Volume 76, Number 28 | December 6 - 12, 2006


Marcia Lemmon, C.B. 3 member, scourge of bar owners

By Lincoln Anderson

Marcia Lemmon, the bane of Downtown bar owners and a fighter for quality of life on the Lower East Side, died on Saturday. She was 48.

Clayton Patterson, a friend and ally in some of Lemmon’s battles, said he was called to her building on Ludlow St. on Saturday morning and witnessed Lemmon — who “looked terrible,” he said — being taken away in a Cabrini ambulance about 9 a.m. About an hour later, Patterson and Danny Stein went to Beth Israel Hospital, where Lemmon had been taken, and were told by a doctor that she was dead. An autopsy was inconclusive and further tests will be done to determine the cause of death, according to a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Lemmon had suffered from severe obesity for years.

Lemmon was president of the Ludlow St. Block Association and a member of Community Board 3 — covering the East Village and Lower East Side — for several years. She was particularly active on C.B. 3 in the late 1990s as a vocal member of the board’s State Liquor Authority Committee, which makes advisory recommendations on whether to approve or disapprove liquor licenses for bars, clubs and restaurants.

In letters to the editor to The Villager, Lemmon would blast the area’s booming bar scene as the “Lower East Side Alcohol Theme Park.”

Bar owners definitely did not want to get on her bad side. Working on her own, she succeeded in shutting down the popular Baby Jupiter, at Orchard and Stanton Sts., by flagging such violations as not having proper permits posted inside the bar.

However, in 2001, some local bar owners — including Gary Auslander, Baby Jupiter’s owner — began actively lobbying then-Borough President C. Virginia Fields not to reappoint her to the community board. Lemmon dropped off of the board around that time. But she said it was not because of her critics, merely that she wanted to take a step back. And her health was worsening.

Lemmon had also been a member of the Seventh Precinct Community Council, a civilian group that holds monthly meetings at which the precinct’s commanding officer gives reports on crime and crime statistics. However, in 1999, Lemmon, Patterson and Patterson’s wife, Elsa Rensaa, were banned from the council by its president, Don West, after Patterson persistently demanded more detailed information on local crime and Lemmon insisted on seeing the council’s financial books.

Lemmon also championed local businesses, like Rosario’s Pizza, when it was forced by high rent out of its E. Houston St. space, only to be replaced by a Famous Ray’s pizzeria. Eventually, Rosario’s found a new home at Orchard and Stanton Sts.

“She was a good person,” said Sal Bartolomeo, Rosario’s owner. “She tried to make a neighborhood that there will not be abuse or noise from anybody. And when you do that there are people no like you…. She was a fighter. She did it more than anybody else. I remember she would take a camera, take a picture of [some violation at] a restaurant. Everybody knew her.”

Bartolomeo said he was touched by how Lemmon and Patterson came out to Queens for the funeral of his father, Philip, a.k.a. “Pops,” several years ago.

“That was really beautiful,” he said. “I will never forget.”

Lemmon grew up in Queens. Rensaa said that when she and Patterson first met Lemmon on the Lower East Side she was a normal weight, but that after Lemmon’s mother died in 1991 or ’92, she began eating and putting on weight. It got to the point where a couple of years ago, Lemmon had ballooned all the way to 600 pounds, Rensaa said. One time, Rensaa recalled, firefighters came to get Lemmon out of her apartment and used a hoist, then put her in the elevator and had to walk down the stairs because there was no room in the elevator.

“We tried to get Richard Simmons to do something — like he helped Tiny on Third St.,” Rensaa said, referring to another local resident who got so big he became trapped in his apartment. “Richard Simmons wasn’t interested in doing it anymore.”

Rensaa said that Lemmon recently had actually lost a lot of weight — about 300 pounds, in fact. And Bartolomeo said Lemmon had called him only about a month ago to tell him she was feeling better.

After Lemmon’s health worsened, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver — whom she had frequently skewered in letters to the editor in The Villager — helped her obtain a hospital bed for her apartment.

In a statement, Silver said, “Over the course of many years, I had the fortune of working with Marcia Lemmon, a passionate advocate who fought hard for the issues that she believed in. Ms. Lemmon was a pioneer in the fight against the oversaturation of bars in the Lower East Side.

“While Ms. Lemmon and I did not always agree on the approach to overcoming certain challenges, we shared the common goal of protecting the quality of life for local residents. Ms. Lemmon was a valued member of our community whose enthusiasm and drive will be missed.”

Back in 2000, Lemmon had criticized the appointment of David McWater, an East Village bar owner, to C.B. 3. Within a few years, McWater had risen to become the board’s chairperson.

“I had no hard feelings,” McWater said. “I feel like she had a tough life…. I think you guys called her after I was chairperson and she said I was doing relatively well,” he told The Villager. “I don’t think I ever talked to her again. She just wasn’t around.”

McWater said that during their brief time on the board together, Lemmon once told him that her grandfather or great-grandfather had been a top police chief in the New York Police Department.

Her politics were conservative on some issues. In one of her final letters to a Community Media publication, she wrote to Downtown Express, The Villager’s sister paper, praising the Minutemen — the anti-illegal immigration group — as patriots and criticizing their opponents, after the opponents had rallied at Ground Zero.

Patterson is trying to do a memorial for Lemmon. He is talking to a priest and hopes to organize something for her, possibly at the Angel Orensanz Foundation.

McWater said Lemmon’s father died in 1998. It’s not know if she has any survivors.

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