A thank you to those who worked with Joe and shared your reflections. This post includes information from Marquis Who’s Who, the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula Hall of Fame tribute and abbreviated quotes from friends and colleagues. Additional tributes and the full quotes can be read in their entirety at the end of the post.
UNHP honors Joe Muriana for our 40th Anniversary! A Bronxite for the past 50 years, Fordham University administrator, adjunct professor, community organizer, executive director, and UNHP Board President, Joe has shared his skills, goodwill, and passion for the Bronx, its people, its educational institutions, housing, and businesses through his many years of dedicated service.
A native New Yorker, Joseph P. Muriana was mostly raised in Park Slope and for a short time in Staten Island, but he has been residing in the Bronx for the past half century after graduating from Fordham College in 1975. He has lived in a variety of Bronx neighborhoods - including University-Heights, Belmont-Fordham, Fordham Bedford, and Norwood-Mosholu - before moving permanently to the Riverdale-Spuyten Duyvil Heights-Kingsbridge community 21 years ago with his new bride, Annelen Clare Madigan. Annelen, a Bronx native, has her own list of contributions to the community from her volunteer participation at St. Brendan’s Church and other Bronx parishes, service to her alma mater recognized by her induction in the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula (AMSU) Hall Of Fame, as a dedicated social worker for Bronx Jewish Community Council and at Rosehill Apartments assisting low-income senior citizens, and most recently as an art teacher at Riverdale Senior Services.
After college, Joe worked as a community organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) - a grassroots, community-based, ecumenical organization initially sponsored by a group of 12 Catholic Parishes in the Bronx. The NWBCCC was formed to preserve, develop, and revitalize the neighborhoods of the northwest Bronx during the notorious crisis decade of 1975-85, marked by large-scale arson and abandonment of entire buildings and residential blocks. Joe volunteered for the NWBCCC while a student at Fordham University and then as a staff member where he performed several key roles, initially as the lead organizer in the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood and then as executive director of the growing and increasingly successful NWBCCC.
Jim Mitchell was the first director of the NWBCCC and hired Joe. “Joe came to the NWBCCC office after graduating from Fordham,” Jim Mitchell recalls. “It was clear from our initial interview that he was a solid candidate for community organizer. He knew the City, was smart about neighborhoods, ready to listen to people and eager to work to build community power and get things done. We needed an organizer in Kingsbridge Heights, where our initial staff member had recently moved on to another position. So we sent him over to O.L.A. to meet the Pastor, Bishop Patrick Ahern. Joe immediately hit it off with Bishop Ahern, as well as so many of the already involved neighborhood folks such as Pat Burns, Mary McLoughlin, and Ruth Brown, to name just a few. Eventually, he would involve countless others through his tenant and Neighborhood Association organizing efforts, like Denis Boyle and Brendan McDonough. The Kingsbridge Heights group was always there at Coalition Annual Meetings, public meetings with City or Bank officials as well as actions and demonstrations on all the crucial issues the people adopted. But he never called attention to himself, nor sought any fame or credit for the hard work done of building an organization from the ground up. Accomplishments like keeping the old police precinct building and getting it established as a community center, starting and maintaining a volunteer neighborhood patrol, and pressing and lobbying for the rehab and repopulation of a large, burnt-out apartment building at 2710 Sedgwick Ave were just some of the fruits of these labors. And he always did the job with his unique respect for people, all the while challenging us to do more and to do better.”
Bill Frey also recalled the importance of Joe's ability to work with neighborhood residents and especially with Bishop Ahern, whose leadership and prominence as the Vicar of the northwest Bronx vicariate was integral to the success of this organizing movement that was stabilizing housing and winning back public services and private reinvestment to the Bronx. Read Bishop Ahern's 1974 Call to Action Homily here. Bill Frey, former organizer at NWBCCC and Reinvestment Project Director shared that Joe was “very involved in social justice issues and service to the community. He helped out at a soup kitchen amongst other things, and about the same time we met Paul Brant who helped introduce both of us to community organizing in the NW Bronx. Because Joe was so respected and able to work with the clergy, Joe was assigned to work in the Kingsbridge Heights community which was in Bishop Ahern’s parish, an important leader in the NW Bronx who needed to better understand the benefits of community organizing. Joe and the Bishop work marvelously together.” Brian Byrne, who also worked for NWBCCC before moving on to Fordham as Assistant to the President of Fordham for Urban Affairs reflects on Joe’s success in Kingsbridge Heights. “Very early in Joe’s organizing career it was noted that he was having unusual success in getting people to respond in Kingsbridge. Asked what his secret approach was he shrugged his shoulders and said (with usual understatement): “Well, I just knock on their doors and introduce myself and ask them to help.”
