Has President-Elect Obama Lost His Mind?

Change we can believe in?

That’s a slogan pretty hard for those of us who live in – and love – The Bronx to accept.

It now appears that President-elect Obama has tapped our clueless borough president, Adolfo Carrion, Jr. for a new position as the chief of a newly created “White House Office on Urban Policy.”

If Adolfo does for the U.S.A. what he has done for The Bronx, then we are in for a very tough time. The Bronx is at the bottom by just about every indicator. It is the poorest of the 62 counties in a state, and one of the poorest counties in the nation. New Orleans did surpass us in the poverty sweepstakes, with a little help from a hurricane named Katrina. Our woes in The Bronx are entirely man-made.

The crime rate is back on the upswing, and our schools are afflicted with stratospheric dropout rates and pathetic test scores. The gentrification that is remaking much of the city for the better has, thus far, passed us by.

To be fair, Adolfo inherited much of this mess. It has been in the making for decades. But when running for election, he advertised himself as an urban planner and policy expert who could turn things around. Instead they have gotten worse under his watch.

His efforts to fix the Bronx economy have been laughable. Golden opportunities are missed one after another. Some may laugh at Brooklyn’s Marty Markowitz as a buffoon, but few would assert that he is ineffective in what has become the default job of the borough presidents, the booster-in-chief of their borough’s business community.

We should be doing better. The Bronx is blessed with a key location as the only one of the five boroughs on the U.S. mainland, which should work powerfully to our benefit. But Adolfo has failed time and time again to bring home the bacon for his beleaguered constituents. Evidence is that the borough’s residents are ready and eager to work. Whenever a new business opens, hundreds, even thousands of applicants, typically line up, hoping to be considered.

A few years ago, a deal between the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA and the City of New Rochelle, just over the Bronx border in Westchester County, fell through. If you covet the New Rochelle location for its proximity to the rest of Westchester and nearby Connecticut, the Bronx seems, at least to me, the next best thing. In fact maybe even better, because of the easy access to Queens, Long Island and New Jersey we enjoy.

But evidence is that the borough’s leadership failed to make that pitch. Where did the IKEA that Adolfo let slip by wind up? Why in Brooklyn, of course.

When it was noticed that all of the other boroughs were actively campaigning for new film studios, one of the local Bronx papers asked Adolfo’s press office what the Bronx is doing to enter the fray. “Well, we sponsored a Puerto Rican film festival,” was the reply.

In a community of a million and a half souls, there is no hotel that you or I would be comfortable having a friend or a relative come to stay in. This despite the presence of some important tourist attractions such as the Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Gardens, and Yankee Stadium, as well as Fordham University, a major educational institution that draws students from all over the country.

However, if you are looking for a place for a short stay, a very short stay, perhaps an hour or two, The Bronx welcomes you. This is one segment of the Bronx economy that has thrived, that of our “Hot Sheet Motels.”

Adolfo has had a very special role in promoting this industry.

As a member of the City Council before becoming Borough President, Adolfo voted against a rezoning plan put forward by Mayor Giuliani that would have banned the construction of more such motels in the Boston Road corridor of the northeast Bronx, an area particularly hard hit. Local civic groups requested the change, and the mayor sought to act in the public interest.

Turns out that Adolfo’s wife, Linda Baldwin, a land-use attorney who was then part of the law firm of Bronx Democratic power broker Roberto Ramirez, was representing a jerry-rigged “merchants” group opposing the plan. The ersatz group was actually a front for the largest property owners, eager to preserve their ability to use their land as they wished, even for one of these hated hotels. She, with her husband’s help on the Council delegation, was able to thwart the Giuliani plan, and the northeast Bronx remains, to this day victimized by this toxic plague.

Adolfo, by the way, received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from those same real estate interests who benefited from his and his wife’s betrayal of the community.

So as Adolfo Carrion pack his bags for D.C., we can tell you that many of us in The Bronx will be glad to see him go. But as Americans we have a unique perspective that the change coming to the nation’s capital might not be the kind anyone should believe in.