Attorney Arthur Schwartz has been fighting injustice since the 1960s. He was born and brought up in NYC and has lived in Greenwich Village since the early 1990s. He has served as District Leader since 1995, and on Community Board 2 for 24 years.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
Born in Babies Hospital, in Washington Heights. Grew up (until 17) in the northeast Bronx. attended Columbia College starting at 17 and became a resident of Morningside Heights.
In law school, I moved to Inwood section of Manhattan (204th Street). Then, after a year in Caroll Gardens, I moved to Bank Street in the West Village. That was in 1981. I have lived within a 4 block radius of there since then. Bought a house in 1991 dirt cheap. Raised and raising 4 kids. Served as District Leader since 1995, on Community Board for 24 years and…
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I ended up in the Village because I had a girlfriend living here. A year after I arrived, and was living in a nice 2-bedroom (which were then few in number), she moved to Pittsburgh. I stayed here.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
My favorite thing about the Village is the lack of density (for NYC). Second are the people. Same is true throughout Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, except as one gets closer to Hudson Yards. Hell’s Kitchen, of course, has the theatre venues, and more great restaurants than anywhere in the world, even more than Greenwich Village!
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
I was in NYC for all but one week of 2020. My escape was a small green space in the back of my apartment, where I was able to raise a great garden throughout the spring and summer.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I am an attorney with an office down near City Hall. We didn’t repopulate our office, in full, until late May 2021. I work part of the time at home, and part of the time in my office (except when I am out campaigning)
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I learned how fragile our local economy is, with stores and restaurants going under so easily. The second most interesting thing was to discover my capacity for learning new computer skills through trial and error.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
The first was the nightly, 7pm, banging of pots and pans to celebrate the first responders. The most hopeful point came after George Floyd murder, when thousands of people came out on the street to protest after months of being closed in. And then there were my kids, who showed resiliency that was inspiring.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
I had an office on 40th Street between 7th and 6th from 1989-1995. This was before Times Square was cleaned up. I would often work late, and would go out for some air and a coffee after midnight, and I actually got to know the spaced out regulars at the all-night delis (which do not exist anymore) on West 41st Street.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
In 1980, after Reagan was elected, he nominated a guy named Ray Donovan for Secretary of Labor. I had a client who had been Secretary Treasurer of a mob-run Laborers Union Local which did dynamite blasting (the Blasters and Drill Runners), whose job it was to collect payoffs. When Donovan was nominated, he called me and said that he had been at a lunch at Prudenti’s in LIC, where Donovan’s co-owner of Schiavonne Construction had passed him an envelope with $2,000 cash, right in front of Donovan. I reported it to the US Attorney who leaked it to the press, and before you knew it I was on the front page of the NY Times and the Washington Post, trading statements with the now-confirmed Secretary of Labor. I was only 27. A Special Prosecutor (think Mueller) was appointed, and I became the main source of info for the media. George Lardner (Ring’s son) was a major writer for the Washington Post, and he would come visit, take me to lunch, and quote me twice a week. Same happened with Dave Saltonstall at the Times, and a reporter whose name I don’t recall from Time Magazine. Just as the investigation closed with no charges, my client, named Mario Montuoro, won $2 million in the NY Lottery. That led to a meeting with Abbey Hoffman, who had returned from his years as a fugitive, about a possible film.
What’s your superpower?
I can wish the Mets to win baseball games (sometimes). I learned this in 1962 when they lost 120 out of 160 games. (Not very much of a superpower, although I will take credit for Bill Buckner letting the ball roll between his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series.)
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Schuyler Sister from Hamilton —
“Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!
Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!
History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be In the greatest city in the world!
In the greatest city in the world!”
Which people inspire you the most?
Bernie Sanders, Colin Fitzpatrick, Lin-Manuel Miranda
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” — John Lewis
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I love the surrounding culture, but it’s too crowded
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
No. Too large, too gaudy, too out of character with our community, caters too much to the wealthy with no side benefit for the surrounding community
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
The Clash concerts at Bond International Casino
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
I am tireless. I am rooted. I am an aggressive and creative advocate for those I represent, and those on the other side respect me after I dig my teeth into their ankle (quote from a book called Solidarity for Sale.)
Anything we missed?
My political history — I got involved in 1968 it was as a high school rebel, then as an anti-Vietnam war activist at Columbia. I was arrested 3 times as a student at demonstrations here and in DC. I wanted to be a union organizer, but wound up in law school and became a lawyer for union reformers, and then for the unions they took over. Fought the Lucchese and Gambino families, corrupt officials at DC37, and autocratic leadership at 32BJ. Also represented anti-nuke, anti Central America intervention groups and parents fighting Charter School incursions in traditional, already overcrowded schools. Organized playground parents in the 90s, won a lawsuit which got ball fields on Pier 40. Spent 24 years on Community Board 2, chaired Parks and Waterfront for 14 years. in 1995, helped found Friends of Hudson River Park and was a community advisory leader for a dozen years. Served as Village Democratic District Leader since 1995. Ran the Obama campaign in Manhattan in 2007-8. Treasurer for Zephyr Teachout vs Cuomo in 2014. Bernie Sanders’ lawyer in 2016. Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane’s lawyer in 2018 vs. Cuomo and Hochul. 3 times delegate to Democratic National Convention (beat Corey Johnson in 2008). Married to Kelly Craig, former Screen Actors Guild leader. 4 kids ages 15-33.
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
America Airlines Theatre (W42nd St bw 7th & 8th Ave) — Go to TDF productions there.
Carmine’s Italian Restaurant (W44th & 7th Ave) — Best food, fast, cheap, amazing pizza.
Little Pie Company (W43rd St bw 9th & 10th Ave) — Dumb question.
Utsav Restaurant (W47th & 6th Ave) — The best Indian food in NYC.
Clinton Cove at Hudson River Park (W56th & 12th Ave) — An oasis in the middle of concrete.