Although the Hellgate Post Office in East Harlem was renamed in 2002 in honor of Oscar Garcia Rivera, the first Puerto Rican elected to public office on the United States, the station has yet to change the sign over its front door.
“The post office is the one branch of government that needs the least amount of support because it is self-sustaining,” says local resident Mario Cesar Romero. “I see no reason why they couldn’t have commissioned $50,000 dollars for a portrait of Rivera and some biographical information.”
“That sign is the least of the problems,” insists another resident. “Hellgate, is actually the more appropriate name for what amounts to a poorly run operation. There should also be a better formula for determining the number of mailboxes available to the community, especially considering all the new housing that has sprung up in the neighborhood.”
While the U.S. Postal Service website claims an on-time delivery rate of 95%, concern appears to be mounting about delivery problems and long lines at the station. The website also states that letter carriers delivers about 2,300 pieces of mail each day to 500 addresses, although many in East Harlem would argue those statistics.
“Mail is not delivered on a timely or organized basis,” says Mr. Romero. “When I returned from a trip last summer, my mailbox was filled with other people’s mail, while my first class mail was on the ground. I found a check for $1,200 that had been sitting outside my mailbox for at least two days, and I still get mail for Maria Lopez, a tenant who moved out in 1998.
“They need to do something about the lines at the station,” he adds. “People wait and wait and wait. The manager says they have hired more people; so it seems to be a question of making more efficient use of employees’ time. And on the street, I’ve seen a few carriers working out of uniform, some with their pants below their buttocks.”
Not one for inaction, Mr. Romero has gathered seven pages of petition signatures from local residents whom also feel mistreated. He has also begun attending neighborhood meetings on the subject. The most recent gathering, held on November 16, was convened by representatives from the Clinton, Johnson and Taft public housing projects, and was attended by the station manager, Herbert Clark as well as Johnny Rivera, the East Harlem liaison for U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel.
Notes Mr. Rivera, “We’ve met twice already with manager Clark, who seems open to hearing concerns and to making changes. I appreciate that he’s willing to go to meetings and listen and go back to try to resolve the issue.
“I’ve heard complaints about mail being delivered very late in the day, sometimes after working hours. I’ve also heard stories about misplaced mail and long lines at the post office. Because it is a federal office, we will monitor the issue on an ongoing basis,” Rivera assured.
During the meeting with Clark, Rivera said, the manager pointed out that the station has been independently audited, that the station’s budget has been increased, and that more people are working at the windows to increase service.
But not everyone agrees. “The mail service in East Harlem is slower than the Pony Express,” says one resident. “It’s common knowledge that if you want something to arrive on time, you don’t mail it out of East Harlem. We’ve always had struggles with this post office. My faith in the service is shaken when I see the conduct of the carrier.”
Mr. Romero, who plans to hold another meeting in the near future for residents in the 106th Street area, has quite a few suggestions he intends to propose. “For starters, all service windows should be open at all times. There should be a line exclusively for senior citizens, and there should always be Spanish-speaking attendants available throughout the day.”
Repeated calls to Manager Clark by this newspaper went unanswered. Rivera recommends consumers call Clark directly to voice their concerns. Mr. Clark may be reached at (212) 860-1896. Another option might be to place a call to the Consumers Affairs Office of the Postal Service in the James A. Farley General Post Office at (212) 330-3667 or to log on to their website at www.usps.com.
About Oscar Garcia Rivera
Courtesy of NYS Department of Labor
Born November 6, 1900 in the City of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Garcia Rivera demonstrated at an early age exceptional scholarship and leadership qualities. These were evidenced by his selection as valedictorian at the Escuela Central Grammar (Junior High School) and his subsequent election as President of the High School of Mayaguez in 1925.
Soon after his graduation from the high school of Mayaguez, Garcia Rivera traveled to New York for the first time. While there he became concerned with the needs of the poor and working class of the city.
In 1926 he held a part-time job at the Boerum and Pease Binder factory in Brooklyn, while waiting for the results of a Postal Clerk’s examination. Scoring 98.4% on that test, Garcia Rivera immediately was appointed to the City Hall Post Office which was considered to be a prestigious assignment.
While there, he organized the Puerto Rican and Hispanic employees and encouraged them to become active in the Postal Clerks’ Union of America, which earned him the respect and support of the most prominent labor leaders in the country.
In 1930, Oscar Garcia Rivera became one of the pioneer law graduates from the St. John’s University School of Law. After his graduation from St. John’s, Garcia Rivera practiced his legal profession before State and Federal courts.
He established his own law firms at Wall Street, Mid-Manhattan, and Spanish Harlem, where he often offered pro-bono representation to the poor who could not afford to defend themselves in the courts.
In 1937, Garcia Rivera was elected to the New York Assembly becoming the first Puerto Rican in history to be elected to public office in the continental United States. He was reelected in 1938 and continued to serve in the state Assembly until 1940.
About the United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the United States Government serving over 7 million customers daily at its 38,000 branches. Every year, the agency delivers over 206 billion pieces of mail to more than 142 million addresses, and collects mail from over 280,000 points across the country. The agency has been named one of the 50 Best Companies for Minorities by Fortune magazine for five consecutive years.