An offensive newspaper column and an unapologetic “apology” could lead to a rare shake-up on a Bronx community board.
Bronx Community Board 11 members voted 20 to 7 on Thursday to move forward with a full board vote on Nov. 30 that would create a committee to consider demoting Vice Chair Albert D’Angelo and Chair Bernadette Ferrara.
The vote will come months after D’Angelo, who is Italian American, penned a Bronx Times column in his capacity as president of the Morris Park Community Association, “to address the elephant in the room,” as he put it.
He declared Black people “the least educated, least healthy, poorest and among the most incarcerated groups in this country,” who as a result of “social programs, which make people dependent on government handouts” are mostly living “a day-to-day existence with no vision for the future.”
The column, published in April, argued the Black community has only itself to blame for largely failing to achieve the American Dream, rather than American racism, since “If that were true, how were the slaves freed and how were Black Americans given the right to vote and how did we elect a Black president?”
He added that “anyone who is different (color, ethnicity, sexual preference and religious affiliation) has been vilified at one time or another, it is not an excuse for failure it should only intensify our resolve.”
At a heated leadership committee meeting two weeks after D’Angelo’s column was published, community board member Richard Reynoso objected to what he said was its broad language about a whole group of people, and asked if that would be an acceptable way to speak about Jews or gays or other groups, using slurs to illustrate how vile that would be.
D’Angelo argued that he not only had a free-speech right to express his opinion but that “leaders around the country” — including presidential candidates — are saying such things.
But the issue, board member Cynthia Rodriguez argued, was that D’Angelo was “presenting it” — meaning his opinions — “as fact.”
“The last thing we need is somebody in a position of leadership giving the impression that he is a racist to more than half the people in this community,” said Rodriguez, who also referenced a June 2021 Facebook post where D’Angelo wrote that he was selling his “white privilege card” and “would be willing to do an even trade for a Race Card which seems much more widely accepted and played frequently by politicians.”
D’Angelo removed that post — which Ferrara had previously liked — from his public feed nearly two years after publishing it. He told THE CITY that he’d done so after speaking with a Black friend who explained what white privilege meant to him.
“I have lived for over 25 years in this community and for years I have called out these types of opinions as being racist, insensitive and disrespectful,” board member Christine Culpepper told D’Angelo at the April meeting. “This is not the first time that you have expressed these opinions. And Black people have told you ‘this is not your place. You are not an expert.’ Not only do you continue but you double down.”
Board member Malcom Gray, who is Black, told THE CITY that D’Angelo’s column read like a “my community don’t have issues but yours do so we have to fix yours type of thing.”
Gray went on: “I don’t think that’s something that any community member on this board wants their leadership to be.”
‘I Wrote an Opinion Piece’
Bronx Community Board 11 encompasses much of the East Bronx, along with CB10. Of the 137,755 residents in the district, 18% identify as white, according to 2021 data from the NYU Furman Center neighborhood profile. That compares to 34% of CB11’s board members who identify as white, according to demographic information community boards are required to post on their websites. The board is 30% Black and 36% Latino.
D’Angelo maintains he was only “stating the facts,” and said some board members are discriminating against him and Ferrara, who is also Italian American.
“I think it’s prejudicial against Italians. If you look to see what happened, it’s myself and Bernadette,” D’Angelo told THE CITY, touting what he said were his years on the community board and on the advisory board for Jacobi Hospital. “My track record speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything to anyone.”
He added that “the article I wrote was as president of the Morris Park Community Association and has nothing to do with” his role as vice chair of CB11.
“I wrote an opinion piece. I have a right to do that as an American citizen,” said D’Angelo. “The last time I looked I had freedom of speech. I could say what I wanted. I don’t bring that to the board.”
Ahead of the vote later this month to consider his removal, D’Angelo says he wants to continue as vice chair. But, he added, “I’m 80 years old. I don’t need this. This is volunteer work.”
If he remains, D’Angelo, like all of the board members, will have to attend the “diversity training” CB11 voted to establish in response to his column.
Queens Councilmember Nantasha Williams recently introduced a bill that would mandate equal employment opportunity trainings to community board members, including on discrimination and sexual harassment.
Sorry, Not Sorry
Ferrara, who did not respond to requests for comment, was elected as the board’s first female chair in January.
In February, the conservative Democrat announced her primary challenge to Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez (D-The Bronx) in a City Council district encompassing much of the East Bronx — rejecting Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s request that she take a leave of absence from her role as chair of the nonpartisan board to run.
As the Council race heated up, Ferrara missed the May 2023 board meeting, chose not to attend several committee meetings and mismanaged the board’s role in the City of Yes zoning plan and the cannabis license applications, according to board members and regular attendees who questioned her commitment to serving as chair.
“While she was running, she did not show up to any committee meetings,” board member Miguel Dyer told THE CITY, adding that Ferrara often Zoomed into full-board meetings rather than attending in person.
In May, Ferrara had a separate controversy related to a chaotic public board hearing in September 2022 about the proposed Just Home facility that would provide housing for formerly incarcerated people with complex medical needs including cancer and congestive heart failure.
Supporters of the proposal were drowned out in a raucous public meeting where Ferrara, then a board member but not yet its president, was one of several opponents of the facility who incorrectly referred to the prospective residents as “inmates.” (The board later voted, 30 to 4, to write a letter of objection to the Just Home proposal.)
Gibson, who appointed D’Angelo, told THE CITY in a statement that she was “deeply disappointed” with dysfunction at the board and that members “must now come together in the public’s interest.”
“It is important to note, however, that most incidents have been perpetuated by a very small number of Members who too often disregard their duty, disrespect their colleagues, and distract from the Board’s incredibly important work,” said Gibson. “The overwhelming majority of Board Members are dedicated citizens who respect their position and selflessly volunteer their time to better our community.”
In May, a few months after she was elected board president, the board voted to issue a public apology for that meeting. Two months later, Ferrara put out a letter on behalf of the board — without consulting the rest of the board first and that conspicuously did not offer an apology.