The Bronx has a friend in Washington D.C. On Wednesday, February 18, Barack Obama tapped 47-year old Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. the country’s first-ever White House Director of Urban Affairs.
“One of us has been chosen,” Muslim leader Sheikh Moussa Drammeh said. “His Bronx strength will make him a national hero.”
Carrion, born in Manhattan but raised in the Bronx, was elected to the City Council in 1997. He served one term before running for borough president.
According to the White House, Carrion oversaw the creation of 40,000 new units of housing and 50 new schools. Rumors had him headed south months ago. In December, Carrion told a Yale University audience he’d be accepting a cabinet position.
As urban policy czar, Carrion will coordinate federal housing, public safety, education, health care and transportation aid to cities, reporting directly to the President.
Following Carrion’s final State of the Borough address on Friday, February 22, the City Island resident and father of three announced he would start work in Washington this week. His family will stay in the Bronx until the end of the school year.
Carrion won praise during his seven years as borough president for job creation, education funding and “green” initiatives. He helped to install high-speed Internet access in every Bronx school and fitted a green roof to the Bronx County Courthouse and.
“I’m sad to see him go,” said Gail Nathan, whose Bronx River Arts Center secured cash from Carrion for green renovations. “He understood what we were trying to. He got it.”
Carrion worked to modernize senior centers. In 2007, he reactivated the Bronx Veterans Advisory Council.
“I’ve always liked Adolfo,” veterans leader Pat Devine said. “He did what he could. He came to our parade.”
The south Bronx blossomed under Carrion, as grants transformed Hunts Point into a giant food distribution center and rezones attracted young artists to Bruckner Boulevard.
Carrion took flak for his unabashed pro-baseball stance, however. While the borough president’s Yankee Stadium neighborhood development plan secured money for non-profits and some jobs for Bronxites, environmental and community groups criticized the project. Stadium construction leveled Macombs Dam Park and benefited from public financing.
“He was the cheerleader for the stadium,” said activist Joyce Hogi. “Now we have no parks. Someone called me last night singing ‘Happy days are here again!’ That’s how we feel about Adolfo around here.”
The Croton Filtration Plant and Gateway Center Mall, both under construction, will also shape Carrion’s legacy.
“In spite of the controversy, your grandchildren will say, ‘Take me to the ballpark,’” Assemblyman Jose Rivera said. “They’ll say, ‘Who built this?’ And you’ll say, ‘Adolfo Carrion.’”
The stadium project taught him a lesson, Carrion admitted.
“Leadership can be a very lonely place,” he said. “Not everyone is going to agree with you. You have to push.”