South Bronx votes for a leader whose top priority is to fight crime

In the South Bronx, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo had no trouble capturing the votes of this heavily democratic district. But for these voters, where crime was the most important issue on election day, surprisingly there was someone else in their mind and hearts that helped them cast their ballots for Cuomo: former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“I see Giuliani’s qualities in Cuomo,” says Myrtle Randall of Mott Haven.

While mayor, Giuliani never received much support from neighborhoods like the South Bronx, that are heavily African American and Hispanic. Giuliani had a particularly cantankerous relationship with the South Bronx, home to Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who died during the Mayor’s tenure, in a hail of 41 police bullets while reaching for his wallet. However, now that residents are facing rising crime rates there is a nostalgia for Giuliani’s Law and Order focus. South Bronx locals are hoping that Cuomo’s background as State Attorney General, with a reputation for being tough as the state’s leading crime fighter, will be like putting a crime focused Giuliani-like politician, in the Governor’s mansion.

Randall, 50, has lived in the Bronx for more than 30 years and has seen her neighborhood change. She recalls the early 1990s when the crime rate was high and locals lived in fear. But in the mid 1990s, when Giuliani was mayor, things began to shift dramatically and crime rates went down. “In the late 1990s violence in the Bronx decreased because there was a leader in the office who actually cared about making the city safer,” says Randall.

The most recent New York City Police Department crime statistics show that in 1990 the number of reported cases of crime in the Bronx was as high as 79,825 cases, which dropped to 26,913 in 2001. The numbers have continued to decrease but the rate has been much slower. In 2009 more than 19,000 cases were reported. “In 2010, we shouldn’t have to be talking about fighting crime in our neighborhoods, but sadly we still do because just in the last few years the situation has deteriorated and if nothing is done it will just get worse,” adds Randall.

Although the economy, unemployment, and housing were some of the important issues voters thought about while electing leaders this mid-term election, for voters in the Bronx candidates who were strong on combating crime was just as important.

“There is so much attention being paid to the economy that dealing with crime has fallen off the list,” says Alfredo Diaz of Cypress Avenue. “The economy will get better, but what are we doing about keeping our kids off the streets?”

Still, residents warn that simply cracking down on crimes is going to only help in the short-term. Ensuring that young people stay out of the streets needs planning and policies that can be carried over long term, That nuance of the neighborhood’s tough crime talk help keep voters unwavering support of democrats strong on election day despite dreams of Giuliani.  Lesbia Mena, a biology teacher says that they don’t need to be radical policies; just introducing smaller reforms like prioritizing after-school activities for kids will make a difference.

“Young people join gangs or get into crime because they are not engaged outside their school,” says Mena. “Policies should really focus on youth-oriented activities that keep the kids busy and out of the streets.”

Bernice King an organizer at the St Ann’s Church, on St Ann’s Avenue, has witnessed how the after-school activities have helped people in her community. The Church has regular after-school activities for young children, many of whom have continued to do well in school and gone off to college. She says that there are many young people in the community who are raised by single parents, for whom after-school programs are important. “We have helped a handful of children who come to us,” says King. “Think of how many people such programs will help if it was taken up throughout the borough.”