February 2, 2018
Last night the Vegelos Education Center of Columbia University on Haven Ave hosted an event dubbed “The State of the District.” Congressman Adriano Espaillat addressed an SRO crowd of several hundred for nearly an hour touching on topics ranging from government shutdowns and immigration to keeping local businesses open and fixing elevators.
The evening began with a warm intro by Espaillat’s predecessor, Charlie Rangel, who reminisced about his own rookie year (1971) when he was greeted in Washington as “Charlie Who?” He said that when he told folks he represented Adam Clayton Powell, Jr’s former district they instantly knew from whence he came. Espaillat echoed the line, retelling it with Rangel’s name replacing Powell Jr’s. That these two were ever bitter rivals was hard to detect tonight.
Continuing Resolutions, Espaillat explained, are no way to fund a government. It’s like having to pay the rent every week instead of once a month, using an analogy his NYC audience could relate to. He said the opiate problem isn’t just a suburban one and that funding is needed here too. He segued into a riff on the Affordable Care Act and Republican efforts to repeal or just break it by eliminating the individual mandate that makes it work. He called for G Dub HS to remain open and for Edgecombe Correctional to shut down and become senior citizen housing.
Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson sang the National Anthem
Moving on to disaster assistance he reminded the crowd that more than 3 months after Hurricane Maria, half a million people in Puerto Rico still don’t have power or access to clean water. He recalled visiting the stricken island and seeing a man getting water from a polluted source because that was all he could find.
“Our diversity is our strength.”
On immigration, he said people are being deported to the same violent places from which they fled. Projected on a screen behind him as he spoke was an old photo of a little boy. The picture was from the green card he was issued when he came here from the Dominican Republic many years ago.
He said public housing and transportation are both in need of maintenance and upgrades, adding that more people live in NYC projects than the total population of some cities. The subway station elevators up here all need to be replaced, he observed, pointing to the ones at 168th and 190th as two of the worst. He said the 2nd Ave subway ought to be extended to 125 St and that doing so would increase economic activity there.
Listing his legislative accomplishments, Espaillat drew raucous cheers when he mentioned impeachment. He also name checked several local businesses that were, or remain, at risk of closing due to skyrocketing rents. The owner of Coogan’s saluted the audience, having dodged the closing bullet recently. The street vendors of 207th were invited to take a bow for their contribution to the District. Plans are underway to relocate them nearby with the blessing of the 34 Conditions team, the Congressman reported. A blue wall of brass representing precincts from El Barrio to the Heights and Inwood filled an entire row.
Coogan’s won’t be closing after all.
Among the politicians in attendance were State Senators Marisol Alcantara and Gustavo Rivera, City Council Member Mark Levine, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, and former City Council Member Robert Jackson.