Coffee, Espaillat, diversity in Van Cortlandt Village


Fresh off a three-day federal government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat is coming back to New York where he’s featured at a free meet-and-greet breakfast hosted by the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center.

Other elected officials will join Espaillat at the Jan. 28 event, which begins at 10 a.m. at 3880 Sedgwick Ave. That list could include Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Councilman Andrew Cohen, state Sen. Jeff Klein, and even former Manhattan borough president and current city comptroller Scott Stringer, according to Jack Spiegel, the Jewish center’s publicity chair.

Gary Axelbank, publisher of and host of  the public access show “BronxTalk,” will moderate the Sunday morning event.

The Jewish center is a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Van Cortlandt Village. Established in 1927, it’s been housed in its current Sedgwick Avenue building for some 50 years. 

“We try to be non-partisan,” Spiegel said. “We encourage our congregants to vote and be involved, and that’s all.”

The breakfast is an opportunity for community members to interact with Espaillat and other government representatives, sharing thoughts and asking questions, Spiegel said. The three main topics he anticipates people bringing to the table are health care and Medicare, how the tax bill will affect them, and immigration. 

They’ll also probably want to know about Espaillat’s “feelings on Israel — does he support Israel?” Spiegel said. “How he feels about the Iran deal, is he pro-Trump or against Trump when it comes to moving the capital to Jerusalem or moving our embassy to Jerusalem? These may be things people will ask.”

There also could be questions about Russia, given the neighborhood’s substantial Russian population.

 “Our last congressman was (Charles) Rangel, and Rangel was very much pro-Jewish point of view and pro-Israel,” Spiegel said. “So we want to make sure — the people there want to make sure — that (Espaillat) is also pro-Israel.”

Still, it’s difficult to make predictions, in part because Van Cortlandt Village is a richly diverse neighborhood. 

“We have a large Jewish community, but we also have a non-Jewish community,” Spiegel said. “We have a lot of Spanish (speakers) in the neighborhoods, and they may end up coming here. And that’s why I feel immigration may be one of the topics.”

As for what Espaillat plans to talk about, Spiegel said he doesn’t know.

But the congressman’s spokeswoman, Candace Person, said he’ll likely discuss his journey to Congress as well as how the new federal tax program will affect residents. He’ll probably also tackle ongoing support of Israel as well as Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants who have been granted amnesty in the past.

The government shutdown was supposed to be one of the topics, but Trump signed a continuing resolution Monday night that reopened federal offices — at least until Feb. 8. 

It certainly would be no surprise if Espaillat touched on local issues like the Van Cortlandt branch of the New York Public Library, right next to the Jewish center, and efforts to create a new library a block away with double the space, Person said. Traffic concerns on Sedgwick Avenue also could come up. 

If there’s one thing Spiegel and others in Van Cortlandt Village are grateful for, it’s the plain fact Espaillat is showing up, he said.

“When our congressman was Rangel, he hardly ever came up to the Bronx, so we appreciate that,” Spiegel said. 

“It’s a very diverse community here, and we want to make sure Espaillat understands that.”