Hispanic Heritage Week: Serrano Provides Steady Leadership To South Bronx
For a decade, Congressman Jose Serrano has worked to bring financial support to one the nation's poorest neighborhoods. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
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While Congressman Jose Serrano has such a powerful position as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that people call him "cardinal," he says he just considers himself an average New Yorker.
"I'm from the Bronx and I have never stopped thinking of myself as just simply a person from the Bronx," Serrano said.
As a chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which gives out funds to various agencies and groups, Serrano has been able to wheel and deal for his South Bronx community.
"I am proud of the fact that I brought close to $150 million in earmark funding for the district since 1999 alone," he said. "That is in addition to the housing starts. That is hundreds of millions of dollars."
But with so much money coming in, why does his congressional district continue to be the poorest in the nation?
"The poorest come here, they build a home, and then they move on," said Serrano. "Chances are that the South Bronx will always be a poor district."
Serrano was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, but moved to the South Bronx with his family when he was six years old. He grew up in the Millbrook public housing development off of Brook Avenue.
Serrano has been a member of Congress since 1990; prior to that, he was a state assemblyman for 16 years. He's known to crack jokes, even printing up baseball cards with his political stats. Still, Serrano maintains a low profile when it comes to media coverage.
Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute on Latino Policy, describes Serrano as a smooth operator with a clean record.
"As far as I can tell, he has never been arrested or indicted like a lot of his fellow politicians in the South Bronx. So that is a good thing," said Falcon.
However, Serrano has seen some controversy. He allocated over a million dollars for a Puerto Rican museum; he says the recipients misused the money. There is also tension over his support of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Serrano says he sees the good in the men, like Chavez and Venezuelan-owned oil company Citgo helping the poor in the South Bronx.
"Citgo has provided thousands of gallons of home heating oil to my community," Serrano said.
An avid runner, Serrano says his race to help the Bronx and its immigrant communities is not over.
"If you want to know about my political career, look at the way I run, very slowly, but I never quit," he said.