Monday, September 29, 2008

Foreclosures Skyrocket in Queens and the Bronx

View Larger Map

This Google Map (by Malia Politzer and me) depicts the percentage increase between 2004 and 2008* in the number of foreclosed homes in the 12 neighborhoods of the Bronx (total 113% increase) and the 14 neighborhoods of Queens (total 225% increase).

The four colors represent the following ranges in foreclosure increase: blue (0% - 99%), green (100% - 199%), yellow (200% - 299%), and red (300% - 399%).

Foreclosure data is courtesy of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

*The figures for 2008 are projected by doubling the sum of the figures for the first two quarters.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Danish Prime Minister's Dream

The Danish Prime Minister has summoned world business and political leaders to the bargaining table. Anders Fogh Rasmussen wants the citizens of the gradually greening globe to know that something is quite right in Denmark, although certain rotten states are working against his perspicacious vision.

Employing his time-tested charisma, starry-eyed rhetoric, and free-market antics, the Liberal Danish Premier delivered a climate change address Friday at the Columbia University World Leaders Forum. Rasmussen's three-part speech presented the global energy dilemma, his multifaceted proposal, and his assessment of the prospects for striking a climate change deal when leaders converge upon Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change conference in December 2009.

“If American per capita oil consumption were the same as Denmark's, American oil imports would be reduced by 80%,” argued Rasmussen. Moreover, he stated, the U.S. would save $300 billion per year – instead of transferring this wealth to foreign lands and regimes. While this hypothetical banks upon the nullification of a key difference between the U.S. and Denmark – much larger transport distances – the argument still holds water.

With dwindling energy supplies and quickening global warming, Rasmussen said that one major goal is to keep the global temperature increase at less than 2 degrees Celsius. According to this aim, preemptive measures will ultimately reduce the cost of corrective actions later on. This entails fostering a low carbon economy defined by more stable energy prices and a reliable, secure supply regime.

“Long term costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action now,” said Rasmussen. For the ambitious Dane, a complete overhaul of the energy sector would mean massive shifts in power production, building technology, and transport – which are generally considered the three most power-greedy sectors of the economy. It would also necessitate switching over to an intelligent electricity grid that can draw from a variety of power sources.

But, many skeptics doubt the potential of Rasmussen's proposal. The ornery American energy tendencies could prove to be most insurmountable in the run-up to Copenhagen 2009, which is a key step in the evolution of a globally accepted energy regime. Denmark is expected to establish an ambitious global climate agreement to take effect in 2012, when the the Kyoto Protocol's first 15-year commitment period expires. In the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol's momentous pronouncements, the world watched as the U.S. buried itself in an energy purgatory. While Al Gore and his partisans have relentlessly been driving for key reforms to American energy policy, the nay-sayers have been all but halting America's progress on this front.

“Those who lead the way will be the industrial icons of the 21st century,” declared Rasmussen, who candidly stated his willingness to work with whoever wins the election on November 4th. He also extolled California's ability to maintain consistent energy consumption over the course of the last three decades, while the U.S.'s overall consumption jumped 60%. Rasmussen heartily encouraged the U.S. to spur on the energy revolution.

Rasmussen claims that the Danish economy has grown by 75% in the past 25 years but experienced no concurrent increase in energy consumption. If only the U.S. could reproduce this feat over the next 25 years!

The affable PM's pitch draws its vitality from the impressive Danish example. Having heavily taxed fossil fuel consumption, cut electricity usage, decreased carbon emissions, and established a carbon trading market, the country will likely remain energy self-sufficient for a generation, according to Columbia President Lee Bollinger, who introduced Prime Minister Rasmussen.

“The American government should lend a helping hand in providing subsidies for the development of wind farms,” said Rasmussen. T. Boone Pickens' American wind power plan is a way for the U.S. to regain its position of leadership in the world, suggested the PM. He said that subsidies for alternative energy development and higher taxes on fossil fuel consumption clearly provide more of an incentive for innovators in the alternative energy field. While the Liberal Rasmussen does not suppose that Smith's Invisible Hand will swat the Pickensian wind mills into action up and down America's prairie, the PM realizes the all governments need to hasten green action in a major way.

