Bodegas stand by Baez; mayor speaks on armory

14th Council District incumbent Maria Baez stood with bodega and existing supermarket owners to oppose the establishment of a new supermarket at the Kingsbridge Armory. Photo by Victor Chu

In June, Councilwoman Maria Baez skipped a Community Board 7 public hearing on the future of the Kingsbridge Armory. In July, the 14th Council District incumbent skipped a CB7 vote. Baez skipped a public hearing hosted by Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and a rally led by the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA).

Baez did attend a Kingsbridge Armory event on Tuesday, August 11, however. She stood with supermarket and bodega owners at University Avenue and Fordham Road to oppose the establishment of a new supermarket at the 575,000 square foot landmark.

News flash: the Maria Baez re-election campaign has begun.

“Maria Baez recognizes the contributions that small business owners have made to the Kingsbridge neighborhood,” C-Town supermarket owner Jose Frias announced. “She doesn’t want to see our stores put out of business.”

The Related Companies – awarded in 2008 a request for proposals to redevelop the armory – plan to build a shopping mall. Members of CB7 have asked Related to accommodate a new supermarket at the armory; the 14th Council District is a fresh food desert, the Department of City Planning recently found.

That said, other 14th Council District residents want to protect existing supermarkets and bodegas. Morton Williams Supermarkets, with a store on Kingsbridge Road and Jerome Avenue, and a store on Fordham Road and Jerome, is a union shop and employs hundreds of Bronx residents. KARA and Morton Williams want a no-supermarket clause included when Related signs a community benefits agreement.

Morton Williams owners Martin Sloan and Avi Kaner have attended the public hearings that Baez has not and were present at the August 11 press conference. Morton Williams is a member of KARA; its executives have donated at least $600 to Baez’ campaign. Foodtown executives have donated at least $675.

Hispanic members of the National Supermarket Association attended the August 11 press conference. NSA executive director Nelson Eusebio thanked Baez for her support, as did the Bodega Association of the United States president Ramon Murphy.

“We deeply appreciate Maria Baez for recognizing all that our stores have done to lift back the Bronx from the bad old days when the borough was burning,” Eusebio said. “[She] recognizes that the building of a mega food mart in the armory would close five or six local supermarkets.”

Baez is not the only 14th Council District candidate to oppose the establishment of a new supermarket at the armory. New Life International Outreach Church pastor Fernando Cabrera has vowed to stand by Morton Williams and the other existing supermarkets. So has Dominican leader and parent advocate Yudelka Tapia.

No supermarket owners appear to have donated to the Cabrera campaign. A self-employed Queens supermarket owner and an Associated Supermarket owner in Brooklyn have donated $700 to the Tapia campaign. Murphy has endorsed Tapia.

“We are businessmen,” Kaner said. “We are apolitical. Maria Baez has been very helpful to us, but so has RWDSU, and RWDSU has endorsed the other candidate (Cabrera).”

Morton Williams has collected more than 10,000 signatures to oppose the establishment of a new supermarket at the armory, Kaner said.

Who arranged the Baez press conference? You guessed it: retail hit man Richard Lipsky, who the New York Observer ranked the 80th most influential individual in NYC real estate. Lipsky has battled Wal-Mart in Queens and Pathmark in Harlem.

The borough’s eight-member City Council delegation, led by Baez, sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to highlight its opposition to a new supermarket at the armory, Lipsky said.

The City Council is set to vote on the armory plan in November. Tapia doubts that the city will allow a vote so sensitive to occur on the even of the general election. But the Bloomberg administration has rushed matters before. In fact, the administration irked CB7 chair Greg Faulkner when it ordered CB7 to vote in June rather than in the fall.

At an unrelated press conference in Castle Hill on Wednesday, August 5, Bloomberg told The Bronx Times that he wants the armory redeveloped and redeveloped now – with or without a community benefits agreement.

“The armory has sat vacant too long,” Bloomberg said.

Baez has raised $51,885. Cabrera has raised $37,547 and Tapia $32,611.

More from Around NYC