced to three years in jail following a bribery scandal.

State Senator Jose M. Serrano (D) captured his seat in the State Senate, while his father, Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D), was re-elected to the U.S. Congress.

Here’s a smattering of comments from Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris voters who were interviewed as they went to the polls:

Education and youth
An urgent need to fix the city’s public education system was on the minds of many who came out, including Jennifer Ellison, a 37 year-old math and science teacher at PS 5 in Port Morris. Voting at the Mitchel Houses Community Center on Alexander Ave., Ellison said she was focused on two citywide ballot initiatives, including Smart Schools, a measure to make high-tech teaching tools more accessible for students.

“I’m a teacher here in the South Bronx and access to technology is paramount. Computers, high-speed internet, iPads if possible, whatever we need to equip these kids for the twenty-first century,” said Ellison.

Carlos Quintana
Carlos Quintana, a graduate of PS 277, voted at his alma mater.

Carlos Quintana, 23, a combat engineer in the army, said the need to improve schools brought him out to vote at PS 277 at St. Ann’s Ave and 148th St.

“I honestly feel that the kids aren’t getting the education that they need,” said Quintana. “I grew up here, graduated from this school. I live in Pennsylvania now but my son lives in the neighborhood.”

Others worried about high crime rates on the streets as well as in the neighborhood’s public housing complexes. Federico Garcia, a 66 year-old retiree, said “more police” are the answer, to “control the criminals.”

For Bobby Smith, 56, a public housing resident who works as a food service supervisor for the Department of Correction, closed circuit cameras in NYCHA buildings are part of the answer.

“I’ve seen them doing the cameras, they’re a good thing – they’re there for a purpose, keep intruders out of the halls,” said Smith, voting at the Mitchel Houses Community Center. “I’d like to see more of that kind of thing.”

One voter said the elderly remain particularly vulnerable to criminals on local streets.

“My mother is 73 years old and they jumped out on her with their hands on their guns asking, ma’am what’s in that cup,” she said.

After casting her ballot at the Dr. Evelina Lopez Children Literacy Center on St. Ann’s Ave., one voter said that the absence of programs for young people is causing the crime problem to fester. Yvette Venning, 50, a resident of Cypress Ave., blamed Republican lawmakers in Washington for the lack of youth programs. She said they “are closing a lot of doors.” Venning, who works as an aid for the developmentally disabled, said “there’s nothing for the kids to do.”

Ernest Kaufman voted
Voter Ernest Kaufman at the polls on East 143rd St.

For others, however, police presence is a double-edged sword. Ernest Kaufman, 53, a drug counselor at the Mott Haven Community Center on E. 143rd St., said NYPD “harasses people for no reason. Just because they are walking down the street.” But, Kaufman added, at the same time teenagers are committing crimes in the neighborhood. “These young kids believe they don’t have to go to school and get an education to do better. They believe fast money is the best money but it’s not.”

For some voters, nothing trumps putting food on the table as the key concern. “I vote for poor people. We need help in every situation…sometimes we don’t have food,” said Clara Augusta, 75, after leaving the polls at PS 277 across from St. Mary’s Park. Augusta, who worked in administrative positions and as a seamstress in lower Manhattan before retiring, said “Sometimes the money I have is not enough.”

A voter at the Antonetty Literacy Center said “the minimum wage needs to be changed sooner or later.” Astrid V. Hayes, 50, who is jobless, said “I’m gonna need at least $10.13 an hour” to make ends meet.

Another voter at the Center said it’s hard to have faith in an economy where workers are not adequately compensated. Maria Burgos, 76, said her daughter is a schoolteacher working the job of two people after a co-teacher was laid off. “They still haven’t given her a raise in her seven years,” Burgos complained.

Air quality is an issue area politicians overlook, according to Marty Kerlew, a 56 year-old health care worker voting at the Mott Haven Houses Community Center on East 143rd St. “For me, the main issue is environment,” said Kerlew, adding that there aren’t enough “safe spaces” in the area. “The pollution is not that bad over here. But if you go a little bit closer, maybe at 133rd Street, it smells a little more because the sanitation is over there.”

“We would like to have a little more access to the waterfront,” Kerlew continued. “Right now, we can’t do anything.” Implementing ferry service at Port Morris to connect residents more directly with lower Manhattan would give the neighborhood a big boost, he said.

Public housing
Richard Cruz, a custodial worker who lives in a Manhattan NYCHA complex but frequently visits Mott Haven says the city’s housing authority has to be pushed to get its act together. “The housing department is very slow on issues—the elevators are always broken—no cameras on the elevators,” said Cruz, who lost the right to vote because he is a former felon, adding “Come on, man, you want protection, our families live there.”

A first-time voter cast her ballot at Hostos Community College.
A first-time voter cast her ballot at Hostos Community College.

Voting process
Although there were no reports of system breakdowns or electioneering as in the past, one voter said she called the borough’s Board of Elections to report that a poll worker at PS 77 across from St. Mary’s Park told her she would have to vote down party lines or her ballot would be thrown out.

One 30 year-old first time voter who identified herself only as Sally cast her first-ever ballot at Hostos Community College. The need to help bring about change for those in need was too great to stay away again. “There are lot of programs that need help like child care, medical,” she said.

“We need jobs, so I am looking forward to the best candidate that focuses on these programs.”

Reporting by Rania Berrada, Jonathan Carey, Rahim Chagani, Maura Ewing, Allison Fox, Mia Garchitorena, Brian Josephs, Paul Liotta, Cariba Juline Party, Ana M. Rodriguez,

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