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GREENWICH VILLAGE LEGENDS: Arthur Schwartz

Arthur Schwartz

New York’s Legendary Progressive Leader 

By Bruce Poli

He was born in the Bronx and has lived in the West Village for 40 years. A lifelong Mets fan (since ’62)…AND a Yankee fan.

At age 15, in 1968, after sitting in the principal’s office at Bronx Science High School, Arthur Schwartz became a leader of the Columbia University student protests. 

He hasn’t stopped protesting since—forcefully, effectively, and ALWAYS on the side of justice…

He’s achieved dramatic results for New York City over the decades—for workers, parks, affordable housing, LGBT rights, civil rights, and for all of us who struggle to survive and just to live in NYC.

He is counsel to, and has been endorsed by, Black Lives Matter in his bid for Corey Johnson’s City Council District 3 seat.

He was the New York legal counsel to Bernie Sanders during his 2016 bid for the presidency, and in Chuck Schumer’s core group when he won the Senate seat over Al D’Amato in 1998.

In 2008 he managed Barack Obama’s Manhattan campaign.

In 2014, Arthur was Zephyr Teachout’s treasurer during her challenge to Andrew Cuomo for governor, and served as election counsel to Cynthia Nixon, Jumaane Williams, Mondaire Jones, and many other transformative candidates.

Arthur Schwartz is a New Yorker’s New Yorker. His 42 years of civil rights legal work is as progressive and New York as they get.

And yes, he is a Greenwich Village Legend.

Sometimes we need a figure—a leader—to define our values. Arthur Schwartz is the urban force and symbol that drives progress and change and the forever hope for New York’s future. Politically, he’s helped progressive activists (statewide) grow and develop their movement without engaging in sectarian politics. And during the past four decades, no one has litigated more union democracy cases and taken on more corrupt union leaders. And he has done that while representing the unions he has helped to clean up. For 20 years he has been general counsel to Transport Workers Union Local 100 (shepherding subway and bus workers through the 2005 transit strike).

As the attorney for an endless number of justice organizations over the years—a few are the Pacifica Foundation, the New York Progressive Action Network (which he helped found), ACORN Institute, the American Institute for Social Justice, and Advocates for Justice (his own legal foundation)—Arthur has built the historic legacy of a fighter who wins case after case against the MTA, Port Authority, Success Academy, Con Edison, and so many more powerful institutions. 

Arthur fights for attractive, affordable housing and attacks the cruelty and depravity of NYCHA whenever he can. He’s in the media all the time. His WBAI radio program (returning in July) is legendary. He is the activist who never stops, and yet he has been a dedicated spouse and raised four children.

Call him the Muhammed Ali of the New York ring: float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. He refers to himself as a “guerrilla” litigator. He is so polarizing, he’s provoked such headlines as:

Lawyer Prescribes: Shake Before Helping (on challenging Con Edison, NY Times, 2/5/99), Fight Over Manhattan Apartment and Surveillance Cameras Land Tenant’s Guardian in Court (NY Times, July 15, 2015), and City Council Candidate Wants NYPD Commish Shea ‘Hung By His Cojones’ (New York Post, February 27, 2021).

As a parent, Arthur Schwartz has fought to make our streets safe and helped revitalize our parks for children and communities. He worked to win ballfields on Pier 40 and helped create Hudson River Park as a founder of the West Village Community Alliance for Parks and Playgrounds, a co-founder of Friends of Hudson River Park, chair of the Parks and Waterfront Committees of Community Board 2, and has achieved so much more.

These are all facts; you might say, just facts. But what matters is that SOMEONE is actually fighting—for decades—for the community values we cherish here in New York and across America: equality; open space; fairness of pay; social harmony; economic justice.

Arthur Schwartz is a civil rights leader in the spirit of his heroes: Clarence Darrow, William Kunstler, and Ramsey Clark.

Without a doubt he is a New York legend. 

Bruce Poli is a consultant for the Arthur Schwartz campaign.

A NEW YORKER’S NEW YORKER: Arthur Schwartz, above. Photo by Jacob Schwartz.

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