Volume 74, Number 2 | June 1- 7, 2005


Even at the end, Keith was always an inspiration

By Ed Gold

“I’ll try to make that meeting,” Keith Crandell called out from his bed as I was leaving the apartment, a reference to a community board meeting late in June. He remained optimistic till the end. Two days later my friend and colleague of many years was gone.

In January, his wife Annie, art historian and accomplished artist, had brought together many of their friends to form a support group, given Keith’s health condition.

Keith, confined at the time to his power wheelchair, would need some help and company, and Annie needed a modest amount of free time to concentrate on her work.

About 40 people joined the support team. My friend Shirley Secunda and I, both colleagues of Keith’s on Community Board 2, volunteered to visit Keith on Thursdays, to keep him informed on community activities, listen to his concerns, and reminisce about our common history in the Village. These were shmooozing sessions that lasted two, three or four hours, depending on Keith’s stamina that day.

The cancer was only the latest affliction Keith had sustained. He had been forced into the wheelchair two years earlier by what he called an “obscure malady” that was painful and had reduced strength in both legs and one hand.

But facing mortality squarely, he maintained a spirit and mindset that remained indomitable.

During his last months, he persevered on many fronts, valuing every day he could be engaged, every day he could make some contribution.

Motoring to meetings in his chair, he went to Chinatown to hear demands for a long-promised senior center, and remained after others had gone to write a strong supportive resolution.

Particularly sensitive to the needs of the disabled, he argued for curb cuts on every corner “now, not tomorrow.” He complained that access to Jefferson Market Library was difficult for wheelchair users and should be rectified.

His usual tendency to back the most militant candidate sent him wheeling to the far West Village to cheer on one of his heroes, Councilmember Margarita Lopez, running for Manhattan borough president in a field of 10.

One Thursday, he became particularly upset when he learned that the current borough president,Virginia Fields, had denied C.B. 2 reapppointment to two community activists, Jo Hamilton and Tobi Bergman, whom he thought were conspicuously well qualified. Hamilton is an untiring worker in trying to protect the integrity of the Meat Market. Bergman has played an important role in the Hudson River Park development.

Keith knew what it felt like to be axed by Fields. When he was not reappointed several years ago, a powerful community protest led by his close friend, Ann Arlen, which I was happy to be part of, resulted in Fields inviting him down to her office. The Villager had also played a role, writing an editorial strongly calling for Keith’s reappointment.

Recently, he recalled the meeting with some pleasure: “She told me my removal had been a big mistake and that she had nothing to do with it. She had been away when it happened, in China or somewhere far away.” He smiled about that meeting, but was angry when he recalled that Arlen was bounced from the board shortly after.

He and I had our nostalgic moments these last months. We had spent many years in Village Independent Democrats and shared good and bad memories.

On my last visit I recalled a councilmanic race in the early ’80s between the incumbent councilmember, Carol Greitzer, and an attractive opponent, David Rothenberg, of the Fortune Society. Keith knew and liked Rothenberg but he spoke for Greitzer at the endorsement meeting.

“I stuck with her,” he explained, “because she had fought the liberal fight in the Council for many years and she had been faithful to V.I.D. principles throughout her career,” adding that he thought “she ran a lousy campaign in trying to get club support.”(Rothenberg took the club easily, but Greitzer won the primary.)

We also had a history as writers for The Villager, he for many more years.

He brought passion to his columns, as when he hailed the Green Guerillas, who were turning rubble into small gardens, or as he pleaded for readers to help the radical radio station WBAI stay on the air, or as he proudly heralded a new day in Noho, now a real community, “no longer a Gasoline Alley...go someplace else to wash up and gas up.”

Keith was frequently a shade to the left of me. I chided him for backing Nader in 2000, and in 2004 he called to tell me his Nader days were behind him.

But we differed on the war, at least in one respect. He was against the war, period. I thought we had justification to go into Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We both were against the Iraq invasion. The Villager ran our opposing columns back to back over several weeks, and some people thought it was the end of a beautiful friendship.

In a relationship that lasts more than 30 years, you come to some time-tested conclusions: Keith was always a leader, particularly on moral issues. He was a consistent champion of the underdog, whether he was fighting to protect people under rent control or bicyclists poorly treated by New York’s Finest.

He was surely a liberation Catholic and he must have been glad he was around to see John XXIII. He was on line for communion with many at St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery, and he showed his spirituality in the mid-’90s when he and his wife operated a way station for pilgrims in Spain.

All of his qualities helped him deal with the reality facing him this year. His mind was clear, his comments as vigorous and pointed as ever, even when his voice was weaker. His instinct for justice was always with him, and he never once complained about personal discomfort in all our hours together.

He always hoped he might once again work the keys on the computer.

Perhaps a month ago, he said to me: “I’d like to do a column I’m particularly qualified to do. That Schiavo case really upset me — that a person shouldn’t be able to determine under what conditions to die. I want people to know I would never want to survive in her state.”

On the last visit, he said matter-of-factly: “The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation is planning to give me an award.”

He stopped to take a sip of juice. Then a slight smile: “They’ll have to give it to me posthumously.”

He was calm, alert and sometimes feisty the afternoon we said goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time.

When he died he was in his own bed, surrounded by those closest to him: Annie; his daughter, Louise; his two sons, Ben and Zac; and his close friend Frank Irwin.

It was my good fortune to be able to spend so much time with him these past months. His fine character, his conspicuous rejection of self pity, his abiding humor, his vigorous effort to remain involved and his extraordinary courage will remain an inspiration, I hope, for all my days to come.

There was a real mensch for you.

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