Perhaps a far cry from truly “liberal” policy, this center-right baron of Danish-inspired globalization (i.e. Carlsberg, lego, and Skype) is known for paring down the welfare state, de-funding education, and cutting back on immigration. But he sees government as integral to the establishment of a robust and secure energy future. He exhorts the U.S. to take an emboldened role in this evolution of the global energy regime.

In terms of the overall viability of Rasmussen's plan, another concern centers on the funding for decreasing carbon emissions in developing nations. Even pro-globalization development theorists (such as Jagdish Bhagwati, who conducted the Q&A after the Danish PM's speech) point to the reluctance on the part of both 1st World and 3rd World governments to pick up the tab for greening dirty developing economies. Even if developing countries contribute less to global warming, they ought not be given a free ride in the transition to a low carbon world, argued Rasmussen.

Next, questions remain about Europe's ability to consolidate its energy markets in opposition to the eagerly confrontational Russians, who seem bent on withholding gas supplies from Europe as a political weapon. Rasmussen advocates the energy diversification initiatives that would allow northern Europe's wind power and southern Europe's solar power to be exchanged in an elaborate trading system that aims to lower the costs of energy and ensure stability and security in the long-term.

Despite the cultural and social problems that have plagued Rasmussen – most notoriously the Mohammed cartoons and an anti-integrationist Islamism – the Danish premier may be able to transcend these issues in the interest of formulating a globally beneficial energy policy. (After his speech at Columbia, Rasmussen both wished Muslims a “happy Ramadan” and defended the Danish publications' right to free speech in printing the politically incorrect cartoons).

As for the his energy promises, in eight years as Bush's best buddy in Europe, Rasmussen has not managed to persuade Bush to get behind the Danish energy plan. He praised the steps that some American states have taken, including stricter emissions targets, high fuel efficiency standards, carbon trading markets - but emphasized that the U.S. needs to do much better.

Denmark is a respected leader in tech and innovation, partially because of the dismantling of the socialist regulatory framework. As a pioneer of the clean energy movement, especially in wind power generation, Denmark seeks to advertise the business opportunities that abound in the course of preserving the environment. The ultimate message is that, if the U.S. does not heed Rasmussen's advice, enormous wealth transfer out of the U.S. will continue, and unstable oil prices and supply will burden long-term economic growth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Homicide on the West Side

Parents anxiously dropped their children off at Trinity School and Goddard-Riverside preschool early Monday morning and exchanged scant information available on the brutal killing of a Pennsylvania man in a car parked between the two schools on West 91st Street.

No trace of the carnage remained by the time the school bells chimed, after NYPD had pulled an all-nighter gathering evidence, beginning at 10:15 p.m. Sunday night when 24th Precinct officers responded to the scene.

Police found Marvin Stevens, the 38-year-old victim, being clutched by a 22-year-old female friend. Stevens was pronounced dead on arrival from one bullet wound to the face at St. Luke’s Hospital twenty-five minutes later, according to NYPD officials.

“Central Park Police stopped a suspicious vehicle traveling through the park, but it was not the suspects, who are still loose,” said John Harrison, a law enforcement official who was doing security detail for a Trinity School student on Monday.

According to Harrison, the initial police chase of the three suspects, two in a green van and one on foot, yielded no results. The female friend also did not initially provide any information, said Harrison.

He added that police might be able to identify the suspects based on fingerprints left on either the single shell casing found at the scene or on the wallet that a suspect allegedly dropped nearby.

“As I was waiting outside for my daughter to be dropped off, I heard one shot and then ran up the ramp of my building. My heart started pounding because I thought she might have been out there,” said resident Esther Gross, vice president of the Wise Towers housing board and former chair of the New York City Public Housing Resident Alliance.

“The victim and his female friend were either caught in a love quarrel or a drug deal gone wrong,” said Zoraida Bonilla, 46, supervisor of the Wise Towers tenant patrol, which aids Housing Authority police in securing the Wise Towers, four public housing buildings on the south side of West 91st Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

“The cops had been here three hours before because we had a jumper on the roof of [117 W. 91st St.], and they inflated landing pads around the whole building,” added Bonilla, about an apparently unrelated incident.

