By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
It appears that all we ever hear about these days are politicians named Trump, Clinton and occasionally some of the other contenders. More locally it seems that the media is preoccupied with the ongoing (and really silly) political feud and attention grabbing between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. They all seem so preoccupied with themselves and their own ambitions. Fame breeds self-absorption and the notion that the world truly revolves around your every move and remark.
This week I prefer to call attention to a few local unsung heroes whose names are not so well known but whose actions over the years have had a real impact on our community. These people have lived here and have worked here and have made our local world a better place without fanfare.
Richard Zackman…I am betting that almost nobody under the age of 50 is familiar with this name. Richard (better known as “Zac”), was the Billy Martin or Joe Torre of the Peter Stuyvesant Little League and other leagues as well for over two decades. He was a baseball manager extraordinaire!
He not only probably holds the record for most wins of any manager from our Little League, but he taught a legion of youngsters (myself included) the finer points of the game, and imbued a real zeal for competitive sports in all his young charges.
From ages 8 to 18 kids under the watchful eye of Zac learned to compete and win… and even lose with grace. All good lessons for life as well as baseball.
John “Butch” Purcell.…Butch was a fixture around the Stuyvesant Town playgrounds and especially the basketball courts. He played with great skill and determination. As tough as he was on the court was as gentle as he was off the court. Butch not only played the game very well, he counseled would-be athletes to become responsible adults.
For decades Butch worked at Beth Israel Hospital and later he specialized in drug avoidance and when necessary, treatment. He did this with professional athletes as well as ordinary people. There are countless hundreds of individuals in our midst today who although did not become big time sports stars, did become responsible adults and fathers and mothers because Butch steered them to a productive and fulfilling life free of drug dependence.
A lot of people don’t know his name is actually John. They just say “Hi, Butch!” And Butch, now retired, always responds with his big hearted warm hello and always a good word of advice.
Jo-Ann Polise and John Marsh…for over 25 years I dare say that there was not one tenant rally or important community issue that either Jo-Ann or John was not involved with. Working tirelessly as officers of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, Jo-Ann and John brought passion and intelligence to our causes. Their enthusiasm was infectious and inspired all who worked with them. They did not glory in titles although Jo-Ann for many years was vice-president and John ultimately rose through the ranks to become president until just this past June.
It was not attention to themselves that they sought but rather the attention of our local political class and the management of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village to the problems of ordinary tenants. And they did so with great sacrifice of their personal time and even at times their health.
A new generation of tenant leadership is now in place. But the legacy of these two great community leaders is the foundation that the future of tenant advocacy is built upon.
So as we get deeper into the presidential election campaign season and we are bombarded by self-promoting TV ads by the candidates for political office, I hope that whoever emerges as the winner will have the same commitment to ordinary human values and the spirit of public service as these four local heroes demonstrated through their efforts and their desire to use their personal gifts to make our little corner of the world a better place.
They are exemplars of the scores and even hundreds of our ordinary neighbors who do such good in their own quiet and unassuming way. I would vote for any one of them before some of the self-important candidates who inhabit our political and civic arena today.