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‘The heart of Rockaway’: Street co-naming honors ‘tenacious’ community leader

Jun. 12, 2023 By Gabriele Holtermann

Elected officials, community leaders and residents on June 11 joined City Councilwoman Joann Ariola for a street co-naming ceremony at Beach 116th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard in memory of Lew Simon.

The fierce Rockaway advocate and Democratic district leader for the 23rd Assembly District died on Nov. 7, 2021, at 62.

Beach 116th Street was co-named after Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

City Councilwoman Joann Ariola said they worked hard to pick the correct date for the street co-naming.

“Because this date is just prior to early voting, we found that it would be the appropriate date to have Lew’s unveiling for this street co-naming,” Ariola said, pointing out that the bill for the naming passed unanimously.

Ariola said that people from all over Queens had joined the ceremony, showing Simon’s reach.

City Councilwoman Joann Ariola speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“That really is such a testimony because my father always said, ‘The only thing you leave behind is your name,'” Ariola said. “And [Lew’s] name really does carry.”

Those in attendance recalled a man who was a tireless fighter for the community he was born and raised in, even if it meant ruffling some feathers along the way.

Uncompromising, never backing down from a fight, and advocating for the people who didn’t have a voice were just a few of the accolades for the “Mayor of the Block” that now bears his name.

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said Simon didn’t care about party affiliation.

State Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (l.) speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“He loved you or hated you,” Pheffer Amato said. ”But it’s the same relationship we had with Lew. I never met a person that I loved so much. At the same time, I wanted to kick the crap out of him.”

City Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers described Simon as the “heartbeat of the Rockaway,” recalling a man who always was ready to help, even during his last days when he sent her text messages letting her know about people needing help.

City Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers speaks at the street naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Lew didn’t care where you’re from, what you looked like, what your story is,” Brooks-Powers said. “If you needed help, Lew was going to be there, and he wasn’t going to back down. He was the type of person you would always want in your corner.”

NYPD Deputy Inspector Carlos Fabara knew Simon for most of his life. Simon helped Fabara’s mother and sisters get jobs.

NYPD Deputy Inspector Carlos Fabara speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“You could probably name any block in Rockaway after Lew Simon, and it would be appropriate,” Fabara said. “But I’m so glad to see that it was Beach 116th Street because just like Lew, Beach 116th Street is really the heart of Rockaway, and Lew was the heart of Rockaway.”

Rockaway resident Dan Brown represented the Queens District Attorney’s Office at the street co-naming ceremony. He recalled a time when Simon stood in the street with a bullhorn to collect signatures for a petition to save the ferry service which had been put in place after Hurricane Sandy.

Dan Brown, representing District Attorney Melinda Katz, speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.

“People all over Queens are grateful for our ferry, but they don’t realize that they have the people of Rockaway to thank for that ferry,” Brown said. “And Lew Simon is one of the leaders of that movement.”

District Leader Jeanette Garramone, Lew’s co-leader, said that Lew left behind a legacy of values, one of them fighting for his community and beyond.

“His legacy is every one of us who have a story,” Garramone said. “You know, every one of us who shares his values of love for the community fighting, whether he agreed with you or not, he fought to the end. And that’s what we want. We want somebody who will fight for what they believe in, even when we disagree.”

District Leader Jeanette Garramone speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Lisa George represented state Senator James Sanders’ office at the street co-naming ceremony. George said the legacy Simon left with her was to fight for what is right and that he always believed in her even when she, or others, didn’t believe in herself.

“Someone just said something about it doesn’t matter what party you belong to,” George said. “When I ran for office, he didn’t care. He said, ‘You are my friend. I’m backing you. I don’t care who anyone else backs. And that is, I miss that.”

Lisa George, representing State Senator James Sanders’ office, speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Queens Community Board 14 chair Dolores Orr first met Simon 40 years ago at a “Dancing Under the Stars” event. Orr didn’t know him personally, but “you couldn’t help but know who he was because he had this big button ‘Hello, my name is Lew M. Simon,'” she recalled.

Orr was sure that every organization on the peninsula was going to miss Lew’s fundraising talent.

Community Board 14 chair Dolores Orr speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Orr said she was sure that Lew was happy with the location of the street naming “because if he wasn’t, it would be raining.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo said there was no “middle ground” with Simon.

“There were times when you wanted to hug him and you wanted to kiss him [and] you wanted to say ‘thank you.’ And there were times you wanted to strangle him,” Addabbo said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo speaks at the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Addabbo shared that Simon attended his wedding in 1998 and, in 2001, ran against Addabbo for City Council.

“Only Lew Simon could do that,” Addabbo said.

The Hon. Scott Dunn, who went to high school with Simon, described him as a “community person,” and “a giver who was all about making a difference.”

Dunn remembered that Simon never gave up running for office, whether in high school, college or the City Council. Despite his numerous losses, Simon never quit, Dunn said.

“Lew never quit. Lew got knocked down all over the place. But [he kept] on trying, kept on being tenacious and ultimately, Lew won,” Dunn said, referring to Simon’s election as Assembly district leader. “And when Lew won, what he did with it made a huge difference in the community.”

Rockaway residents attend the street co-naming for Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Beach 116 Street was co-named after Lew Simon in Rockaway Beach on June 11, 2023.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

 

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