Let’s get back to our roots: We need new leaders

clayton photo


BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  |  The Lower East Side used to be a place that sheltered, developed and nurtured great political leaders. These were politicians whose ideas changed the world and made a difference to the huddled masses, the new immigrants and the poor, even giving a hand up to the dissidents — those questioning society or looking for utopia, seeking creative freedom while looking for the right to live and let live.

The leaders fought for and made a difference for the better in the lives of children, workers, women and the downtrodden, giving them the right to share in the abundance and freedom of We The People. They were at the forefront of helping to establish trade unions for men and women, a children’s bureau, tenants rights and public and co-operative housing.

Where did they go? What happened to those champions of the people? In the last couple of decades our so-called progressive politicians have just about given away all the rights that so many gave up so much to gain. I’ve said it before: What was before will never be again. Gone are the possibilities of coming to the L.E.S., finding cheap rent and the opportunity to live an inexpensive lifestyle, which gave individuals the chance to better their lives, become self-sufficient or sharpen their talents, which could allow one to enter a profession or make a contribution to our artistic heritage.

New York University is a massive institution, whose size has allowed it to be even more ruthless in rolling over renters’ rights and displacing thousands of neighborhood tenants.

Meanwhile, our mayor, the billion-dollar baby, has once again broken, or shall I say, spent the money to make a change in the housing laws so a person’s castle can be a micro-unit as small as 250 square feet. Out go the “amenities” people fought so hard for: window light, cross ventilation, bathrooms separating tub from kitchen, and toilets in the apartment rather than in the hall — a livable space where a person could feel at home and bring a visitor.

Moreover, gone are the mom-and-pop businesses, exchanged for either cookie-cutter, anywhere America corporate repeats — like 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Staples — or for bars and expensive restaurants that come and go because they cannot afford the rent. The fabric and substance of what made our community has been destabilized and gutted. We have become an “entertainment zone” for bar-crawling tourists, frat boys who live elsewhere, and transient residents.

Yes, people can go on about the bad old days and how rough the streets used to be. I was just talking to a guy who “made it” and moved out a decade ago. He had come back for a visit and was so impressed by all the fancy new eateries. He had to tell me how much better it is around here since when he was growing up. He seemed to conveniently forget that he would never have gotten a leg up in today’s world if not for the opportunities in the bad old L.E.S. He and his family struggled but survived. But with today’s rents in the L.E.S., they couldn’t even have scraped by in the neighborhood.

Gone are the days of political outrage, mass political gatherings, inspired firebrand speeches. Today if a youth gets murdered, the most we can hope for is an hour of speeches and maybe a six-block memorial walk. Am I exaggerating? Look at the column I recently wrote in The Villager about some local Hispanic merchants. They have made the successful business transition needed to survive in this New World Order, and want to be given the same opportunity to get a liquor license that so many others have. The license was denied.

An outraged commenter on my column threw in the word “racist,” even though I never meant to brand the situation that way. In fact, I do not believe the district manager is a racist. But as things go true to form, city councilmembers made it a point to speak out about the use of this word at a community board meeting. In other words, they will concentrate, not on the substance of the problem, but on how it was verbalized. Our problems are much deeper than a few misspoken angry words.

This is not to say there is no political activism in our city. Occupy Wall Street proved that people were not ready to accept this new corporate order. In fact, it will be interesting to see how the police respond to the next O.W.S. demonstrations, considering that a number of the communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy are where the police live and the people associated with O.W.S. were often first on the scene to help. They proved more dedicated and efficient than the well-financed nonprofits like the Red Cross. A good number of the Sandy volunteers are the youth who used to live on the L.E.S. and now longer can afford to live here.

It is time for a change. It’s time to get some of that good Occupy energy back in the L.E.S. It is time to try and save some of what the people and the great leaders of our past fought so hard for. We need new political leaders. Real leaders. Inspired leaders. New ideas. We need leaders who will fight for the People, not just use their political office for personal power. Enough with fancy-pants billionaires, or their wannabe clones, running our city!

The Villager encourages readers to share articles:

Comments are often moderated.

We appreciate your comments and ask that you keep to the subject at hand, refrain from use of profanity and maintain a respectful tone to both the subject at hand and other readers who also post here. We reserve the right to delete your comment.

14 Responses to Let’s get back to our roots: We need new leaders

  1. Stuart Braunstein

    Clayton is still fighting the good fight. I wish there were more people like him in the city. I am pretty sure they have all been chased out.

  2. the comment by the council member was not about you–it was the people commenting to the column.

  3. Once again Clayton you hit it out the park! Great article with lots of truth. ..only wish we still had more people like you in the Lower east side. Its a shame these politicians put there personal interest first before the community they swore to represent.

  4. Mr. Patterson puts the cart before the
    horse. The leaders in the past were
    different when the people were different.
    They were communists, socialists, even
    anarchists. Today, they’re liberals.
    Liberals don’t care about the poor. They
    care more about which stores line the
    streets than the condition of the stores’
    If artists need to live in a slum to be
    inspired, there’s no shortage of them. “The
    breeding places of disease, the infamous
    holes and cellars in which the capitalist
    mode of production confines our workers
    night after night, are not abolished; they
    are merely shifted elsewhere! The same
    economic necessity which produced them in
    the first place, produces them in the next
    place also.” (F. Engels, The Housing
    Question) It’s just not here any more.

  5. We need more people such as Clayton, period!!

  6. You rocked this Mr. patterson, I read your story about the local guys getting bounce around, It's very sad what happen to them. I would like our local politicians to bring back a boys club so our kids could have a place to go and do activities stay in shape, Instead of hanging out and getting into trouble.

