By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A stroll along 125th Street from St. Nicholas Avenue to Lexington Avenue is an odyssey revealing radical changes from a decade ago, when the so-called Gang of Fourformer mayor David Dinkins, Congressman Charles Rangel, businessman Percy Sutton, and former New York secretary of state Basil Pattersonwere the most powerful politicians in Harlem. A new generation of leaders, led by current secretary of state Randy Daniels, has wrested power from the old guard.
Until recently, no major retailers were willing to risk putting a store in Harlem. Today, with millions in support from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), the site called Harlem USA has an HMV, a Modell's, an Old Navy, and a Disney Store as well as a New York Sports Club, a Magic Johnson Theatre, and Hue-Man Books, the largest black-owned bookstore in the state. One block over are Duane Reade, Krispy Kreme, the "new" Apollo Theater, Banco Popular, and Fleet Bank.
The next block finds an H&M, Blockbuster, a new Washington Mutual bank, and as part of the Harlem Center on Lenox Avenueat one time the proposed site for the Harlem International Trade Center (HITC)there are a Marshall's, a CVS drugstore, and a soon-to-open Staples.
The Harlem Center, a project connected to the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), an arm of Reverend Calvin Butts's Abyssinian Baptist Church, was partly financed by loans from a source less well-known than the empowerment zone called the Metropolitan Economic Revitalization Fund (MERF), a revolving loan created by Daniels. MERF has also given a few million for the city's largest Pathmark, on Lexington Avenue, another ADC project.
While empowerment zone figures such as Rangel are rightly credited with much of the development in Harlem, Daniels has had a significant role in the area's commercial boom. As secretary of state, Daniels, 51, has oversight of all business incorporations and various licenses, and works with local officials to implement the state's building code, the operation of the coastal management program, and the training of firefighters. But Harlem development has been perhaps his real career.
In Harlem, Daniels has been the main emissary for the governor and Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) chair Charles Gargano, employed to shake up the business-as-usual Democrat control of housing and commercial development. (A longtime Democrat, Daniels used to cite his position as proof of Republican governor Pataki's inclusiveness, but shortly before Pataki's re-election, he quietly became a Republican.) Some laud Daniels as a hero whose efforts have helped open the way for new housing and commercial investment in Harlem. Others think that he is simply a Pataki hatchet man, releasing unbridled privatization and gentrification on Harlem.
After two decades as a journalist and press adviser for politicians ranging from Andrew Young and Mark Green to Andrew Stein and Bahamas prime minister Sir Lynden Pindling, Daniels was selected by Dinkins as a deputy mayor in 1992. In the late 1980s he left Stein's staff because, as he told Newsday in 2001, he thought Stein was "afraid intellectually" to challenge then mayor Ed Koch. With the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy still fouling the airwaves soon after Dinkins hired Daniels, someone from Stein's office apparently felt it was time to make Daniels pay for his desertion.
Barbara Wood, by then a reporter with NY1, had worked with Daniels in Stein's administration, and accused Daniels of sexual harassment during that time. Within one week of the chargelater proved to be falseDaniels resigned the deputy mayor job. "Randy is a very gifted person we thought could be enormously helpful to our administration," the former mayor told the Voice. "When the accusations came from Andy Stein's office, he couldn't very well be helpful to our administration when we were bringing him on to try to improve our image."
Daniels told the Voice, "I understood the mayor's political needs. And I accommodated them. . . . So that's not the issue for me. It's the way it happened. And I think a lot of people regret a lot of things they did."
Some Harlem observers claim that the lack of support for Daniels from Harlem Democrats began a vendetta played out over years. Whether or not his work for Pataki in Harlem is based on payback, some of it was and is certainly personal. He's lived there for 24 years with his wife and two daughters. His pastor and fellow Pataki ally, Butts, said that he is a "trusted friend, neighbor, and a family man. I consider him someone who is interested in the community we live inHarlem."
George Goodwill, chairman of Community Board 9 in Harlem, says Daniels and other Hamilton Heights folk formed a neighborhood federation in 1983 to address numerous local issues. Daniels is now a SUNY board vice-chair and in 1999, Butts became president of SUNY Old Westbury, with Daniels's strong support. But over the years, Daniels has also bumped heads with the old-school Harlem leadership.
In 1998, Daniels and the Empire State Development Corporation, the Apollo's lessor, were responsible for ending the theater's longtime management deal between Percy Sutton's Inner City Theater Group and the Apollo Theater Foundation. Rangel was forced to step down as the Apollo's board chair and recently AOL Time-Warner took over the theater's management. The final straw for Sutton came last summer when the new board chose another group to produce and distribute the popular Showtime at the Apollo. "I've always respected Percy Sutton," said Daniels. "I had a public obligation to make sure the situation at the Apollo was rectified. It was, and the fact that they agreed to that was an indication that I was correct. It's never personal with me."