Environment / Government

Native son stays home to run Community Board 2

Joe Hirsch

Ralph Acevedo at a meeting of Community Board 2 on Nov. 7

Environmental committee chair Ralph Acevedo voted in as district manager

As a boy during the 1980s, the audacious kid whom friends called “Ralph Mouth” spent much of his time hanging out in burned-out buildings on Seneca Avenue across the street from his home. The other teens were mostly aspiring members of local gangs and crews like the Bryant Boys, the Dark Side, the COB (Combination of Both) and the Wolfpack, but Ralph “Mouth” Acevedo preferred a solitary role as clubhouse counselor among his wayward friends.

When he would return home from those gatherings, his feet bleeding after trying in vain to step over the nails that littered the floors of those abandoned apartments, his mother gave him hell. 

“Do you know how many tetanus shots I had to get as a kid?” Acevedo laughs now, three decades later. On the same street now lined with tidy apartment buildings, there were “more abandoned buildings than actual buildings, and no community centers,” he remembers.

Now the boy from Seneca is about to take over as district manager of Community Board 2, representing many of those same friends and neighbors in dealings with developers and government agencies, and ensuring local voices are heard in a very different Hunts Point from the one he grew up in. On Nov. 7 the board unanimously voted  Acevedo to head the local board, filling a city position that has been vacant since nearly a year ago when his predecessor Rafael Salamanca resigned to run for city council.

According to those who have known Acevedo over the years, the board could not have chosen a more reliable representative of the neighborhood.

“He was always the one that was always complaining, from an early age,” recalled Julio Beniquez, a childhood friend and former member of the Dark Side—so named because the buildings its young members lived in were located on the side of Bryant less exposed to sunlight. “Even though he was younger, he was always ‘the voice.’ “We called him ‘Ralph Mouth’ because he would not shut his trap.”

While Beniquez’s own family members were getting heavily into drugs, Acevedo, he recalled, “caught my attention. He said he wanted to do something different.”  Different on Seneca Avenue meant having no gang affiliations, doing no drugs and helping others.

Beniquez, who served time in a half-dozen federal penitentiaries around the country until his release 11 years ago, still lives on Seneca, and works in construction.

“Almost all of us ended up in prison. After 13 years—-out of everybody, he was the first one I saw because he was always the one who checked up on me,” said Beniquez.

Now 43, Acevedo will inherit the reins on a community in the throes of big changes. In October, the city’s Economic Development Corp. announced it had selected a proposal to develop the former Bridges Juvenile Justice Center a few blocks from where he grew up into 740 new apartments and dozens of businesses and social service organizations. The project, once completed, stands to increase the population of the peninsula by more than 10 percent. MetroNorth will expand to include a stop in Hunts Point in 2023. City and federal officials have pledged $45 million for upgrades to the food distribution markets after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed that the city’s food supply is in the crosshairs of a potential kill shot from Mother Nature if 1970s infrastructure is not soon upgraded. And as in the rest of the city, residents are feeling the crunch of rising rents and stagnant wages.

Additionally, the Economic Development Corp. announced three years ago it was banishing more than 100 immigrant-run car parts companies from Queens, dozens to Hunts Point, and, in Acevedo’s words, “dumped them in our laps” without warning. He says he plans to hold city agencies accountable to meet their commitments.

“At times we find out information very late,” he told the board at the Nov. 7 meeting. “I have to make sure that doesn’t occur.”

Acevedo currently works as program director for a housing nonprofit, managing apartments for homeless New Yorkers. He has been a member of Board 2 since 2009, chaired its environmental committee since it was created in 2013, and has served on committees to address pollution concerns from waste transfer stations and the wastewater treatment plant.

Some board members were unhappy with the protracted voting process. Two other candidates were in the final running along with Acevedo, until two dropped out. One of them, Medina Sadiq, the former executive director of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District, has filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission saying she was initially offered the job before withdrawing, saying that one board member called her a “morena,” or black girl at a July meeting. One board member, Mildred Colon, abstained from the final vote for Acevedo, saying “we are not here in a Communist world.”

City Councilman Salamanca said that although he is distressed it took the board nearly a year to find his replacement as district manager, he is happy with their choice.

“I’m confident he’s going to be an excellent leader,” said Salamanca. “He’s a lifelong resident who understands the dynamic of Hunts Point.”

If board members voting for their new head administrator had any concern that he has designs on leaving the position any time soon, he told them at the Nov. 7 meeting that was not the case.

“I want to do a 20-year bid with you guys if you allow me to,” he told them. “I am not about the politics, I am about the service.”

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