  7. Greg S. You are so right. It was criminal to get rid of the Pitt Street Boys Club. Some of the boys in that end of town do not feel welcome at the 10th street Club. We must change our politicians. If people do not yet understand soon the projects will be gone- WAKE UP. Do you honestly believe the rich want to live by the poor- one pays low income rent and the other pays high income rent and they are sharing the same space!!! Wake up LES. Here is a young lad who made it out from the Pitt St. Boys Club.!!! –
    One year ago Doron Lamb made the decision to head to Kentucky for the next phase of his basketball journey. … His journey started out on the Lower East Side , where he grew up and still has family; and it … on March 25 and 27, when Kentucky played in the N.C.A.A. Tournament East semifinals and finals.
    More results for doron lamb

  8. Mr. Patterson puts the cart before the horse. The leaders in the past were different when the people were different. They were communists, socialists, even anarchists. Today, they're liberals. Liberals don't care about the poor. They care more about which stores line the streets, than the condition of the people who work in the stores.

    If artists need to live in a slum to be inspired, there's no shortage of them. "The breeding places of disease, the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night, are not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place also." (F. Engels, The Housing Question) It's just not here any more.

  9. Well put, Clayton.
    In the arena of affordable housing here in the LES/EV, just as in every other part of the city, truly inexpensive housing earmarked for low income folks only is being sold off to wealthy interlopers. The HPD program that provides for that housing program will not enforce its own notes & agreements with the managers of those buildings. HPD’s officials admit to knowing what is transpiring but will not budge to stop it. So, who would you expect these new wealthy residents of this supposedly “reserved for low income” cheap housing to vote for as elected community leaders?
    Does anybody else out there care about this? I reside in one such building in the East Village and have beat my head against a wall to try to stop it – to no avail. Many of our new neighbors are here because their money allowed them to push their way into housing for which they do not qualify.

  10. Once again a true story is put out to the light by mr. Patterson. The fact that these politicians are even considering this plan is ridiculous. People if we don’t wake up and take actions we would be pushed out of our own apts. There not making this so public so people won’t react to it, when they do its going to be already approved and to late. Once again a thanks to our sellouts! You know who you are

  11. Could not agree more, but we will have to unite to remove the “pay to play ” system first in order to elect working class candidates.

  12. Yes, and now we have Christine Quinn coming in on the heels our Billion Dollar Baby mayor, extending all his polices and ideas. I've been on the LES since 1981, raising my daughter here, (who cannot afford to live here) I get flack for mourning the bad old days, but I wasn't and I'm not against a safer place for my kid or me, but this complete corporate takeover is soul deadening and really it's worse. People have to work 2 or even 3 jobs to support themselves and don't have time for anything else, let alone protesting anything important. We are all forced to just take it and look out for our own skin, cause you better believe it that your head is next on the chopping block.

  13. I couldn't agree more with you clayton, what this neighborhood needs is change. These elected politicians should be the first thing we change, what they have allowed to be done to this neighborhood in the last couple of years is ridiculous. That's besides the circus of a community board that we have, they are part of these problems we face today.

  14. Thanks for this cogent and motivating article, Clayton. (When can I vote for you?) The need for “real leaders” is critical right now.

    I am sitting here in shock today reading (in the Lo-Down today) the response of our former and current local & upstate politicians regarding the disgraceful plan being floated to sell out the projects by leasing land from NYCHA housing for luxury housing. The best they can come up with, in their attempt to sound like authentic advocates for tenants and low-income long-term LES residents, is vowing to protect a freakin’ parking lot??

    This is the only downside pols are talking about with regard to leasing public housing land to luxury developers — loss of space. When you build luxury housing smack up against public housing (“with entrances and views facing away from the public housing” omg), do these people have ANY clue what the full impact is on the legacy residents? (I don’t know which scenario I find more distasteful — that the pols do understand the impact, or that they don’t.)

    The stores with ethnic foods people are used to cooking with will disappear in favor of higher-markup bougie markets. Upwards pressure on all surrounding rents will squeeze non-public housing tenants out of their buildings, and interesting businesses out of their stores, out of the neighborhood, out of Manhattan. Groups of young people who hang outside on hot summer nights will be subjected to more police stops than ever. The upwards trend of median income will reduce the area’s eligibility for block grants.

    And do you think these luxury building tenants will send their kids to NYC District 1 public schools? Are you crazy? Do you think they will fight for school funding equality, for improved services and facilities in public schools? Do you think they will volunteer to help out at a street fair on Pitt Street? Do you think they’ll show up at PA meetings and roll their sleeves up and get involved in raising funds and planning events and building community with the rest of the parents who have worked SO long and SO hard to make a better neighborhood for their kids?

    Do you think they’ll choose to attend a church in the ‘hood? Do you think they will join regular LES folk in putting pressure on our electeds re social justice issues?

    Do you think they will shop for their shoes at Payless on Delancey? Do you think Payless on Delancey would still be there after a year or two? The 99 cent stores?

    Building luxury housing on public housing property is just wrong. In so many ways.

    But the pols in this article (and all articles on the topic that I’ve read) are only quoted talking about protecting playgrounds and parking lots. Please let’s not talk about loss of parking lots and playgrounds, as true as that is, the harm this whole plan would do goes soooooo much deeper.

    In the 2nd richest city in the world, do they really expect us to believe that this is what they MUST do to fill a mere $50 Million budget gap?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

five + 7 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>