‘Harry Wieder Way’ honors activist’s supersized impact

[media-credit name="Photos by Tequila Minsky " align="aligncenter" width="600"][/media-credit]

Councilmembers Rosie Mendez, at mic, and Margaret Chin were among the many elected officials who spoke in praise of Harry Wieder at the ceremony.

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  | On the outside chance that anyone could ever forget the 4-foot-tall giant who relentlessly fought to promote rights for everyone, the street sign at Forsyth and Rivington Sts. now says, “Harry Wieder Way.”

About 100 neighbors, fellow activists and friends joined elected officials at the Lower East Side corner on Sun., May 7, for the street co-naming ceremony.

A tireless advocate for the rights of gays, people with disabilities and seniors, Harry, 57, was killed on April 27, 2010, when he was struck by a cab while crossing Essex St. near Stanton St. after a Community Board 3 meeting.

“Despite everything he did to make this a safe city, he lost his life in a tragic accident,” said Rosie Mendez, City Councilmember for District 2, who first named Harry to the community board.

She recalled walking with Harry from one meeting to another one day when he stopped to talk to a child who was staring at him.

“I’m a short adult,” Harry told the curious youngster, who was the same height as he was, explaining why he had facial hair and that he had to use crutches because of other problems.

Mendez recalled that Harry told her, “Children are curious and if you don’t explain things, someone else might give them misleading ideas.”

“He always made his opinion known, whether you like it or not,” Mendez said.

However, not all of Harry’s causes have been realized yet. Mendez noted that seven people in wheelchairs at the ceremony could not manage to get from the street to the sidewalk at Sara Delano Park without help because the curb was too high.

Two of Harry Wieder’s relatives traveled from afar to attend the street co-naming ceremony. They were joined by Zach Brommer, an aide to Assembly Speaker Silver, right.

Thomas Wieder, Harry’s cousin, who now lives in Israel, noted that Harry’s parents were Holocaust survivors and doted on their only son. Harry’s mother, Charlotte, 88, was too frail to come in from her home in Queens for the street co-naming. However, Thomas Wieder told the gathering that a photo of Harry with President Bill Clinton has a place of honor in Charlotte’s living room.

“He told Clinton that if he wanted to be photographed with him, he’d have to bow down,” said Thomas, noting his cousin’s “great and edgy sense of humor.”

Margaret Chin, District 1 City Councilmember, who appointed Harry to the community board in 2009, recalled that she first met Harry when she was director of Asian Americans for Equality.

“He was always polite but we were always arguing,” said Chin, who co-sponsored the Council street co-naming resolution with Mendez. “He also told me which were the best restaurants on the Lower East Side.”

State Senator Tom Duane said he didn’t argue with Harry.

“I thought he was right all the time,” said Duane. He recalled Harry’s advocacy for people with AIDS and his membership in Disabled in Action and the 504 Democratic Club — advocates for people with disabilities.

“He described himself as a disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle-aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches,” Duane said.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn laughingly remembered a Harry story and in the next breath recalled his appearance at a City Council hearing on toilets.

“His testimony was hilarious, brilliant and right on the point,” Quinn recalled.

Zack Bommer, an aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, presented an Assembly proclamation honoring Harry Wieder’s efforts on behalf of the neighborhood.

State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents Lower Manhattan, the Lower East Side, most of the East Village and part of Brooklyn, recalled that Harry confronted him when he first ran in 2008.

“He asked me why I was running, and I told him what I stood for,” Squadron said. “He looked at me for a while and said, politely, ‘You’d better not be lying,’ ” Squadron said.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh paid tribute to Harry’s extraordinary commitment and energy.

Former City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, now a New York City Housing Authority board member, recalled Harry’s commitment to making life better for everyone.

“He fought for the right things 24/7,” Lopez said, adding, “Harry, you’re a giant.”

Ronnie Billini led a group of ACT UP members in a version of her performance piece “Harry in a Hurry,” in tribute to Wieder’s involvement since the early 1980s with the AIDS direct-action group.

Harry’s best friend, Marvin Wasserman, a former member of Community Board 3, recalled that it has been two years “since Harry went out with a bang, not a whimper.” Wasserman said the recently passed New York State marriage-equality law and the city’s new requirement for handicap-access taxis are tributes to Harry’s efforts.

The cord for unveiling the co-named street sign failed to work properly at the end of the ceremony, so Michael Schweinsburg clambered up the light pole to complete the job. It was an appropriate conclusion to an event honoring a short giant who was pursued his goals to the very end.

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