Volume 16 • Issue 31 | December 30 - January 8, 2004

Silver’s ‘workaholic’ aide to retire this week

By Albert Amateau

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Yvonne Morrow, aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in her office.

Yvonne Morrow, who has been engaged in virtually every Downtown neighborhood issue over the past 22 years, is retiring this week from the staff of state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

An avowed “workaholic,” Morrow, 65, has been working for Silver for the past 12 years and previously worked eight years for former state Senator Manfred Ohrenstein, whose district included Lower Manhattan. Her work days began at about 7:30 a.m. “to get some work done before the phone started ringing off the hook,” and ended at 8 or 9 p.m. four nights a week when she attended community meetings.

“From Monday through Thursday I went to at least one meeting a night and sometimes I was able to go to two,” she said in an interview last week.

Is it possible for someone like that to retire? “You bet!” she replied, “I’ll be traveling, going to the theater – I’m going to get a life.”

Nevertheless, she intends to remain active in pressing community issues. “I’m going to get involved with groups that are trying to stop the West Side stadium,” she said, referring to the Bloomberg administration’s proposal to build a stadium over the West Side Rail Yards just south of the Javits Convention Center and not too far from her home in Chelsea. “I’m ready to throw my body in front of the bulldozers,” she quipped. “There are lots of issues out there.”

Among the recent causes that stood out for Morrow during her tenure on Silver’s staff are the Second Avenue Subway and the Hudson River Park. “Of course 9/11 mobilized everybody on Shelly’s staff. He went all out to help people get back into their homes at 125 Cedar St. and to help people at Southbridge Towers,” she said.

“I was at an M.T.A. meeting on Madison Ave. when it happened,” she said, recalling the day of the World Trade Center attack. “We couldn’t get back into the office at 250 Broadway until the end of October, so Shelly rented a Winnebago and ran a mobile office. I already had a Sept. 17 plane ticket for France, so I went,” she said.

Morrow also recalls the long battle that began in 1992, shortly after she came to work for Silver, over the city’s plan to use Piers 35-36 and Pier 42 on the East Side for a maintenance facility for 800 vehicles from six city agencies. “The community went crazy,” she said. “Shelly was the lead plaintiff with the residents of Gouverneur Gardens in a Fair Share lawsuit that Shelly personally argued,” Morrow continued, “It was the first Fair Share suit and maybe the only one that made it.”

The city finally signed a memorandum of understanding in 1994 with the plaintiffs saying that Pier 42 would not be used for a sanitation transfer station, Morrow recalled. “They’ve tried to do it at least three times since then and each time I just whip out the M.O.U,” she said.

A native of Minneapolis, Morrow came to New York while she was still a student at the University of Min-nesota in 1958. “I came for three months and I’ve been here ever since,” she said. She transferred her college credits from Minnesota to Hunter College, rented a tiny apartment in the Village on Carmine St. and lived there for 34 years until 1992, when she moved into the middle-income Penn South co-op. “I was on the waiting list for 14 years,” she said of her move to Penn South. “I love it.”

Before joining Ohrenstein’s staff, Morrow ran Bella Abzug’s Village mayoral campaign office in 1977 and also worked for advertising agencies. She also traveled often.

“I took a freighter to South America in 1971 and went to Rio, Buenos Aires, and then to Paraguay. I was in Chile when Allende was inaugurated president,” she said.

Silver hosted a retirement party for Morrow on Dec. 17. About 200 friends, colleagues and admirers attended the gathering.

Last week, Silver paid tribute to Morrow’s long service as a key staff member. “She was very compassionate and brought great dedication to her work,” he said in a telephone interview. “She advocated on behalf of the community with passion, feeling that each issue was her own. She is one of a kind and it will be difficult to replace her.”

Community Board 1 is planning to honor Morrow at its January meeting.



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