I’ve talked often about my hometown being at the forefront and the epicenter of activists bringing lawsuits against towns, charging them with racism. In the case of Yonkers, the charge was that the political powers intentionally gerrymandered city districts to prevent minorities from gaining power, and/or “living on the right side of the railroad tracks.”
The story of my old hometown is so compelling that it will be a miniseries starting in August on HBO.
When Yonkers was sued, and lost, a 25 year-old councilman by the name of Nick Wasicsko, a democrat, ran on the platform of defying the court ruling. He defeated a longtime republican mayor, Angelo Martinelli.
Soon after taking office, Wasicsko did an about-face and agreed to build low-income housing throughout the city. The mayor was convinced by lawyers that he was fighting a losing battle and that fines levied against the city for non-compliance would bankrupt them into the stone age.
When Wasicsko flipped he was the target of death threats and the city was at the brink of a civil war.
Jim Belushi as Mayor Angelo Martinelli
I watched the trailer linked above. Many of the settings are on location in Yonkers. The mini-series looks right, but I’m interested in seeing how the people are portrayed.
Was Yonkers racist? That was the charge.
The trailer hints at where the narrative is going to go. The black people were all beautiful diamonds in the rough until the evil white people shoved them into the ghettoes.
But that’s not what happened. All of the areas that were supposedly gerrymandered to keep minorities west of the parkway (that was the dividing line) were at one time all white. Southwest Yonkers was where all the jobs were, and Northeast Yonkers was the more bucolic part of the city. That gerrymandered line existed before there were minorities.
Yonkers was not any different than any other city where the areas nearest the public transit and nearest the social services attracted more and more minorities as the government spent more and more on welfare and social services. For decades whites and blacks lived together. I know, I lived there. But, over time the area, for whatever reason, became dirtier, dingier and more dangerous. The people who could afford to move left for the other side of town- black and white.
Were my parents racists? No more so than the black families who moved out.
I expect to see a miniseries where all da white people are tawkin’ like mooks and are gonna be crackin’ heads, and all the black people will talk like gentile scholars, a little raw, but will soon blossom once out from under the thumb of racists. It should be entertaining.
Oh, by the way. *Spoiler Alert*
Nick Wasicsko shoots himself in the head while sitting at his father’s gravesite in 1993. Whether the strain of what he went through as mayor was a contributing factor or not is debatable.
I knew Wasicsko, I worked with him for a summer at a county park. We weren’t “friends.” His girlfriend was my direct co-worker and he didn’t like that all too much.
He had a beautiful Trans Am that the girlfriend wanted to wash and wax for him as a surprise. I told her that to do it right she should compound the car first, and get the old wax off.
She thought the compound was supposed to make the car gleam. So when it wasn’t getting shiny she put some elbow grease into it and rubbed right through the paint to the metal.
This was another reason for him to not like me too much.