BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Sylvia Friedman, a leader for decades in East Side Democratic politics who served as district leader, as well as in the New York State Assembly, and was an intrepid advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, died Feb. 3 at the age of 74.
A member of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, of which she had served as president, she was honored by the club last December for her accomplishments.
“We knew her as the ‘conscience of the club’ because of her fierce commitment to doing what’s right through the political process,” said Tom Nooter, current club president and district leader.
“She was an outspoken advocate for the disabled community — she had major problems with asthma herself,” noted Allen Roskoff, a gay activist and friend of Friedman for more than 30 years. “I can’t think of any progressive cause that she didn’t fight for. She was also 100 percent committed to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [L.G.B.T.] community,” said Roskoff, a member with Friedman on the staff of Mark Green when he was the city’s public advocate from 1993 to 2001. Friedman was Green’s liaison to the disabled community.
“She was one of a kind, never afraid to voice her opinion — on feminism, civil liberties,” Roskoff added.
Sylvia also worked for Green on his campaigns for mayor and for state attorney general.
“She was a friend, a supporter and a model community activist,” Green said. “Sylvia had passion, patience and thoughtfulness. She knew about the problems of ordinary people from what she heard at community board and neighborhood meetings. She was smart, clearheaded and she had a cadre of loyal friends. Sylvia was a problem solver rather than a headline hunter. Her death is a great loss to the community,” Green said.
As a member of Community Board 6, Sylvia Friedman was head of the board’s Committee on Housing for the Homeless and also of its Parks and Landmarks Committee. She also served as Democratic district leader and as Democratic State Committee member.
Twice she ran for City Council but failed to be elected. When Miriam Friedlander tried to regain her former Lower East Side Council seat from Antonio Pagan in 1993, she lost to Pagan in a three-way primary race that included Friedman, who took 2,000 votes.
“We lost that one because some of the Hispanic community was confused by ‘Friedman’ and ‘Friedlander,’ ” Frieda Bradlow told The Villager in an obituary in this paper on Friedlander in October 2009. “If Sylvia hadn’t run, Miriam would have won — because the community had started to realize what this guy [Pagan] was about.”
However, in early 2006, Sylvia Friedman won a special election to fill the East Side seat that had been vacated by Assemblymember Steven Sanders. In the Assembly, she helped pass Timothy’s Law, which guarantees parity of health insurance coverage of mental as well as physical illness.
She didn’t hold the Assembly seat for long, though, losing it in September 2006 in a close race to Brian Kavanagh.
Friedman was a member of 504 Democrats, the club devoted to the rights of the disabled community and the first member of the club to be elected to public office. In May 2006, she received the club’s Jean Kinzer award.
For the past 20 years, Friedman was the head of the shelter provided for 12 homeless men and women at the Quaker Meeting House on E. 15th St. at Stuyvesant Square. She also helped found Friends House, a residence for 50 formerly homeless men and women in the Bronx.
A memorial for Sylvia Friedman will be held in April or May in the Friends Meeting House on Stuyvesant Square.