I always knew that I had a special tie to Alan Gerson, and it wasn’t because I sat through some of his Fidel Castro length ramblings at Community Board meetings. It was only when Sophie Gerson, his mom, died right at the close of 2012 that I found out she was from the Bronx. Gerson was the child of immigrants and graduated from Walton High School in 1941, the same year as my mom, now 90, who also found her way from the Bronx to Greenwich Village. There’s something about growing up in the Bronx which takes away the fear of anything Manhattan can offer.
Sophie was fearless. She taught Phys. Ed. at NYC Public Schools for 36 years. She was a Village Independent Democratic club (VID) original when joining that club was a radical act which meant you were bucking the political power brokers. She left VID, even though her husband stayed, when the club split over Ed Koch’s race with Mario Cuomo for Governor, and she stayed with her new group, the Village Reform Democrats, even though Cuomo won. She ran for the District 2 School Board when being on a School Board meant one had some power, and served two terms, most of it during Rudy Giuliani’s obsessive reign over the City School System (and the City). She struck with the UFT against community control of schools (and walked a picket line with WestView Publisher George Capsis), but later became one of its fiercest proponents. She pushed her son Alan to take on an entrenched clique that was running Community Board 2 in the 1990s, and he went on to beat a sitting chair, and I am sure she pushed mightily, as she slowed down, to get Alan out on the streets in his successful race for the downtown City Council seat.
Though fierce, she was also affable (another quality we Bronxites bring to the Village), and you can still see that in Alan’s dislike for making enemies, or hurting anyone’s feelings. Sophie Gerson made a unique contribution to the life of the Village. She will be missed.