A born and bred New Yorker, Tony Simone has lived on the West Side throughout his adult life. Until recently, he was Director of External Affairs for Hudson River Park Friends before turning his attention to politics. Here’s Tony’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born and raised in Queens NY and lived my adult life on the West Side of Manhattan.
I was raised by a working class family. My mom, a Peruvian immigrant, worked in hair factories and eventually started her own businesses, making wigs for chemotherapy patients and also opening a small restaurant with my dad. My dad drove taxi cabs and trucks. We dealt with his addiction and alcoholism, but fortunately he became sober later in life. They, along with my grandfather Tony, a teamster union delegate, taught me the importance of giving back to the community and that public service is a noble cause. My grandfather, who organized workers, also taught me the importance of collective action and building broad diverse coalitions.
Growing up we dealt with almost having our home foreclosed and bad landlords not giving us heat. I got involved in organizing and politics working on the Clinton-Gore campaign and local campaigns for Jerry Nadler. I earned a Masters in Public Policy, Management and Finance from the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. I eventually went to work for State Senator Catherine Abate, beginning my career in public service.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
After college, I moved to Manhattan, living in Hell’s Kitchen when I first worked for Council Member Christine Quinn as a community liaison.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
The strong community bonds that exist from our strong blocks, small businesses and vibrancy from the theaters and artistic spaces.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
The traffic heading to the Lincoln Tunnel! New Jersey drivers are a plague on our streets.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
Jason, Radar (our dog) and I stayed put here in Hell’s Kitchen.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I worked as Director of External Affairs for Hudson River Park Friends. The work we did there to maintain and expand our beautiful waterfront park felt so important during COVID when we all needed peaceful outdoor space the most. I’m now focusing completely on representing our community in the Assembly.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Always being home during the early stages of the pandemic really drove home the incredible difference the lack of cars and access to green space can have on our well-being.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
The amazing ways New Yorkers connected and supported each other, especially making sure seniors had what they needed to get through the toughest months.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
Meeting Hillary Clinton while working on her US Senate campaign.
What’s your superpower?
I can always dance, no matter what mood I’m in or where I am.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Vogue by Madonna
More West Side Stories
Which people inspire you the most?
My grandfather, Tony, was a Teamsters union delegate and taught me the importance of collective action to accomplish great things. His lessons have guided me throughout my life.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” — Harvey Milk
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
Like most New Yorkers, I avoid it as much as possible.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
Hudson Yards is an example of how not to do new development. While the new park space is nice, it overall feels like a walled fortress that separates itself from the surrounding community. I would have wanted housing in the model of Penn South or Manhattan Plaza.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Captain John Doswell was a brilliant and wonderful member of our community until he passed away six years ago. His hard work and activism helped shape our waterfront, particularly in opening Pier 84 to the public, being one of the founders of Hudson River Park Friends and restoring the fireboat John J. Harvey.
Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places
Norma — My favorite spot for a date night with my fiancé Jason.
Hudson River Park — Working to help maintain and expand the park was one of the prides of my career and it’s always restorative to spend time there.
Rise Bar — One of my favorite places to dance!
The Spot — I can always walk in and find a friendly face.
Sullivan Street Bakery — My go-to spot when I need carbs!