Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, the former schoolteacher and urban planner who helped the Yankees put up their new billion-dollar stadium, was named White House director of urban affairs on Thursday.
President Barack Obama said Carrion "will bring long overdue attention to the urban areas where 80 percent of the American people live and work." He said the new urban affairs office will focus on "wise investments and development." The 47-year-old Carrion, who is to report to Obama and coordinate all federal urban programs, is also president of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. He campaigned for Obama in states with large Hispanic populations.
The selection inspired joy and some anger in the Bronx.
"We are extraordinarily proud that the president has reached out to our borough and taken such a man," said Len Caro, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. "This is an extraordinarily appropriate appointment. Mr. Carrion's education is urban planning and he is a very charismatic and positive individual. When he puts his focus on things, they get done." Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., who is believed to be interested in succeeding Carrion, said, "The Bronx's loss is our nation's gain.
Adolfo has made all of us proud in his tenure as Bronx borough president and his legacy will be with us forever. " That legacy includes 40,000 new units of housing, 50 new schools, $7 billion in capital and infrastructure expenditures and more than $400 million in new parks and parkland renovation, the White House said.
It also includes the new Yankee Stadium, scheduled to open in two months across the street from the old House that Ruth Built.
Carrion was an early and avid backer of the billion-dollar-plus project, despite considerable community opposition to the loss of the parkland that was given by the city for the stadium.
Carrion dropped four members of a community board that voted against parts of the plan, and one of them said Thursday that Carrion's appointment was "very unfortunate for this country." "Adolfo Carrion was involved and orchestrated taking several acres of parkland from one of the poorest areas of the country and gave it to the wealthiest sports team in the world as free land," said Lucas Herbert, an urban planner himself. Herbert voted against some rezoning and permit approvals and was not reappointed to the board by Carrion in 2007.
The land deal calls for the lost parkland to be replaced, but the old Yankee Stadium has not been turned over to the city yet, and the other new parkland -- some atop parking garages -- won't be as good as what was lost, Herbert said.
"This is a huge environmental justice issue," he said. "I thought when people voted for Obama they were voting for change, but Carrion is just more of the same." Carrion's press office did not immediately respond to the criticism Thursday, but the borough president has said in the past that that the overall project, which includes a new railroad station and heavy retail development, is bringing jobs and investment to the Bronx.
Yankees President Randy Levine said Carrion had led "a successful revitalization of the Bronx." Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the borough president's involvement in the new Yankee Stadium and other initiatives "made the projects better for the Bronx and its residents."
City Councilwoman Helen Foster, whose district abuts the new stadium, said Carrion's new role will be "a testing ground for him, in terms of making sure he takes the high road and does what's best for the people, not what's best for him. ... That was not taking the high road, getting rid of people (on the community board) who did not agree with him." "I think this is a real opportunity for him to prove himself," she added. "I trust the president, and I'm sure he knows what he's doing." Carrion earned a master's degree in urban planning from Hunter College in 1990. He also served on New York's City Council, was an urban planner for the city, and taught in public school.
His father is a Pentecostal minister, and Carrion was an associate pastor for a time at a Bronx church. When he was sworn in to the City Council, he sang the Puerto Rican anthem.