Sunday night’s killing occurred in front of the Goddard-Riverside preschool at 114 W. 91st St., which is directly across the street from where an Allied Barton security guard was sitting at Trinity School. Trinity School’s spokesman did not comment on the incident.

“Our book keeper, who opened up the facility at 8 a.m. Monday morning, was the first person here since Friday. So, thankfully none of us were affected,” said Pedro Cordero, Director of Early Childhood Services at Goddard-Riverside Children’s Center.

“The old ladies know what color drawers you’re wearing before you even put them on, but they don’t know about this one yet,” said Mookie Negron, 33, as she and other Wise Towers residents speculated whether the victim and his female friend had ties to the area.

Police spokesman Anthony Battaglia said that the ongoing police investigation has yet to yield any arrests. Authorities are trying to determine whether the incident was linked to a spate of six Harlem shootings that also occurred Sunday night, several hours after Harlem’s African American Day Parade.

The murder is the third this year in the 24th Precinct, according to NYPD CompStat data.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Evolution of East Harlem

The seeds of big box development are painstakingly being sown in East Harlem, to the chagrin of some residents present at Community Board 11’s Land Use Committee meeting last Monday night in the basement cafeteria of North General Hospital.

While the massive development promises to bring jobs and tenants to a blighted section of East Harlem, residents fear that the project could result in less green space, squeezed out local retail, less affordable housing, and a parking nightmare.

Almost two years after the city first issued a request for development proposals, the East 125th Street Development plan is slouching forward. Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, District Eight Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Manhattan Community Board 11’s East 125th Street Taskforce are ironing out an agreement to select one out of three developers being considered for the mixed-use 1.7 million square foot project.

“Developer E, the presumed favorite in the ongoing blind selection process, is real estate mogul Joseph Sitt’s Thor Equities, which is also redeveloping Coney Island,” said Robert Rodriguez, Manhattan Community Board 11 Chair. Vornado Realty Trust and General Growth Properties are the other two developers in the bidding to build the combination of retail, office, residential, and cultural space – and even a 180-room hotel.

“Our goals and priorities focus on affordable housing, jobs, a cultural center, public space, and small businesses,” said Rodriguez, who sought to make the plan’s $100 million in expected community benefits “accountable to the people of East Harlem.”

The proposed six-acre East Harlem site contains three parcels located between Second and Third Avenues and East 125th and East 127th Streets. The Economic Development Corporation, the city’s development wing, has spearheaded the stalled East 125th Street plan as an integral part of the broader Harlem renaissance and the river-to-river rezoning effort.

The East 125th Street development, which may take over a decade to materialize, includes up to 300,000 square feet of anchor retail space for national tenants such as JC Penny, BJ’s, Lowe’s, and Regal Cinema. The plan is also slated to have up to 140,000 square feet for specialty retail such as restaurants and nightclubs.

Meanwhile, at the 485,000 square foot East River Plaza project already under construction at East 116th Street, Target, Best Buy, and Marshalls are still expected, but Costco may replace Home Depot, which is no longer interested. Community Board Chair Rodriguez said he aimed not to see a repeat of the scenario in which East River Plaza construction jobs were promised but never delivered for neighborhood residents.
In addition to concerns over gentrification, community members also expressed doubts whether the proposal was competitive enough to take advantage of Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone funds.

“In this credit market, I doubt that these national tenants could work out financing for the East 125th Street project,” said Garry Johnson, president of Johnson Design Consulting Inc., an East Harlem-based company. “Look at the East River Plaza’s [Home Depot]. That will happen to these guys later too,” said Johnson. Johnson also doubted whether the 50,000 square feet of local retail would be fairly accommodated in the East 125th Street redevelopment.

“The city has promised not to use eminent domain to remove tenants, but Fancy Cleaners, Midas, and a gas station at 126th Street and Third Avenue are concerned that they might not receive market value for their properties,” said Rodriguez.

The East 125th Street plan also includes around 900 units of mixed-income housing, about half of which is slated to be owner-occupied. There would likely be one residential tower and one mixed-use tower, including over 150,000 square feet of office space. Also planned are 300,000 square feet of cultural and media space, which would include 30,000 square feet for non-profit performance space, where groups such as PR Dreams and the Caribbean Cultural Center would pay below market rent, according to the current plan.

