In May, 11-year old spoken word artist Nene Ali addressed a crowded auditorium of big shots waiting to applaud a State of the Bronx address.
“We look, listen and mimic everything that you do. So stop scratching your head and asking, ‘What’s wrong with our youth?’ Ali said. “The question you should be asking is ‘What’s wrong with you?’”
Ali belongs to the Bronx Youth Empowerment Program, founded by 12th Council District candidate and Williamsbridge resident Andy King. The plucky poet and the former Bureau of Child Welfare caseworker agree. King thinks the youth of Edenwald, Wakefield, Williamsbridge and Co-op City need an advocate at City Hall. Ali thinks that advocate should be King.
“He wants to see us in action,” Ali said. “He wants to see us off the streets.”
King is a fixture in the 12th Council Distrct, if not a fixture on the Bronx political scene. The 46-year old attended P.S. 112 and P.S. 78, J.H.S. 113 and Evander Childs High School. Andy King Sr. managed a youth basketball association.
“My dad was a community dad,” King said. “I used to think my house was a community center. There was always someone at the house to borrow a jump rope.”
A standout point guard at Evander Childs, King won a basketball scholarship to Midwestern State University. He transferred a year later to William Patterson University in New Jersey. King sat on the campus programming board, joined the black student union, played basketball, ran track and interned as a radio deejay.
“Participate,” he tells Ali. “Don’t let the powers that be forget about you.”
As a caseworker, King formed relationships with youth. He later worked on the Special Olympics and at J.H.S. 113. King founded the Bronx YEP as an alternative to the streets. The city is good to youth aged six to 12 but has neglected those aged 13 to 18, he said. Bronx YEP youth – there are 35 – meet on Tuesdays to discuss neighborhood issues. They also caucus with 47th Precinct police to build understanding.
12th Council District residents want a new youth recreation center. In fact, 12th Council District incumbent Larry Seabrook promised that he would push for a Parks Department center on E. 229th Street at a recent town hall meeting.
King didn’t attend the meeting but has been part of the rec center discussion for 15 years and is frustrated, he said. Seabrook is a two-term incumbent, elected in 2001 and 2005. He sided with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to extend term limits.
Although youth issues matter to King, the father is also determined to tackle housing and healthcare. An 1199 SEIU organizer, he recently paid a visit to the Workmen’s Circle nursing home in Baychester. King answered questions about the President Barack Obama’s health insurance reform plan and promised to keep clinics open.
The healthcare workers union has yet to endorse King, although his wife is an 1199 SEIU executive vice-president. King has raised $31,199, less than Seabrook, and netted $69,895 in public funds, more than Seabrook. Marlene Smith is a retired 1199 SEIU member.
“[King] has a union background,” Smith said. “He won’t take the people for granted.”
Unless there’s an election, Seabrook is nowhere to be found; the incumbent attends church in Harlem rather than in Co-op City, Smith said. He lost credibility when he sided with Bloomberg.
“I want [Seabrook] out,” said Smith.
King wants to speed up the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Too often, developers obtain permits before a community is able to downzone, he said. Baychester and other 12th Council District neighborhoods need affordable housing but are choking on market-rate development.
Another plank in the King platform is unity. King considers the City Council divided, the 12th Council District, too. He wants to see the City Council unite to challenge the mayor. He wants to see Co-op City join Williamsbridge, to see Olinville join Edenwald.
King has witnessed the 12th Council District “go from good to bad to disinterested.” Neighbors don’t greet each other anymore, he said. There are isolated ethnic communities. King thinks unity is the key to a better 12th Council District.
“When I was born, there were mostly Italians here,” he said. “Today there’s no predominate ethnicity. We’re Caribbean, Irish and Jewish. We need to stand together.”
King boasts more experience than 12th Council District insurgent Jerome Rice, a retired Department of Corrections captain, he said. Although the Liberty Democratic Club has endorsed King, it appears he and Rice will split the anti-Seabrook vote. The incumbent, meanwhile, is running an energetic campaign. But King, who stumped for Barack Obama in Philadelphia, is certain that the 12th Council District is ready for change.
Change is what King has promised, and he better deliver. Remember, he has 11-year old Ali to answer to.
This story belongs to a series of profiles of the Democratic candidates running for City Council in the 12th Council District, encompassing Edenwald, Co-op City, Wakefield, Williamsbridge and Baychester. The other candidates are Larry Seabrook, Jerome Rice and Sebastian Ulanga.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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