In addition to success in bringing new people to the cause, Joe was also able to attract new grant money to the Kingsbridge Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association and with that ensure that the neighborhood group was able to add additional community and youth organizing staff. As lead staff, Joe was responsible to train new organizers and he believed in supporting his staff, insisting on neighborhood leadership and letting them find their way. Brien O’Toole was hired by Joe as a community organizer in Kingsbridge Heights. Brien reflected on his first tenant organizing experience, “I appreciated not just Joe's able mentoring, but also how deeply principled his commitment was to real organizing. It was if we were going to respect residents so they could take a hand in controlling what was happening in their lives, their homes, & their neighborhood. And it was if he was going teach a new organizer how to do his job the right way.”
Peggy Couglin Boyle started in 1978 as a youth organizer in Kingsbridge Heights with Joe. “I can still remember my first day in that hardscrabble walk-in apartment on 197th and University. I had no idea what to do or how to reach the teenagers. I recall Joe and his kindness and watched him work. Two things were immediately apparent. He was always going out to this or that building meeting with local people. So, I went out and about looking for kids. Additionally, he didn’t really have his own agenda, so I quickly abandoned mine after a few kids I met made it clear they weren’t interested in anything I had to say. By watching Joe, I learned to hear what issues the kids had and it worked. They got involved. Joe listened to people with no pie-in-the-sky, peace-and-love ideas of bringing people together. He was a straight shooter and listened to their issues which ranged from heat and hot water problems in their apartments and lousy city services - especially in the parks - to sanitation and crime.”
Norm Wechsler, a Kingsbridge Heights tenant, shared some of Joe's no-pie-in-the-sky approach and what great things can happen from humble beginnings. “I was living on W. 197th St, in the late ’70s, in a rent-controlled 5th-floor walk-up. As I was walking home one evening, I saw a posted flyer talking about the need to clean up our streets. So I went to the meeting, and met my neighbors who were agitated about this issue - but most especially about dog poop. (I’ll never forget Frank, God bless him!) And there was this organizer there, Joe Muriana, who herded the cats into some form of committee entitled “C.L.E.A.N.” (Clean-up Litter, Enlist All Neighbors). And from that humble beginning we went on to organize most of the buildings in Kingsbridge Heights, and we worked mightily to stabilize the community, slow white flight, make folks feel more secure, reduce racial/ethnic strife, force landlords to maintain/upgrade their buildings, improve the parks, etc. And the rest is history…” Marianne Kraft, another neighborhood tenant, shares much of the same approach “In the early 80s, 2809 Claflin Ave, an apartment of 45 units, underwent a rocky change of ownership. Heat and hot water were inconsistent, and when the super left, the cleanliness of the building quickly deteriorated. KHNIA came to our rescue! Joe Muriana brought his organizing skills to our tenant meetings and soon a stable owner was found and a reliable super." Marianne went on to live in the Claflin building until 2022 when she moved two blocks away to an elevator building on Webb Avenue.
The NWBCCC effectively worked on issues including housing preservation, rehabilitation and affordability, bank disinvestment, neighborhood reinvestment, community security and safety, and local infrastructure renewal through a variety of organizing strategies, tools and tactics. The accomplishments the NWBCC and other community organizing initiatives were documented and featured in a book by Jill Jonnes, originally published by Atlantic Monthly Press, entitled 'We're Still Here'. 14 years later, Joe was instrumental in having it republished by Fordham University Press in a second expanded edition, securing a support grant from the Ford Foundation, under a newly minted title, South Bronx Rising. Joe and many others featured in the book celebrated the 2nd edition at a book party at the O’Hare special collections room at the Fordham University Rose Hill campus. Joe was happy to hear about the expanded 3rd edition which again was celebrated at a book party (pictured below) at Fordham University.
