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Facebook Friends Prove Fickle for Bronx Borough President

By Patrick Wall | March 2, 2012 7:12pm
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. speaks with a Bronx actress, Eve Lora, at a "Facebook Meet and Greet" on March 1, 2012.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. speaks with a Bronx actress, Eve Lora, at a "Facebook Meet and Greet" on March 1, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

GRAND CONCOURSE — A good Facebook friend is hard to find.

That was one lesson that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. could have gleaned from Thursday evening’s “Facebook Meet and Greet,” a social media experiment that his office designed to test the true worth of an online supporter.

“I have to see if we can translate it so we’re not just cyber friends," Diaz said at the swanky G-Bar near Hostos Community College on the Grand Concourse.

But only a dozen or so Facebook friends not on the borough president’s payroll attended the meet-and-greet, out of 472 who were invited.

“If it’s a failure, then you learn a lesson,” said John DeSio, the borough president’s director of communications. “But I don’t think it’s a failure.”

Still, Bronx blows away the other boroughs in one often-overlooked measure: the borough president's Facebook Friend and Like count.

Diaz's personal page boasts 4,820 Friends and his professional page counts 3,716 Likes, for a total of 8,536 online supporters. (A spokesperson said the office created Diaz's professional page since the Friend limit for a personal page is 5,000.)

The next closest borough president is longtime Brooklyn beep Marty Markowitz, who has enticed 6,017 people to click “Like." Manhattan’s Scott Stringer has 2,885 Facebook Likes and Helen Marshall of Queens has 1,359 Friends, while Staten Island’s James Molinaro is not on Facebook.

During the recent uproar that followed the state, city and Bronx decision to offer FreshDirect a massive $130 million subsidy package to build a new headquarters in the South Bronx, Diaz’s office rushed to Facebook to round up allies.

The Facebook page “Bronxites for FreshDirect” was created, DeSio said, to show FreshDirect that those Bronx residents loudly protesting the subsidies and the imminent increase in truck traffic were actually in the minority.

The plan backfired.

The vast majority of posts and comments on the page — except those by Diaz or his staff — were critical of the proposal.

While 133 people Liked the page, only about 19 off the approximately 100 posts and comments on the page by non-Diaz staff were supportive of the FreshDirect deal.

One poster, whose Facebook page said she lives in Queens, wrote on the “Bronxites for FreshDirect” page: “THIS is how Ruben Diaz is working to get Fresh Direct to deliver to the borough that it will reside in? What a joke! A Facebook page... really?!”

At the live Facebook event Thursday, Diaz said that, in fact, all the online criticism, at least the constructive kind, had been useful.

“For me, it’s a good sounding board,” he said, adding, “That’s how we came up with most of the MOU,” or memorandum of understanding, a written agreement between the borough president and FreshDirect that sets certain hiring and environmental targets.

On February 13, Karen Argenti posted on Diaz’s FreshDirect page: “This is a plan to utilize public lands without reviewing community input….Too bad there wasn't an unlike button!!!!!!!!!!!!”

But rather than dodge Argenti, an environmental consultant who has worked with Diaz in the past, the borough president waved her over at the party and launched into a spirited defense of the deal.

Diaz also chatted with a few of Argenti’s friends, who are members of the Harlem River Working Group, which seeks to rehab the Harlem River and establish an uninterrupted greenway around the entire borough.

“He didn’t make any commitments,” Argenti said later, “but at least now he understands what we’re talking about.”