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Mount Eden’s ‘guardian angel’ targets graffiti

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Five years ago, Sidney Flores needed money. Five years ago, Mount Eden needed a facelift. So Flores made God a promise.

“I prayed,” he said. “I prayed to God that if I came into some money I’d get a SUV and dedicate it to the community.”

Flores bought a Take 5 lottery card. He won $81,500.

Most days after work, Flores cruises the Grand Concourse in his blue Toyota Highlander, looking for leaky fire hydrants, broken traffic lights and trip hazards. In 2006, he helped renovate a playground.

Now Mount Eden’s “guardian angel” is after graffiti. The Concourse turns 100 this year. But spray-painted “tags” cover the boulevard’s art deco facades.

“I think the graffiti is just kids trying to be recognized,” Flores said. “Some of it is gang-related. Some of it is stupidity. All of it is an eyesore.”

Last month, Flores began a tour of Concourse buildings. He wants the neighborhood’s supers and property owners to register for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Graffiti Free NYC program. The mayor offers free graffiti removal services, but property owners must first sign a waiver. Flores distributes waiver forms.

In Mount Eden, Flores said, graffiti is on the rise – literally. Taggers are hitting second and third floors. Flores caught one culprit red-handed last year.

“He got a slap on the wrist,” Flores said. “If it was up to me, I’d give the younger kids a week in jail. I’d give the older kids a month in jail. Maybe then they’d think twice before messing around.”

Community Board 4 district manager Jose Rodriguez applauded Flores’ work. Rodriguez wants to get the city’s Department of Sanitation involved. Summer is tag removal season; it’s difficult to power-wash graffiti from frozen walls.

Flores, by day a Bronx Lebanon Hospital painter and handyman, enjoys playing the good Samaritan. Every summer, he hands chilled bottled water to rookie cops.

“A lot of people think I’m running for office,” Flores said. “I’m not. I just notice these quality of life problems that other people won’t address.”

Flores lives on the Concourse at 175th Street. He was raised in the Webster Houses.

“Why does the money stop in Community District 4?” Flores asked. “The Concourse is beautiful up and down. Sure, we have a renovated Yankee Stadium area. But elsewhere the Concourse is falling apart. It bothers me.”

Flores works closely with the 44th and 46th police precincts.

“It’s tough,” officer Carmen Lonesome of the 44th Precinct said. “We wash the graffiti away. A few days later, there it is again.”

Officer Warren Thompson of the 46th Precinct is grateful for Flores’ help.

“I call him our guardian angel,” Thompson said. “He does it out of the goodness of his heart.”

Updated 5:24 pm, October 21, 2011
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