“We don’t have to develop everything. We can leave some areas to nature,” said Francis, an East Harlem resident who doubted that the plan’s minimum requirement for open space would ultimately be fulfilled. Additionally, the plan aims to include over 600 new parking spots, and some residents worried that their neighborhood would turn into a giant parking lot.

“We cannot get [Councilmember Mark-Viverito] to back us on major land use stand up to the city and fight for this neighborhood. She always folds. Now we’re under the gun again due to her inadequacies,” said Johnson. He added, “Melissa, we got you in, and we can get you out.” The councilmember did not return phone calls for comment.

“There should be a citizen review process and [Community Benefits Agreement] equal to the ones for Columbia University’s expansion plan in Manhattanville and for Hunts Point in the Bronx,” said Lee Shan, an East Harlem resident and city employee. Board chair Rodriguez countered that a more comparable review process in terms of community feedback occurred with the 125th Street Corridor Rezoning, which has already been approved by the New York City Planning Commission.

“In this process, we should be responsive and reactive but also progressive in expressing the vision for what we want,” said Matthew Washington, co-chair of the Community Board 11 Land Use Committee and Deputy Director of Friends of Hudson River Park. “The city has not done a good job in addressing these concerns, and the people who represent us are not listening. We’re shooting full force for the community and for our families,” added Washington.

“We need to take a more active role in selecting the developer and creating a decent vision before October 7th, when the City Council votes to approve the plan,” said Rodriguez, on the East 125th Street Development’s impending Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Monday night’s meeting also addressed the snail’s pace of other construction projects in the area, as well as the planned pedestrian and bike connector from East Harlem to Randall’s Island.

“We must ensure that future developments adhere to what we want before we begin them, since our children will have to live with the results. Developers want your land, labor, and the tax benefits,” said Johnson, who urged that the incipient East Harlem Local Development Corporation take heed of these concerns.

The American Ballroom Theater’s Dancing Classrooms and Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies and are two non-profit organizations listed as possible tenants for the East 125th Street development’s 30,000 square feet of cultural space.

“We would be happy to serve the East Harlem community,” said Pierre Dulaine, founder and executive director of Dancing Classrooms. “But we were not even aware that this development is still going forward.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Swiss Solar Taxi in NYC

The rain flaps clap against the sides of the futuristic, blue electric low-rider, and West Side Highway drivers crane their necks to make out the origin of the odd automobile, with its solar panel trailer in tow. As the passenger raises his right arm to signal a lane change, the driver sounds the giddy, high-decibel horn.

“New Yorkers love it,” said Palmer. “They all want to trade cars with me.”

This week, America’s largest metropolis is graced by the presence of the Solar Taxi, and the inventor-cum-driver, Louis Palmer, is more than happy to enlighten auto mavens, alternative energy aficionados, and naysayers about his creation.

Solar Taxi’s historic around-the-world journey thus far has encountered only a few minor breakdowns and just two small accidents, when cars collided with the solar panel trailer in Syria and India.

“Having driven over 1000 passengers, this little car is still running like a Swiss clock,” said Palmer.

With a start and finish in Palmer’s hometown of Lucerne, Switzerland, the Solar Taxi has already driven through 28 countries in 14 months. So far, 36-year-old Palmer’s adventure has traversed 5 continents, and he promised his mother that the zero-emissions vehicle would be home by Christmas.

“Palmer has a bold, idealistic vision,” said Johann Aeschlimann, spokesman for the Swiss Consulate in New York.

Half of the Solar Taxi’s power actually comes from the solar panels on the trailer, while the other half is taken from the power grid when Palmer charges up at night, using whichever adapter is necessary in the host country.

The Solar Taxi is a concept that represents the tremendous promise of alternative energy, said Palmer, who acknowledges that he is not advocating for impractical solar powered cars. He refers to it as a taxi so that bystanders feel free to ride along.

Through the solar car concept, Palmer projects a future in which electric cars plug into the power grid and take power drawn predominantly from solar, wind, and biomass sources. He believes this sort of technology will most quickly materialize in places like Mazdar, a zero-carbon city in Abu Dhabi.