Due in large part to Joe’s intensive community organizing experience, he further developed an existing interest in a number of interrelated fields including affordable housing; real estate, land use, and environmental law; bank finance and regulation; and the broad area of policy advocacy and the social sciences. In 1985 he was appointed by President Joseph A. O'Hare S.J. to handle select Bronx redevelopment issues and community partnership initiatives for the university. Joe simultaneously attended evening law school with a focus on banking, finance, and land use law. In 1988 Joe was reunited with his NWBCCC colleague, Dr. Brian J. Byrne, Vice President for Administration at Fordham University when he was appointed Director of the University's Office of Government Relations and Urban Affairs. Brian who continues to be a valuable member and friend of UNHP served as a long-time treasurer for UNHP, and was honored at our 30th anniversary.
In 1997 Joe advanced to the rank and position of Associate Vice-President for Government & Urban Affairs at Fordham. During his tenure, he helped develop two projects of Fordham-sponsored, HUD-subsidized affordable housing projects for low-income elderly and handicapped residents, totaling 188 apartment-style housing units. Both of these projects - Edison Arms ( in collaboration with Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation) and Rosehill Apartments - continue to provide decent affordable housing to low-income senior citizens. Nayda Alejandro, former Director of Rosehill Management, worked very closely with Joe and shared the following: “Joe has been a tremendous asset in helping with the overall operations of these two senior citizen housing developments. He has been a member of their respective boards of directors almost from their inception and he has been a staple at Rosehill since then. Joe could be seen almost daily in the office helping me solve problems, in the community room attending countless celebrations with the residents, and even in the lobby where one day he famously aided in the delivery of a baby, proving there is nothing he can’t do.”
With his organizing, administrative experience, law degree, and his Fordham urban affairs portfolio, Joe is an important member of the University Neighborhood Housing Program board - serving as president from 1993 to the present. In addition to being UNHP Board president, Joe served as the Vice-President of the Rosehill Senior Apartments, Inc., as an Incorporator/Board Member and Secretary of the Corporation of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District (BID), and as a Trustee of the Northwest/South Bronx Catholic Regional School Board as well as at the Academy of Mount St. Ursula. He likewise served as a member and later Chair of a local Bronx Selective Service Board. He has maintained membership and involvement with many professional organizations, including the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities' government affairs team.
UNHP is far from the first to recognize Joe’s many accomplishments. Last year he and Annelen were inducted into the Academy of Mt St Ursula Hall of Fame. His other awards are numerous; Community Crime Prevention Award from the Bronx District Attorney in 1984, the Archbishop Hughes Medal for Service in 2005 from Fordham, and the Fordham Baccarat Crystal Ram upon his retirement. He was also conferred the Fordham Road Achievement Award by the Fordham Road BID in 2014 and the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Outstanding Achievement by the Bronx County Historical Association in 2015. Mr. Muriana was also designated a Regent following his multi-year and multi-term service as a Trustee on the Board of Xavier High School in Manhattan of which he is a proud graduate, and was previously selected for inclusion in the 24th and 25th editions of Who's Who in the East as well as the most recent edition of Who’s Who in America.
While working at Fordham, Joe continued his studies at the graduate and professional level, completing a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1989 and later earning a Master of Arts in Political Science with a focus on urban political economy in 1995. Joe was admitted to the practice of law as an officer of the Courts in the State Bars of New York and New Jersey (1989), as well as that of the Supreme Court of the United States (2005).
He also obtained, secured, and managed capital grants from governmental sources for strategic university projects, totaling well over $35 million, including the construction of the new University Research Library, the new University parking garage, new Residence Halls along the Metro North Rail lines, and Thebaud Hall/Boiler Plant building on the Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, as well as the total renovation of the new Manhattan home of the Gabelli School of Business at Lincoln Center. After Joe’s retirement, William Colonna was hired by Fordham University as the Assistant Vice President, Government Relations, Federal and Urban Affairs. Bill remains grateful for Joe’s friendship and professional companionship “The ties he has within the community run deep, and Joe very kindly offered to introduce me to everyone. The knowledge he has about Fordham is encyclical; I would be lying if I didn't say I don't occasionally call Joe, even to this day, to give me background on issues related to my work. Joe is kind, compassionate, witty, hilarious, and would offer anyone a helping hand. Fordham University is a better place because of Joe Muriana.”
