Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Gifford Miller, left, singing “Young at Heart,” while Virginia Fields later belts out “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” at the Caring Community’s luncheon.

Serenading just isn’t Ferrer’s cup of tea, er, coffee

By Jefferson Siegel

Caring Community, a 32-year-old organization whose goals are to assist, empower and enrich the lives of Village seniors, held its Annual Senior Day lunch last Thursday. Three candidates whose goal is to be the city’s next mayor came to speak to the seniors — and afterwards, for a finale, they were asked to show off their pipes. Two obliged, but one seemed put off by the seniors’ request and it went downhill from there.

In the sun-splashed penthouse event room of New York University’s Kimmel Center, the seniors enjoyed a community buffet lunch. Entrees included sandwiches, noodles, tollhouse cookies, brownies and coffee. The speeches by the three Democratic mayoral candidates were the highlight. Mayor Bloomberg had also been invited to attend but declined, due to a previous commitment.

As long lines formed at the buffet tables and the room filled with conversation and laughter, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller arrived with City Councilmember Christine Quinn. After greeting some diners at their tables, Miller took the podium for his presentation. As this was a “working” lunch, many in the hall continued talking with others at their tables as Miller patiently offered his views on senior issues, education, affordable housing and his efforts to defeat the West Side stadium. Despite the noise level, he continued as if speaking to a rapt audience. He reminded the crowd that, despite his youthful appearance, as council speaker he had created and helped pass many laws of importance to seniors.

When he finished, Lucy Cecere, co-founder of Caring Community and the Village Nursing Home, approached the podium and asked Miller if he would be willing to sing for the crowd, as he has done on previous occasions. Without missing a beat, Miller happily obliged, launching into a rendition of “Young at Heart,” which immediately caught the audience’s attention and soon had many singing along.

C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president, and Miller then cordially greeted each other as he left and she took to the stage. Fields, dressed in a blue suit, offered her views on affordable housing for seniors, telling the crowd that the annual income limits for SCRIE, the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program, had recently been raised from $20,000 to $24,000. She reminded the crowd of her years of public service, including serving on a community board, eight years in the City Council and the past eight years as B.P.

When Fields finished, Cecere again approached the stage, asking Fields if she would sing. Fields happily assented, launching into the old spiritual “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” adding the lyric that she’ll keep fighting until she becomes mayor. Fields then circulated among the crowd, warmly grasping outstretched hands in both of hers and placing her hand on shoulders as she answered questions on housing and other issues.

The third candidate, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, arrived. Holding a paper coffee cup, he stood at the podium and waited as general conversation in the room continued. After several seconds, he said he would just drink his coffee until things quieted down. Several people in the room, sensing the candidate wanted aural obeisance, started “shushing,” and Ferrer finally began his speech, pausing again when the noise level in the room grew.

Ferrer addressed the issue of affordable senior housing, then launched into a more wide-ranging political commentary. “The mayor needs to understand,” Ferrer said, “that he doesn’t work for George W. Bush, he doesn’t work for George Pataki, he works for 8.1 million New Yorkers.” He then talked about the high price of prescription drugs and how it has affected him personally, as his mother was a recent stroke victim and needed costly medications to survive.

When Ferrer had finished, Cecere once again approached the podium and asked him to sing. Ferrer responded that he only sings in the shower, and proceeded, coffee cup still in hand, to move among the tables, greeting diners. When he got to table 12, in the far corner of the room, some savvy seniors were anxious to hear his views on several matters. One gentleman launched into a lengthy question about rent regulation, to which Ferrer responded by saying the man was making a speech, not asking a question. When the man persisted, Ferrer offered the same response. Another man at the table asked it more bluntly; simply, how did Ferrer feel about rent control? Ferrer responded, “I’m for it. I think that we need rent regulation.”

Doris Diether, a neighborhood activist and member of Community Board 2, offered her thoughts on Ferrer’s response. “I’m surprised he didn’t make more of a point of saying he was in favor of rent control, because that’s a big issue right now.”

Arthur Makar, executive director of the Caring Community, was pleased with the afternoon’s events. “I thought they all did very well. I think what’s very important, at least from my perspective, seniors vote. The candidates who came were savvy enough to realize that. I think the senior vote is a very important one.”

As some diners had coffee, tables along one wall were staffed with workers and volunteers from Caring Community, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Village Care of New York. Blood pressure exams, health counseling and numerous informational brochures were available. Several seniors rolled up their shirtsleeves so Elizabeth Oram, a nurse from St. Vincent’s Hospital, could take their blood pressure and, hopefully, give the O.K. for a second helping of dessert.

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