Palmer said that his solar-electric concept hybrid vehicle cost $10,000 to build, while the solar panel trailer was an additional $5,000.

He calculates his energy balance sheet every year with the diligence of the most prudent accountant and likens it to an energy bank from which he can withdraw power with his debit card.

With the car’s electric meter, Palmer always makes sure never to exceed the annual amount generated by the solar cells on his rooftop in Lucerne, which last year harnessed a surplus of 2000 kilowatt-hours in excess of the 3000 kwh used by the Solar Taxi.

The vehicle has a 130-mile-range and maximum speed of 55mph. When the solar panel trailer is attached, the car can run over 300 miles.

“He’s combined technology and innovation to come up with renewable energy solutions, providing us with the inspiration to create scalable solutions,” said Cynthia Smith, a curator at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which hosted the official New York welcoming of the Solar Taxi.

Palmer, who works as a substitute teacher, dreamt up the concept as a 14-year-old in homeroom, as classmates were chatting about ski trips and knives. After his teacher warned him of the dangers of carbon emissions, Palmer conjured up several plans to travel the world - each designed to promote a distinct vision of greener, zero-carbon transport.

A six-language polyglot, Hungarian-born Palmer traveled Africa on a bike in 1994, Asia by car in 2001, and was a development aid worker in Afghanistan in 2002.

“Now, the goal is to promote solar energy. It’s here, and it’s just a matter of applying it,” said Palmer.

The main sponsor of the Solar Taxi’s maiden voyage is Q Cells, a German solar panel manufacturer that contributed the solar panel trailer, travel funds, and the car’s blue and black color scheme. A smattering of Swiss crests on the car’s exterior indicates the national origin of most of the car’s parts.

The voyage included the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, where the Solar Taxi scooped up Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a ride. The car will be in Poznan, Poland for the next U.N Climate Change Conference on December 3rd.

Jay Leno and Larry Hagman have been two other notable passengers in the U.S. Although Leno compared the present incarnations of the electric car to veggie burgers, he ended up plugging the Solar Taxi on his personal website, according to the Solar Taxi film crew from Berlin who spent three hours with Leno around his L.A. mansion.

“The craziest times were in India, where we broke down for 10 minutes down the street from the Taj Mahal,” said Thomas Gottschalk, the team’s mechanical engineer. “A group of over 50 Indians crowded around to gawk at us and our alien vehicle. The traffic was also the most dangerous there,” he said.

Palmer recalled spectacular police escorts in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Also astounded by the amount of attention received in the United Arab Emirates and China, Palmer said, “Every government official was like an Al Gore.” Palmer reported the coldest reaction was in Australia, where he encountered surprisingly little enthusiasm for green technology.

“We have a tradition of alternative energy in Switzerland, a country where things are really moving,” said Christoph Bubb, Consul General of Switzerland in New York.

Bubb continued, “From Switzerland, the sun21 solar-powered catamaran has already taken Columbus’ route to the New World. Bernard Piccard circumnavigated the globe in a balloon and is currently developing a solar plane with the same wingspan as an Airbus 380, which should be ready by 2011.”

Palmer plans to segue the Solar Taxi into his next project by the end of 2009, an around-the-world-in-80-days trip with a fleet of electric cars.

“I’m playing it safe in the Manhattan rain just because we have only a few months before reaching home,” said Palmer, before backing the Solar Taxi into a parking spot in front of the eco-friendly Solaire building next to Battery Park.

Palmer said, “We know the petroleum party is over 20 years from now. If this Solar Taxi is not the future, then there is no future.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bollinger: Columbia ROTC Open for Debate

"Whether to have ROTC on the [Columbia University] an issue that's been debated in the University...and it's always open for debate," said Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, as he was interviewed by Columbia j-schooler Alex Lowther immediately following the September 11th ServiceNation event.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Preparation for the September 11th Public Service Discussion

Clockwise from the top left photo: the big screen is prepared for the main event; tech staff comply with a Secret Service request to seal off visibility from Broadway; workers prepare the stage for the main event; Columbia students walk towards the Journalism building through the limited access gates, which will be manned by security on Thursday.

Italian Harlem: Claudio's Barbershop

Claudio Caponigro is one of the last relics of a bygone era. Yet, almost 60 years of snipping the locks of East Harlem residents might come to an end. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe next year.

