City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray talk with staff at the Red Cross shelter for survivors of last Wednesday's explosion that leveled two buildings in East Harlem. Credit: William Alatriste/NYC Council
First lady Chirlane McCray announced on Sunday that the city's nonprofit arm secured $250,000 in pledges from business groups and individuals to help the victims of last week's fatal building explosion in East Harlem.
As chairwoman of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, McCray broke the news during a stop at Bethel Gospel Assembly, a few blocks from the site of the explosion that killed eight and injured dozens.
The pledges came from a number local business leaders and organizations, including the Real Estate Board of New York, Con Edison, the Association for a Better New York, and the families and Board members of the East Harlem Tutorial Program.
"If there's one thing that New Yorkers can count on when theres a crisis, it's other New Yorkers," McCray said at the church.
McCray was joined by her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, Rep. Charlie Rangel and Councilwoman Inez Dickens, as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In consoling the congregation at the Harlem church, which lost two members in the explosion, Sharpton said the community is proving its ability to overcome adversity.
"We are stronger than even the explosions that we faced," he said to the crowd's approval. "We know that long after the cameras are gone, we are still going to need each other in East Harlem."
Sharpton, who praised the church's leaders for their response to the disaster, told the crowd that the city needs a bishop for faith, but a mayor for help and leadership. De Blasio said he was up to the task.
"I accept the charge that Rev. Sharpton put forward, that we in the city government — we know our place is to be there for each and every person who's feeling the pain of this moment, each and every person displaced," he said. "We will not let them fall."
The mayor recognized that many of those affected by Wednesday's explosion in the neighborhood commonly referred to as El Barrio are from the Latino community, and reaffirmed a point made earlier by Mark-Viverito that no individual will be denied assistance based on immigration status.
The message struck a chord during de Blasio's visit to a bilingual service at the Church of God on Third Avenue with Mark-Viverito.
"They're all brothers and sisters," de Blasio said as the mostly Latino audience gave the mayor a standing ovation. "When the firefighters arrived and the police arrived, they didn't say, 'Can we see your papers.' When the church opened its doors, they didn't ask for a passport. … That's what we believe in New York City: We embrace all New Yorkers."
Bishop Hector Chiesa, who leads the Church of God congregation, cautioned those in the building about the city's aging infrastructure, noting the need for authorities to take more responsibility to avoid another accident, currently thought to be a gas-related.
Chiesa referred to the Spanish Christian Church, which stood on the first floor of 1644 Park Ave. and housed some congregants, as a sister church.
He offered prayers to its leader, Pastor Thomas Perez, who was hospitalized with chest pains Friday after firefighters recovered a singed Bible from the former site of the church. Perez's co-pastor, Santos Mercado, told the Church of God members Perez was scheduled to be released on Monday.
Chiesa also thanked Mark-Viverito for her work in the district and for her response immediately after the blast. She told those in attendance that in difficult times she's a person of few words and more action, but thanked the administration, community members and first responders.
The speaker also briefly chided the press and pleaded with reporters to give the survivors more privacy.
"I am going to make a plea to the press to give them some space," she said. "Many of the families have walked through our doors in great pain talking about how overwhelming it is that they have been hounded by the press relentlessly."
After the service, Mark-Viverito circled back to the work done by the Mayor’s Fund to help families recover and rebuild from the tragedy, calling it the quickest way to get support to those affected.
"There are funeral services that have to be paid for, certain expenses that are being incurred that we want to be able to help these families to be able to cover as quickly as possible," she said.