The candidates were Ruth Messinger, Democrat, and Rudolph Giuliani, Republican.
It was my job to keep tabs on what was happening in the community, and to take initiatives when needed or possible. When Giuliani became mayor, he began making changes that would affect the Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton community, often not in the best way. If McManus supported him openly, by endorsing him in 1997, the doors would open to better negotiations, better outcomes. He had to decide whether he thought Messinger or Giuliani would win.
Meanwhile, two of the old guard in the McManus Club decided to get what they could. How far would they go?
Delighted to welcome Mary Clark to the Cafe with her latest release, a memoir – Community: Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen
About the book
An arts coordinator at a midtown church in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Mary Clark began a fifteen-year journey through New York City politics. From the volatile streets to the halls of power, she experienced the triumphs and defeats of the Hell’s Kitchen community as it fought “development fever.” Her actions fed into the successes and failures of her community work, as this memoir describes in a nod to Rousseau’s The Confessions.
The AIDS epidemic was at its height. Homeless families were placed in midtown hotels, which resembled refugee camps. Crime associated with the illegal drug trade threatened one of the oldest communities in the city. Meanwhile, ambitious politicians vied for dominance behind the scenes. She had a grassroots view of the fall of Ed…
Thanks to Chris Graham at the Story Reading Ape for publicizing the #newrelease of my latest book, Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen. The Story Reading Ape is well-known to writers for writing tips and profiles of authors. Chris has also designed book covers. A very versatile ape!
The city and state proposed a complete makeover of Times Square, the world-famous intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue with 42nd Street. The redevelopment would run from that crossroads along West 42nd Street to Eighth Avenue. The project rode on the back of eminent domain, along the way razing the Times Tower and raising office towers on 42nd Street. The blighted, crime-filled area would be transformed into a shining mecca of entertainment and corporate wealth.
In our view, the massive project was a spear aimed at our neighborhood.
It would drive up real estate values, increase tenant harassment, and potentially force out low, moderate, and middle-income residents. Even though there was a specific zoning district, the Special Clinton District, restricting high-rise development in most of Hell’s Kitchen north of West 42nd Street, speculators and unscrupulous landlords would seize this opportunity to turn the neighborhood into towers of condo-heaven.
Barbara Glasser, Rob Neuwirth, and a few others started the Clinton Coalition of Concern. Jim Condeelis and I were at the first brainstorming meeting at HCC.
The Times Square project, we agreed, would place a great deal of pressure on our low-rise, working-class, and middle-class neighborhood.
“They won’t stop at Eighth Avenue. Developers will want to build here in our neighborhood.”
“Landlords will harass people out of their apartments so they can sell their buildings unoccupied.”
“They’ll try to change the zoning and get rid of the Special District.”
Our objections to the redevelopment project itself went down different avenues. We agreed that eminent domain should be used for the general good, but what is “the good” in this case? The people who would benefit were the already wealthy. Property was being taken from one group of private owners and given to another. Perhaps in several ways this was an illegal use of eminent domain.
The group decided to hold a public rally to inform people about the project and its impact on the neighborhood.
On June 27th, the Clinton Coalition of Concern held a speakout and 150 people came, as well as Ruth Messinger, Councilwoman for our district, and Andrew Stein, the Manhattan Borough President. The state’s Urban Development Company (UDC), one of the lead agencies, sent people. I took charge of the sign-in table, handing out literature and asking people to sign a petition opposing the project.
In Hell’s Kitchen, a gritty neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, the view of Times Square, Broadway and Fifth Avenue is over-sized and profoundly personal. One response would be to stay cloistered in your job and your close circle of family and friends. Keep your head down, shoulder to the wheel. The other reaction is to save and improve the little bit of urban space you inhabit.
From the outside, the city is a mess, a mass of congestion, which makes no sense. It is, in fact, a collection of communities. Each one distinct, each one proud of its name, location, demographics, and heritage, and yet also of its place in the overall scheme, its being inherently New York, the complex center of the universe. And nothing can happen in that universe without the approval of those most affected, at least that’s what the inhabitants believe. New York pugilism can know no bounds, as in Donald Trump’s mind, but for the other 99.99+ percent it has (on the far side) limits and rules. The slightest threat, the most ethereal wishes, can spark an outpouring of a neighborhood’s residents into a common purpose.
They will find themselves up against some of the city’s — and the country’s — most powerful individuals and institutions.
In my book, Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen, I describe how a small neighborhood of working and middle-class people of diverse ethnic backgrounds went up against this powerful elite. How did we do it?
COMPREHENSIVE, ARTICULATE, HONEST AND ENGAGING – DAVID SELZER
Community is a memoir of community work and city politics in Manhattan during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s – as a neighborhood fights the effects of “development fever” and the devastating flood of illegal drugs. It is a sometimes brutal but also inspiring account of people organizing peacefully to save and improve their community.
The Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the west side of midtown Manhattan and its people are the great presence in this book. This “small town in midtown” is a land of willing exiles who forge their own destinies as members of a community.
As one of my Beta readers, Satyam Balakrishnan, said, Community is “an entire account of years of activism in one neighborhood, and it chronicles the tussles between estate developers and long-time residents, the wrangling between social groups, and the struggle to forge a common platform and agenda.” He went on to say “the narrative is pacy,” and “there are some remarkable characters – the one that breaks into a hop/dance and locks the park gates. A memoir is a recalling of events as witnessed and experienced and a memoir with a context (activism and social work in a metro city) is something more.”
The issues are just as relevant today: what makes effective community action, how far will you go to accomplish your ends, what are the forms of politics you can choose to practice, how does democracy work?
Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen, by Mary Clark
The ebook version of my memoir of community work and city politics in Manhattan during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s – when Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani were coming into power – is now available for pre-order on Amazon. This 150,000 word book is a detailed account of a New York City neighborhood’s fight against the effects of the Times Square Redevelopment and Worldwide Plaza, as well as the devastating flood of drugs. This is a sometimes brutal story, but more often an inspiring account of people organizing non-violently to save and improve their community.
As an arts coordinator at a midtown church in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, I began a fifteen-year journey through New York City politics. From the volatile streets to the halls of power, I experienced the triumphs and defeats of the Hell’s Kitchen community as it fought “development fever.” My actions fed into the successes and failures of my community work, as this memoir describes in a nod to Rousseau’s The Confessions.
The AIDS epidemic was at its height. Homeless families were placed in midtown hotels, which resembled refugee camps. Crime associated with the illegal drug trade threatened one of the oldest communities in the city. Meanwhile, ambitious politicians vied for dominance behind the scenes. I had a grassroots view of the fall of Ed Koch, a working relationship with David Dinkins, conflicts with Ruth Messinger, and the rise of Rudolph Giuliani.
Three years into my years as a community activist, I met James R. McManus, Democratic district leader and head of the last Tammany Hall club in New York City. In a twist of irony, this “radical liberal” found with the McManus Club the opportunity to have the most productive time of my life.
There is a fire in Hell’s Kitchen, and you are invited to sit by its light and hear in its flames the prayer, the song, a cautionary tale, and an echo of love and rage.
Community takes place in the 1980s and 1990s in New York City, with its “war on drugs” and mega-developers. The story begins with Mayor Ed Koch’s last term and goes up to Rudy Giuliani’s second term, with cameo appearances by Bella Abzug, Jerry Nadler, and Donald Trump.