But, the mercurial steward of erstwhile Italian Harlem’s East 116th Street hub is still anchored firmly at Claudio’s Barber Shop.

In contrast, the old Delightful coffee shop on 1st Avenue, where Caponigro used to get coffee every morning at 7 a.m., is now a “classy Dunkin Donuts,” said 79-year-old Caponigro, who added, “Colonial Tavern is now a gay and lesbian bar.” Community fixture Morrone Bakery closed one year ago, after 50 years in business.

Despite some signs of resurgence, Italian Harlem’s Old World charm continues to fade. As the last bastions of this immigrant culture disappear from the cityscape, the virtues of certainty, simplicity, and loyalty lose some of their most faithful beholders.

Still, Caponigro’s favorite Italian wall-hanging adage resonates from his stalwart barbershop throughout the lost blocks of El Barrio: “My grandpa lived so long because he minded his own f***in business.”

The tightlipped barber recently finished a yearlong probation term for refusing to reveal the names of his Genovese crime family customers to police. In the case, Caponigro’s alias was given simply as “Claudio the Barber.”

Joey, an Italian Harlem resident who did not want to appear to be “ratting,” said that Claudio’s Barber Shop was the place where wiseguys always got their haircuts. Notable customers have included comedian Jimmy Durante and the last Tammany Hall bosses, Carmine DeSapio and Frank Rossetti, who ruled in the 1950’s and 1960’s, respectively.

“Almost a dozen films, including Carlito’s Way: the Beginning, been shot here, and also Law and Order and Third Watch,” said Claudio. Jennifer Lopez used Claudio’s Barber Shop as a backdrop for a music video.

Most of Caponigro’s customers are much younger than the kitschy tchotchkes that line the peppermint-green walls of his one-room shop - a fin-de-si├Ęcle cash register, hunting paraphernalia, September 11th tributes, and a 2002 Sports Illustrated magazine photo of a supermodel clad in a rose-red bikini while sprawled on Claudio’s barber chair. Figurines adorned with Puerto Rican colors complement the dusty red, white, and green flags.

While the Puerto Rican community has dominated the area since the 1950’s, Mexican immigrants have recently changed the fabric of the neighborhood. Also, white New Yorkers in search of lower rents have begun to flock to the parts of East Harlem not covered with public housing.

Caponigro jokes that he speaks enough Spanish to know what haircut his Mexican clients want. He also says that his favorite lunch is rice and beans with pork at Sandy’s, a Dominican restaurant on 2nd Avenue.

Indeed, Caponigro’s professional gusto has not waned since he cut the locks of wealthy Doctor’s Row residents, who resided on the stretch of 116th Street that is now Little Mexico. Caponigro said that he is busiest just after the first day of every month, when public assistance checks are mailed out.

The neighborhood was formerly host to the largest concentration of Italian-Americans in the five boroughs. The nearly extinct Italian community’s largest annual celebration is the July 16th Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Caponigro is the pivotal figure in Chapter 3 of New York Times writer Joseph Berger’s multi-cultural odyssey through New York, The World in a City, which states that there were 80,000 Italians in East Harlem through the 1930’s. Residents estimate that there are now around 1,000 Italian-Americans left in East Harlem, less than 1% of the area’s population. Yet, between Pleasant and 2nd Avenues are vestiges of the amiable past.

Although the early immigrants from South Italy and Sicily crammed into the basements of Irish Catholic churches upon their arrival, they created a thriving hub of New York Italian culture. Al Pacino was born in East Harlem; Fiorello LaGuardia lived there until 1943, when the area began its precipitous decline. Born into a family of barbers in Campania, Italy, Caponigro immigrated to Italian Harlem in the early 1950’s.

Urban renewal brought down many of the community’s main establishments, including coffee shops, bakeries, and delis on 1st Avenue. Claudio’s Barber Shop, Patsy’s, and uber-exclusive Rao’s are among the last to remain.

“Rao’s used to be my hangout 50 years ago, but now Rao’s high class. I remember Frankie Pellegrino was a little boy,” says Caponigro, whose crisp, silvery hair is impeccably slicked back.

