Congressman Serrano represents New York’s 15th Congressional District, loosely bounded by the Harlem, Bronx, and East Rivers on the west, south, and east, extending north up past Fordham Road. The District includes the neighborhoods of Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Melrose, High Bridge, Morrisania, East Tremont, Tremont, Morris Heights, University Heights, Belmont, Fordham, Bedford Park, West Farms, the Longwood Avenue Historic District, and parts of Soundview. Famous sites include Yankee Stadium , the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage , the magnificent Sanford White-designed Bronx Community College and its Hall of Fame of Great Americans , Fordham University , Hunts Point’s vibrant The Point and its developing South Bronx Visitors Center, Bronx Borough Hall, the Grand Concourse , Little Italy / Arthur Avenue , the Bronx Museum of the Arts , and Roberto Clemente State Park . The district also abuts the world famous Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden .
The following is a profile of the 15th District adapted from The National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics .
Bronx old-timers remember the days when Presidents Roosevelt and Truman rode down 138th Street, when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio knocked home runs out of Yankee Stadium, when Art Deco apartment buildings were built along the Grand Concourse, when shoppers thronged Tremont Avenue stores, and when Bronx County Democratic Chairman Ed Flynn was Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As early as the 1880s, the Bronx (then known as the Northside and only recently annexed from Westchester County) was linked to the level eastern half of Manhattan by elevated steam locomotives. But the borough really took off in 1906 with the arrival of the first subway, which allowed the children of immigrants to move from grim Lower East Side tenements to spacious walkup apartments flooded with light. The Bronx's population grew from 200,000 in 1900 to 430,000 in 1910--enough, had the borough been independent, to rank as America's sixth largest city--and 1.2 million in 1930. The Bronx's population peaked at nearly 1.5 million in 1950. But after a quarter-century of deterioration, the population shrunk to 1.2 million by 1990. Now it's up again, to 1.3 million in 2000, as new immigrants revive neighborhoods that had been given up for dead.
The borough began to struggle more in the 1960s. Rent control, insisted upon by tenants, meant that many owners of low-rent property wouldn't maintain it; once empty, many buildings were torched for the insurance money, sometimes as many as four blocks a week. At the same time, a drop in low-income, low-skill jobs in Manhattan and the Bronx led to a rise in welfare dependency and crime, with empty building shells becoming the perfect venue for drug dealing. And the 13-year, $250 million effort to build the Cross-Bronx Expressway --a brainchild of Robert Moses that crossed 113 streets and avenues, hundreds of utility mains and ten mass-transit lines--made things worse. As workers plowed through acres of tough bedrock, the project shredded entire neighborhoods, forcing 40,000 people to move from their homes and forever changing the landscape. In the upheaval, longtime residents left and an unfortunate cycle emerged: crime drove away jobs, which drove away fathers, which produced more crime.
Presidents and presidential candidates came in--Jimmy Carter in 1977, Ronald Reagan in 1980--promising help. Ironically, the South Bronx was never the worst slum in New York; it just looked the worst. The borough's saviors were churches and creative community groups which, without much centralized planning, built single-family pastel bungalows and small-scale apartment projects for the elderly, single-parent families and former homeless. With their help, the South Bronx has turned a corner. The building spree of the 1990s created the Bronx's first new wave of housing starts since the 1950s, and the first new cluster of private residences since the 1930s. While Bronx County still has the third-highest percentage of single mothers in America, and while rates of childhood asthma are among the nation's highest, low-income families in the Bronx are now finding it possible to work their way up. Local institutions such asBronx-Lebanon Hospital have helped, employing area residents and providing neighborhood stability. As immigrants from Ecuador, Ghana and Bangladesh settled in, the population once again rose; a few corners of the 15th District have even seen yuppies and artists colonizing old industrial space. Charlotte Street, which Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan once visited as the worst of the slums, is now Charlotte Gardens , with owner-occupied houses worth $180,000. As with other parts of New York City, one of the main challenges now for the 15th District is improving its commercial sector.
The 15th Congressional District includes most of the South Bronx. It is bounded by the Harlem River on the west, the East River on the south, the Bronx River and Bronx Park (home of theBronx Zoo ) on the east, and goes just past Fordham Road on the north. It includes the Parisian-style Grand Concourse , where single-family homes for the wealthy were replaced in the 1930s by stylish Art Deco apartment buildings; this was one of America's biggest Jewish neighborhoods up through the 1960s. It also includes Belmont , a Bronx "Little Italy" and site of an old-fashioned food market on Arthur Avenue ; Belmont now has a growing number of Albanians. The 15th also includes the lower-rent commercial sections of Westchester Avenue, Boston Road and the Hub, and the flatlands of Bruckner Boulevard, Mott Haven and Hunts Point (though not the meat and produce markets). The 15th is 30% black, 63% Hispanic--the highest percentage in any New York district. This has long been New York's largest concentration of Puerto Ricans, but an increasing proportion of Hispanics here now are from other parts of Latin America. Politically, this was the most Democratic district in the country in 2000--92% for Al Gore and just 5% for George W. Bush.