Next borough president speaks out

Surrounded by supporters, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. announces his candidacy for Bronx Borough President.

Candidates take on Hunts Point issues

By Joseph Gallagher
As Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrion Jr. emphasized affordable housing and pressed for development. The next Bronx Borough President will emphasize schools, said the two men vying to succeed Carrion in interviews with The Hunts Point Express.

“I want to be selfish,” said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. “I want the Bronx to be strongly considered in overall spending. High school students are getting something like $11,000 per capita; other kids in other boroughs are getting $15,000 to $16,000 per capita. That has got to change.”

Anthony Ribustello, who played the character of Dante Greco on “The Sopranos,” is adamant about the importance of computer education in schools.

“If we get computers in the hands of children faster, they will be better suited for what comes down the line,” Ribustello said. “There should be no reason why our schools are failing.”

Diaz plans to capitalize on the relationships he has forged over the last 13 years as a State Assemblyman in his efforts to ensure the Bronx gets its fair share of funding from the city, state and federal governments.

“I know what a budget entails. I have passed, or would have passed, 13 of them by the time I am elected,” Diaz said. “I have a relationship with Governor Paterson and all five state senators who touch the Bronx, who are all in the majority now.”

When pressed on more local matters, Diaz, who represents Hunts Point in the Assembly, was well versed in issues concerning the Hunts Point and Longwood communities. Ribustello, a Republican, who has not held elected office, was less so.

Diaz spoke adamantly against any plans for future jails in the neighborhood and was also enthusiastic about State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s lawsuit against the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, which has been the source of foul odors around the Hunts Point peninsula for years.

“I thought it was perfect,” Diaz said. “He’s really defending a community that for so many years has had to deal with horrible smells and pollution and its about time somebody did something about it, and we are so thankful for Andrew Cuomo.”

Diaz opposes tearing down the Sheridan Expressway, a position at odds with many Hunts Point community organizations. But he emphasizes his relations with those organizations and the areas in which they agree.

“I’ve been a champion for the groups in other areas,” he said. But demonstrating a familiarity with the details of the Sheridan proposal and the jargon of its planners, Diaz said, “I think that Alternative 2C creates the right balance where the community can benefit and trust that business can thrive in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx.” That plan calls for a new off-ramp at Leggett Avenue for trucks coming from the west, while the Sheridan would continue to be used as it is now for trucks coming from the north.

Ribustello, who is originally from Throgs Neck, admits he is not as well versed in specific issues related to Hunts Point and Longwood. But he insists he is still passionate about issues affecting the communities.

He hasn’t had a chance to examine the specific proposals for the Bruckner and Sheridan expressways but he does know the harmful effects emissions can have on a community, he said.

“I worked in hospitals for 20 years,” Ribustello said. “People don’t realize how serious asthma is unless you have a child that is affected by it. Anything we can do to increase business in Hunts Point while decreasing trucks in the neighborhoods would be welcome.”

Ribustello also believes it is important for parkland to be recovered in the Bronx, especially the parks displaced by the new Yankee Stadium.

“We should never forget about the community,” Ribustello said. “Where do kids go to play sandlot ball now? You need places for kids to grow and play and feel safe, so they don’t turn to the other side of the fence. I’m not real familiar with the inner workings of what has been discussed down the line with development but it can’t just be for business purposes.”

Ribustello and Diaz are both steadfastly opposed to tolls on the free bridges over the East and Harlem rivers, as proposed by a commission seeking to shore up the MTA’s finances and forestall a threatened 23 percent bus and subway fare hike.

“No way. How much more money do you want people to spend in this city? It’s insane,” Ribustello said. “The direct result will be driving families out of the Bronx, not keeping them in.”

Diaz said he opposed the fare hike but also opposes the idea of new tolls to raise the revenue—an idea endorsed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who leads the Democratic caucus in the lower house to which Diaz belongs.

“On one hand, you have an increase of 23 percent to working families in the Bronx, where services are cut,” Diaz said. “That’s totally unacceptable. But on the other side, you have to raise the money. The one thing I don’t accept is the plan for the toll crossing.”

Both candidates stressed the importance of finding the right balance between business concerns and community concerns while trying to stimulate job growth in the Bronx.

“I am going to try to do the best I can to find a balance of both,” Diaz said. “I have a strong reputation of always being fair to the community. I am fair and honest and I don’t see why we can’t have a climate where both the community and the business community feel like the Bronx is their home and they can feel respected.”

“Our children deserve as much of a shot as anyone else,” Ribustello said. “We are doing business on a global scale more than ever before. We have to be able to compete.”

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