By Mary V. Lauro
BRONX, NEW YORK, July 16- The Bronx Business Alliance (BBA) began with the best of intentions. It ended up as all smoke and mirrors. In the process, it wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars. That, my friends, is your money and my money. Never forget that the government, whether city, state or federal, has no money of its own. Any money it supplies, whether for schools, bridges, removing graffiti or food stamps, etc., is our money collected through taxation or fines. It is with pride that a citizen views his two cents used for good purposes and grouses when he sees his money wasted.
In any case, BBA was incorporated in 1997 under the directorship of Kathy Zamachanski, Richard Gidron and Greg Gonzales. Their objective was to revitalize the business district; in Boards 10, 11 and 12. We did not know that in the year 2000 when this writer was asked to be on the Board of Directors. Everything we had seen, read and heard indicated that the focus of the group was on White Plains Road from the City line to Gun Hill Road. That suited us perfectly since we had seen the White Plains Merchant Association die when shop after shop shut down due to rising rents and customer abandonment of local merchants for close-by shopping malls. In their place we saw arise a plethora of nail and hair salons as well as dozens of store-front churches. BBA seemed to be full of ideas on how to restore White Plains Road. Furthermore, we were already working with Kathy Zamachanski, a realtor currently a vice-president of Friedlander Realty, on moving the OTB. Not only did we join, but we put Kathy in touch with Margaret Arrighi who became the CEO of BBA. Kathy took up the title of Consultant. At this time and for the next 16 years, Shirley Tripico was President of the Board of Directors. None of the Directors were ever paid a single cent.
Kathy Z, as a consultant received a yearly fee, Margaret Arrighi and other office personnel were paid. The money (our money) to pay them and all other expenses including rent for the office, telephone, business breakfasts, etc., etc., came from grants supplied by all or at least one of the following throughout the years: Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Senator Jeff Klein, Councilman Larry Seabrook, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, Councilwoman Annabelle Palmer, Senator Ruth Hassel-Thompson and others.
Margaret Arrighi and Kathy Z worked hard. They tried many things, but the merchants on White Plains Road did not respond. Suddenly, and without consulting with the Board of Directors, Margaret moved the whole operation to Westchester Square area.
While we were stunned by her abandonment of White Plains Road, nothing can be compared to the blow we received when Margaret and Kathy Z informed us that Praxis was going to build a 70-unit supportive housing for HIV/aids homeless individuals and families in the lot opposite the Food Town supermarket! They said it was a “done deal.” It was sold to them by Friedlander Realty for whom Kathy Z works. Although she denied that she was party to it, one can take that with a grain of salt.
Margaret seemed to be in thick with Praxis people. She tried very hard to inveigle me to consent to the project. When I refused to be a party, she had the nerve to write a letter of support on BBA stationary claiming this was the best thing that could happen to reinvigorate White Plains Road!
Talk of deception and betrayal! We will continue next week.