Suffering through a pandemic-ridden 2020, 2021 was supposed to be a return to normalcy. Yet, there was more of the same as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to take its toll on the borough. There were some glimmers of change, however, with the rollout of the COVID vaccines citywide, the election of a new NYC mayor and a new historic Bronx borough president — the first female and first Black candidate elected to the position. The Bronx also had its fair share of protests, rallies and street renamings in what can only be described as an eventful, newsworthy year.
Here are just some of the headlines that appeared in the pages of the Bronx Times and Bronx Times Reporter in 2021.
Bronx business leaders started off the year unsupportive of a new measure. Since the cap on the number of food vendor permits has been the same since the ’80s and many vendors operate illegally, NYC was hoping to change this with legislation that would nearly double permits. On Jan. 28, the council approved Intro-116, a bill to increase permits from 5,000-9,000, create an office of street vendor enforcement and establish a street vendor advisory board.
The bill had 31 sponsors, including then-Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson — elected Bronx borough president in November — Councilwoman Diana Ayala and Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. The legislation could eliminate the “black market” for licenses and help people primarily living here illegally make a living, although many in the Bronx were not in favor of it.
“Nobody has ever argued the fact that food vendors play an integral part of what is the food business of NYC,” said Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. “That being said, over the course of the year you have had a multitude of vendors who are unlicensed or bought their license from someone else for thousands of dollars.”
As of Jan. 1, the contract between United Healthcare and Montefiore expired to cover the care that Montefiore provides to patients with United/Oxford commercial health plans, United Medicaid Community Plans and United Medicare DSNP Plans.
That same month, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., called for United Health come to the table, put greed aside and shown good faith in negotiations.
As a result of the expired contract, many residents of the Bronx, Westchester and Rockland counties have lost their in-network access preferred Montefiore doctors and hospitals in the middle of a global pandemic. Diaz had previously written a letter to United in October 2020, but received a very perfunctory response.
In February, City Councilman Mark Gjonaj dropped a bombshell announcing he was not running for re-election to a second term in office. Gjonaj began his political career in 2012 in the state Assembly and four years ago became the first ever Albanian American to serve on the City Council. The 52-year-old Morris Park resident, who is the chair of the council’s Small Business Committee, is ready for a new chapter in his life.
The 45th Precinct welcomed a new captain as Issac Soberal took over as commanding officer of the northeast Bronx precinct. Soberal, who lives in Astoria with his wife and kids, considers himself was born and raised in the Bronx and loves the borough — even going as far as tattooing the Bronx motto “Ne cede Malis,” meaning “Yield not to evil,” on his body.
“The Bronx has a special place in my heart,” he told the Bronx Times. “I think being from the Bronx is different from being from NYC.”
On March 22, family, friends and elected officials gathered at the intersection of Fordham Road and Grand Concourse where a joyous ceremony was held renaming the street area Big Pun Plaza in honor of the late rapper.
In recognition of the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, state Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner held a Day of Remembrance ceremony on March 5 at Joyce Kilmer Park, honoring Bronxites whose lives were lost to the pandemic.
“We are coming together to honor the memories of those we’ve lost in the Bronx and truly celebrate their lives,” Joyner said. “Even now a year later we’re still trying to recover from the impact from this pandemic.”
Torres, vice chair of the House’s Homeland Security Committee, was joined by fellow lawmakers, gun reform advocates and families of victims of gun violence at a press conference calling for immediate Congressional action on life-saving legislation to prevent mass-shootings and require background checks for firearm purchases.
“The shootings in Georgia and Colorado represent a wakeup call,” Torres stated. “There are too many guns and there’s too much access to guns.”
On April 21-22, a man vandalized four synagogues in Riverdale.
He threw rocks and shattered windows at the Chabad of Riverdale and Riverdale Jewish Center, located at 535 W. 246th St. and 3700 Independence Ave, respectively. The next day, he smashed the windows and doors at the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel and Young Israel of Riverdale, at 475 W. 250 St. and 4502 Henry Hudson Parkway East, respectively.