At last Wednesday’s monthly meeting, several speakers accused CB5 Chair Vincent Arcuri, Jr. and District Manager Gary Giordano of being disrespectful, as well as for allowing the hearing to unravel with anti-homeless comments.
For example, one resident at the October 7th meeting said she hopes somebody will “burn the place down,” referring to the planned shelter for 200 men at 78-16 Cooper Avenue.
“You led a lynch mob,” said Joey De Jesus, a member of the Ridgewood Tenants Union (RTU), at the CB5 meeting. “It was racist and disgusting.”
The Ridgewood resident attended a previous CB5 committee hearing on a proposed animal shelter, which the committee approved.
“So we can afford dignity to animals, but we can’t afford dignity to our fellow human beings?” De Jesus added. “It’s despicable, it’s disgusting.”
Raquel Namuche, an organizer with RTU, said her group, which first formed in 2014, was painted as “outsiders” and falsely accused of being paid to disrupt the hearing.
“You all very much know that we are not planted rabble-rousers,” she said. “In fact, we have been extremely respectful to you all since the inception of this group.”
Namuche added that they allowed the labeling to persist, rather than silencing voices that were “literally making violent threats against the homeless.”
“That is despicable and you should all be ashamed,” she said. “The leaders in CB5 should be extremely sad with yourselves.”
Arcuri and Giordano were also criticized by Mike Papa, a leader of the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition, which has been fighting against the shelter for years. Papa said their style of leadership has become “ineffective, unproductive and divisive.”
“It’s my opinion that the both of you have lost touch with this community,” he said. “Neither of you gentlemen conduct yourselves as public servants who put forward the voice of this community.
“You instead act as if you are another governing body whose job it is to instruct this community on how things will be,” Papa added, “making excuses and justifications to carry out the wishes of our corrupt mayor.”
Papa reminded the rest of the board that they have the power to vote out Arcuri as chairman and elect someone else. He also suggested Giordano “resign and make room” for someone who can give the leadership the community needs.
“If you gentlemen can no longer provide the type of leadership we require, then it is time for a change,” he said.
While neither Arcuri nor Giordano resigned at the meeting, it appears at least one CB5 member did in response to the public hearing. Ridgewood resident Carmen Santana said she was “very disturbed” by what took place that night.
“From the moment I hit the floor in the auditorium, the smell of hate was disgusting,” she said. “The venom, the foaming at the mouth, the calling of names.”
When she heard a resident suggest burning the shelter down, Santana said those were “Jim Crow’s words.”
Santana said she felt the meeting wasn’t organized properly. Elected officials, for example, should have been given a dais on stage, and another area for the board members.
“I don’t want to be a part of this anymore,” Santana said before leaving the meeting early. “I will not allow you to disrespect me or anyone else.”
Other board members, while disappointed by what happened at that hearing, said tensions were high because the issue was so personal.
“I think you have to give the residents a little benefit of the doubt,” said Brian Dooley. “It’s their homes, it’s their children, it’s the schools. It’s going to impact everybody’s quality of life.
“You have to expect that when people are talking about their children and grandchildren,” he added, “they will fight like a cornered lion when it comes to protecting [them].”
When it was Giordano’s turn to respond, the longtime district manager said he and Arcuri have done “the best we can by these communities” for nearly four decades.
He shared that he was a CB5 member for more than eight years, chairing the Youth and Health committees. Prior to becoming district manager, he was executive director of the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC).
When he started at the organization, it only had one tutoring program in the district. By the time he left, they had programs at 12 schools, most of them near the Brooklyn border, which were selected based on low reading scores.
Giordano added that he’s been a longtime member of the board of directors at the Salvation Army in Ridgewood, which has helped many homeless people.
“I’ve put in my time helping people who were in need, as far as that question goes,” he said.
The district manager added that whenever a homeless person comes to the board office, he typically “drops whatever I’m doing” to help that person. He said he has “virtually bathed the feet of homeless people.”
“We have basically worked most of our adult lives, given up family obligations and free time, vacation days, to do the best we can by these communities,” Giordano said.
As for the accusations of racism, Arcuri said he has also been the subject of racism. He said when he started out in the construction industry 40 years ago, he couldn’t find a job in the beginning because of his Italian heritage.
“I was told to be a concrete laborer,” he said.
Some members defended the CB5 leaders against the criticisms.
“Your reputation stands for itself,” said Jerry Drake, referring to Giordano. “The board supports you and supports Mr. Arcuri.
At the end of the meeting, the board’s Special Committee on Homeless Issues made a motion to recommend against the homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue. The motion passed unanimously.