If you don’t know who Eddie Cullen is, don’t worry. He’s not offended. And in fact, you might know one of his relatives, and not even realize it.
His grandfather, Paul Bolster, was one of 19 children born to Mary and Cornelius Bolster — at one point holding the unofficial title of “largest family in New York City.”
The Bolsters were a Bronx family who loved their country. In fact, Paul and seven of his brothers would fight in World War II — half of them in the U.S. Army, and the other half in the U.S. Navy.
And all of them returned home.
It’s a considerable legacy for Eddie to live up to. But he’s ready.
“I don’t even know where I would start with my family and Riverdale, because I probably have 100 stories,” Eddie says.
“I was excited to talk to you because it’s like a Hometown Heroes conversation,” he added, referring to a feature published last year in The Riverdale Press at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s certainly a hometown conversation, and in a good way.
Eddie lives on Blackstone Avenue, and spent a good part of the pandemic running his company, Impact USA Group, that he founded in 2018 to help create what he describes as an energy corridor that is more environmentally sustainable.
He took a step back recently as he focused more on running for office — something that really energized him after working on Karen Beltran’s unsuccessful attempt to become mayor of Yonkers.
Yet helping out is something Eddie says he always finds himself doing, much of his past work focused on giving back not just to the physical world around us, but to people as well.
“I think I was just kind of shocked into action,” Eddie says.
“So there’s something called the Harlem Tech Summit last summer, and about 2,000 virtual attendees came. I mean, really notable people, like Obama’s inauguration chair, the Vatican, Google. But while I was there, I saw that the 9/11 Tribute in Light was canceled.”
That’s the art installation that shines in early fall from the World Trade Center site, beaming 88 vertical searchlights into the sky arranged in a way that it mimics the twin towers that once stood there.
Setting up the event each year was a herculean task that required a lot of people. But with the coronavirus and a need to social distance, organizers had pulled the plug on the 2020 display.
“After four days, I just said, ‘You know, no one is doing anything,’” Eddie says. “I don’t blame anybody, But it was mismanaged.”
There had to be a solution — and ultimately there was. Gov. Andrew Cuomo later said the Tribute in Lights would continue as originally planned, all done while trying to ensure its installation didn’t spread the coronavirus even more.
Still, Eddie had an idea in his head, and he wasn’t turning away from it.
“I’m an entrepreneur and a teacher. I’m not a politician,” he said. “But if I’m capable of solving problems right now, then I need to just do it.”
He wants to do it by bringing people together, including something he’s referring to as his “110-Day Plan.” This would create 50 public-private committees ranging from aging to criminal justice to education to homelessness, and more.
And it’s homelessness that really has Eddie’s attention right now, because he fears that problem is about to get far worse than it gets better.
“I think you get a bunch of people in a room, get a whiteboard and markers out, and say, ‘OK, we have to solve this now, because we can’t wait. The landlords and tenants can’t wait for Superman.”
Right now, many renters and businesses are protected by eviction moratoriums put in place from the COVID-fueled economic collapse. But that moratorium isn’t going to last for much longer — and there are still no protections on renters who might owe thousands of dollars once society returns to normal.
“It’s real, you know?” Eddie says. “It’s like in three or four months, either people are going to be homeless, or they’re going to keep kicking the can down the road. And then the next mayor is going to have to deal with this.
“You’re talking about the displacement of 50 percent of our city. That’s a lot.”
The outer boroughs like the Bronx will be hit especially hard, Eddie says. And it could be something that takes years to recover from. No one person can create all the solutions, however. It takes a community to solve problems, and that’s how he wants to govern if voters give him a chance.
But those ideas require money, too. Something billionaire Robert Smith might be able to help with. Not to give money, necessarily, but to have wealthy people like him follow one of his primary edicts.
“It’s his 2 percent rule, where he suggests corporations take 2 percent of their revenue, and invest it back into under-served communities,” Eddie says.
“That way, they can see investment in the communities, and then get a return on that.”
Smith especially wants to see dollars funneled into minority communities, and that if the nation’s 10 largest banks followed this idea, they could pump in nearly $20 billion a year into communities that need that money the most.
“Those returns for the under-served don’t necessarily have to be capital,” Eddie says. “They can be job opportunities. They can be hands-on internship opportunities. They can even be just a chance to talk with someone like you, or someone from a bank.
“It’s really just engagement and opportunity. So it’s getting a significant return and leveraging to get that return, and then also having a social benefit as well.”
Some interesting ideas from someone so many still might not know. But then again, who knows? Maybe in a few months Eddie Cullen could become the city’s best-known name joined with the title of mayor.