From a small town in the Adirondack Mountains to the greatest city in the world, Erik Bottcher moved to Hell’s Kitchen and “found a place where I could really be myself”. Since arriving here in 2001 with a suitcase and a few hundred dollars, he has worked under three City Council Speakers and in the Governor’s office.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born and raised in a small town in the Adirondack Mountains outside of Lake Placid New York (population 1,100). I came to New York in 2001 and landed in a tenement building on Tenth Avenue between 48th and 49th Street. Like many LGBTQ people growing up in remote areas, I struggled. But here I found a place where I could truly be myself.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I came to New York with one suitcase and a few hundred dollars, so I slept on a futon in someone’s living room on Tenth Avenue for $450 a month (thank you Craigslist). I kept my belongings in a suitcase in the living room and had to have them out of sight and the futon upright by the time the apartment owner got up in the morning. This was one of the best periods of my life because I was finally living in New York City. In 2001, Hell’s Kitchen was different than it is now. The gay community was still centered in Chelsea. There was almost nothing West of Tenth Avenue. Also, it was much cheaper. I survived off of the $8 bento box at the old Go Sushi and the $10 pizza burger at Galaxy Diner.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
It’s the way that the energy of Midtown melts into picturesque residential blocks, all held together by an incredibly diverse, creative, eclectic and loving population of New Yorkers.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
The narrowness of the sidewalks on Ninth Avenue. They can and should be widened.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
I never left New York during the pandemic. I was out in the field every day. When the shutdown started, I reached out to community members in Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and the Village and we started a volunteer network that made weekly wellness calls to thousands of homebound seniors. We identified seniors who needed food, and I reached out to Trader Joe’s and Fresh Direct and obtained donations. We used Guy Crowl’s truck at Manhattan Plaza to make the deliveries. We delivered around 60,000 pantry boxes to local seniors and families experiencing food insecurity. This is just some of the work that happened in those dark days. Our community came together in incredible ways.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I’ve worked under three City Council Speakers and in the Governor’s office. Prior to last December, I was Chief of Staff in the District office to our local Council Member, Corey Johnson. Prior to that, I was Governor Cuomo’s LGBTQ Community Liaison and his Regional Representative in Manhattan, liaising with all 12 community boards in the borough. I started my career in government as the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS Community Liaison in the City Council’s Community Outreach Unit.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
I’ve witnessed the most beautiful acts of kindness. People who have never sewn before in their life, started making masks at home for people who needed them. Neighbors cooking food for the senior down the hall, who they had never really met before. New Yorkers hung out their windows every night at 7pm to thank our essential workers. New Yorkers under siege come together like nobody else.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
When Governor Cuomo hired me to help lead the fight for marriage equality in New York state, he announced it as one of his first appointments of his new administration. At the time this was interpreted as a signal of his commitment to getting the marriage equality bill passed. It garnered national attention and caught me completely by surprise.
What’s your superpower?
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Which people inspire you the most?
Kamala Harris, Harvey Milk, Dorothy Zbornak
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” — Dale Carnegie
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I love Times Square when I can experience it without being enveloped by slow walking crowds!
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
I think Hudson Yards was a missed opportunity for something that could appeal to everyday New Yorkers and local residents, but I’m hopeful that we can make it better.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Vynl with its Cher, Elvis and Dolly restrooms.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
Times of crisis call for proven leadership, and the COVID-19 crisis has put New York City’s survival on the line. On the City Council, I will:
-create affordable housing and work to end homelessness
-fight for safe, livable and vibrant neighborhoods
-help our small businesses reopen safely and succeed
-work to root out the systemic racism that pervades society, including our criminal justice system
-advocate for our children and world-class public schools
-push for safer streets and better transportation options
I believe that if we come together and rise to this moment, New York City’s best days are still ahead.
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
Restaurant Row (W46th St bw 8th & 9th Ave)
Since it closed to traffic, it’s just spectacular. One of my proudest accomplishments is having worked with the restaurant owners to close Restaurant Row to through traffic.
Clinton Community Garden (W48th bw 9th & 10th Ave)
It’s the closest thing around to the Garden of Eden and it’s right here in Hell’s Kitchen.
Turco (W43rd & 9th Ave)
The chicken soup and homemade bread (if you haven’t had it, go now!)
Arriba Arriba (W51st & 9th Ave)
Margaritas on a Friday night after a long week.
Sake Bar Hagi 46 (W46th St bw 8th & 9th Ave)
The Sashimi Martini (yes, you read that right).