Patsy’s Pizzeria is one of the few Italian Harlem restaurants still afloat. Caponigro giddily recalls Patsy’s 75th Anniversary celebration on August 19th, when prices reverted to the 1933 level. Customers both old and new enjoyed 90-cent steak and 35-cent tiramisu.

Brother William Sherlog, a teacher and athletic director at nearby Rice High school, has been Claudio's customer for 13 years. “I don’t know how Claudio puts the hours in, seven days a week,” said Sherlog.

Another customer, Vinny, is a 49-year-old Upper East Side doorman and lifetime resident of Italian Harlem.

“I didn’t know you were a brother. I wouldn’t have used foul language,” said Vinny, to Brother Sherlog, as they exchanged thoughts about the latter’s contention that global warming allows street crime to last even longer into the winter. Vinny declares, “It used to be that the neighborhood protected itself, but now there is no more neighborhood.”

Vinny can no longer speak Italian but remembers purposefully infrequent conversations as an adolescent - for fear of being mocked. Yet, he extols his barber’s mantra, in Neapolitan dialect, which hangs next to the door: “O barbiere, te fa bello / O vino, te fa guappo / A femmena, te fa fesso.” (“Barber, you make me pretty / Wine, you make me drunk / Woman, you make me lovey-dovey”).

“Sometimes I don’t even bother to clean anymore,” said Caponigro, who gruffly laments the decline in steady, loyal clientele in colorful Neapolitan-accented phrases. His pastel green tiled floor is covered with many more shades of hair than were sheared from the heads of that day’s customers.

The same three barber chairs remain in his shop, yet his three co-workers – all his senior – passed away over 30 years ago. Caponigro still has no telephone in his barbershop.

“All my friends around here dead. I buried ‘em all,” said Caponigro, shuffling through a stack of mass cards for his deceased customers, which are neatly stowed away in a narrow drawer of a rickety chest otherwise reserved for haircutting equipment.

Tony Ascione, who owns the pharmacy at 2268 1st Ave., suggests that the best strategy to leave the area would be speedy retirement. Eddie Trongone, a retired bailiff for the New York State Court of Claims, disagreed: “I still like it here.”

Having moved from the neighborhood in 1969, Caponigro lives with his wife in the Pelham Gardens area of the Bronx, and their three daughters and two grandchildren live in Scarsdale.

Caponigro’s business is day-by-day. “If I had a son who wanted to become a barber, I’d choke him,” said a jocular Caponigro, showing off a photo of his oldest daughter with Rudy Giuliani, taken during a fundraiser for the ex-mayor’s 2008 Presidential bid.

“Here’s the bullet hole in the storefront’s side window, which also shattered part of that inside mirror,” said 28-year-old customer Brent Lamberti, a bartender at Corner Bistro in the West Village. He is one of a growing number of third generation Italian-Americans who have returned to live in Italian Harlem.

“I’ve never had a problem with anyone around here. My main window is the original and the only one in all of East Harlem without a gate or bars on it,” said Caponigro.

“Claudio is the best barber in El Barrio,” said customer Jimmy Horacio, a 70-year-old retired reporter for El Diario.

Horacio and his neighbors at El Boricua apartments on 117th Street, Jimmy Diaz, 66, and Jimmy Rodriguez Negron, 75, recall how Claudio’s haircuts – now $10 - were only 50 cents when the shop opened in the 1950’s – and that included a shave.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Campaign Contributions in 10027

Here is the breakdown of the contributions from Columbia University's zip code, 10027, in the current election cycle. 10027 has contributed about 9 times as much as the average zip code, and 2008 contributions total $369,182, according to OpenSecrets. The average 10027 household income is $41,307.

Here is a list of the donation totals for this election cycle, by recipient and amount.

Obama, Barack (D): $160,840
Clinton, Hillary (D): $68,329
EMILY's List: $14,450
DNC Services Corp: $11,100
Republican Nat'l Cmte: $10,250
Giuliani, Rudolph W (R): $9,700
National Leadership PAC: $6,750
Generation Blue: $6,480
Richardson, Bill (D): $5,800
Edwards, John (D): $5,250

*The data and images above are courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Obama McCain at Columbia

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