Joe, in his Fordham role, played a major part in the creation and launch of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District (BID), where he served as the original incorporator and served on the Board as secretary of the corporation. Joe also helped establish the Belmont-Arthur Business Improvement District, testifying before the NYC Council in support of its creation and acting as Fordham's liaison to the BID. Fordham University is located on Fordham Road and Joe worked intensely with the other institutions and businesses on the regional commercial strip to build consensus on the BID’s creation which requires financial contributions from businesses in addition to whatever City taxes they may pay. Joe worked closely with David and Joe Rose of Rose Automotive Realty. David shared a light-hearted reflection of their time together, “Joe is a pleasure to spend time with. Many a phone conversation we’ve had over the years where Joe shared his thoughts and taught me much. I wish I could say he never caused me to be late to a meeting, but that would be a lie. How could I end such an informative and enjoyable conversation to just go to a mundane meeting? Joe contributed much to the Fordham Road Business Improvement District where we served on the board and executive committee together.”
Joe is presently a member of the NYC Bar Association. He continues to serve as board president of University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), initially launched as a University/Community partnership, and which continues to seek financing resources to develop and preserve critical affordable housing infrastructure for neighborhood residents. UNHP has assisted hundreds of multifamily Bronx buildings through technical resources, financial packaging, direct loans, and research that informs private and public policymakers on salient housing issues. Through its well-respected citywide database known as the Building Indicator Project, UNHP has aided in the improvement of tens of thousands of multifamily units in NYC. Through its Northwest Bronx Resource Center, UNHP assists about 3,000 Bronx residents each year with services that build both financial and housing stability. This has helped to preserve long-term stability for many area buildings, and in doing so helped strengthen entire neighborhoods. Joe serves on the boards of a number of local Housing Development Fund Corporations (HDFC's) which own multi families sponsored by Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, UNHP, and the Archdiocese of New York.
Joe is grateful to his many dear friends, mentors, collaborators, and colleagues who collectively fed, inspired and renewed his spirit over the many years, and the many different periods of his life's episodes. To them, he attributes his success, along with his family, especially his father and mother, Joe and Letitia Muriana, whose support and direction made his education a priority in his life along with his varied experiences, living life in New York City and almost all of its Boroughs, which granted him a deeper and ever-changing perspective and appreciation of this diverse city and its diverse peoples who hail from all over. Most dearly, he attributes and acknowledges his 21-year marriage to his spouse Annelen Clare Madigan, who has provided him with the supportive love and criticism, over these years, that he has needed to maintain his continued resilience in the face of all challenges. A warm tribute was sent in by Dr. Brian Byrne who has a long history of work and friendship with Joe. Brian is a founding UNHP board member, retired Fordham VP and administrator, and colleague, and together they devoted much time to a shared Bronx mission. "You have been a rock-solid leader with your head and your heart in the right places at the right times. It’s called Wisdom. Never a lack of energy in a good cause and always a touch, perhaps too much, of humility. To me, most of all, you have been a steadfast friend. The Coalition and your other endeavors owe you gobs of gratitude. I wish you all the very best now and in the future.
UNHP will leave the concluding tributes to Joe to two Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood leaders who went on to continue to make further contributions to the Northwest Bronx; Denis Boyle and Al Drummond. Denis lived in an apartment on Sedgwick Avenue when he met Joe and was encouraged to be part of neighborhood efforts. “Joe has maintained that dedication to the well-being and fulfillment of the people he has worked on behalf of, throughout the over 40 years of our friendship, whether it be Kingsbridge Heights, the NWBCCC, Fordham University, the Academy of Mount St. Ursula, and of course, the University Neighborhood Housing Program, as well as countless other neighborhood-based organizations. The number of people whose lives have been changed for the better by virtue of Joe’s work and presence in their lives is incalculable, but I count myself among them.” Al and his family were homeowners in Kingsbridge Heights and Al was also persuaded by Joe to become involved in the community organizing work in the neighborhood. In a note that Al titled The Road Taken, he shared “All of those living in the Northwest Bronx have benefited because Joe chose the road where his talents could be used for the common good. His talents are many. His passion is real and the neighborhood is better because of the choices he made.”
Thank you, Joe! Come say hi to our honoree at UNHP's 40 & Still Fighting Fiesta on April 27th at Serviam Hall. Ticket and sponsorship information can be found here.