By Lincoln Anderson
Marcia Lemmon, the bane of Downtown bar owners and a fighter for quality of life on the Lower East Side, died on Saturday. She was 48.
Clayton Patterson, a friend and ally in some of Lemmon’s battles, said he was called to her building on Ludlow St. on Saturday morning and witnessed Lemmon who “looked terrible,” he said being taken away in a Cabrini ambulance about 9 a.m. About an hour later, Patterson and Danny Stein went to Beth Israel Hospital, where Lemmon had been taken, and were told by a doctor that she was dead. An autopsy was inconclusive and further tests will be done to determine the cause of death, according to a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Lemmon had suffered from obesity for years.
Lemmon was president of the Ludlow St. Block Association and a member of Community Board 3 for several years. She was particularly active on C.B. 3 in the late 1990s as a vocal member of the board’s State Liquor Authority Committee, which makes advisory recommendations on liquor licenses.
In letters to the editor to The Villager, a sister publication of Downtown Express, Lemmon would blast the area’s booming bar scene as the “Lower East Side Alcohol Theme Park.”
Bar owners did not want to get on her bad side. Working on her own, she fought successfully to shut down the popular Baby Jupiter, at Orchard and Stanton Sts., by flagging such violations as not having proper permits posted inside the bar.
However, in 2001, some local bar owners including Gary Auslander, Baby Jupiter’s owner began actively lobbying then-Borough President C. Virginia Fields not to reappoint her to the community board. Lemmon dropped off of the board around that time. But she said it was not because of her critics, merely that she wanted to take a step back. And her health was worsening.
Lemmon also championed local businesses, like Rosario’s Pizza, when it was forced by high rent out of its E. Houston St. space, only to be replaced by a Famous Ray’s pizzeria. Eventually, Rosario’s found a new home at Orchard and Stanton Sts.
“She was a good person,” said Sal Bartolomeo, Rosario’s owner. “She tried to make a neighborhood that there will not be abuse or noise from anybody. And when you do that there are people no like you…. She was a fighter.... I remember she would take a camera, take a picture of [some violation at] a restaurant.”
Bartolomeo said he was touched by how Lemmon and Patterson came out to Queens for the funeral of his father, Philip, a.k.a. “Pops,” several years ago.
“That was really beautiful,” he said. “I will never forget.”
Lemmon grew up in Queens. Rensaa said that when she and Patterson first met Lemmon on the Lower East Side she was a normal weight, but that after Lemmon’s mother died in 1991 or ’92, she began putting on weight. It got to the point where a couple of years ago, Lemmon had ballooned all the way to 600 pounds, Rensaa said. One time, Rensaa recalled, firefighters came to get Lemmon out of her apartment and used a hoist, then put her in the elevator and had to walk down the stairs because there was no room in the elevator.
“We tried to get Richard Simmons to do something like he helped Tiny on Third St.,” Rensaa said, referring to another local resident who got so big he became trapped in his apartment.
Rensaa said that Lemmon recently had actually lost a lot of weight about 300 pounds, in fact. And Bartolomeo said Lemmon had called him only about a month ago to tell him she was feeling better.
After Lemmon’s health worsened, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver whom she had frequently skewered in letters to the editor helped her obtain a hospital bed for her apartment.
In a statement, Silver said, “While Ms. Lemmon and I did not always agree on the approach to overcoming certain challenges, we shared the common goal of protecting the quality of life for local residents. Ms. Lemmon was a valued member of our community whose enthusiasm and drive will be missed.”
Her politics were conservative on some issues. In one of her final letters to the editor, she wrote to Downtown Express praising the Minutemen the anti-illegal immigration group as patriots and criticizing their opponents, after a rally at ground zero.
C.B. 3 chairperson David McWater said Lemmon’s father died in 1998. It’s not known if she has any survivors.