‘A huge activist,’Harry Wieder is killed by a cab


By Sergey kadinsky and Albert Amateau

Harry Wieder, a member of Community Board 3 and an activist in groups advocating for gay rights and the disabled, was killed on Tuesday night April 27 when he was hit by a taxi while crossing the street as he was leaving the community board’s monthly meeting.

Police said the cab going north on Essex St. struck Wieder as he was crossing the street midblock between Stanton and East Houston Sts. around 9:45 p.m.

The driver apparently did not see Wieder, who was about 4 feet tall and walked with the aid of forearm crutches. Police said the cab stopped and there was no criminality involved. Wieder was reportedly crossing the street to get to his car.

An Emergency Medical Services unit took Wieder, 57, to Bellevue Hospital where he was declared dead after doctors were unable to revive him. Wieder’s mother arrived at the hospital via Hatzolah Ambulance Service from her home in Queens but she was not in time to see him alive. She is believed to be his only living relative.

Dominic Pisciotta, C.B. 3 chairperson, was still inside P.S. 20 after the meeting when Wieder was killed.

“I will miss Harry terribly,” Pisciotta said. “He contributed so much to the board, and you could always count on him to be at nearly every meeting. He loved serving the community and, most of all, fighting for it.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a statement, saying Wieder’s death “leaves behind a huge void in the communities he served.”

“How terrible that someone who worked to improve transportation for all was struck by a taxi,” Stringer said. “We can honor his life by continuing to fight for safer roads, and furthering his legacy of equality and access for all.”

“I met him when I moved into the neighborhood,” City Councilmember Rosie Mendez told The Villager. “He was a dear friend and a consistent voice for affordable housing and disability rights. I’m going to miss him,” Mendez said.

In a statement, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez said: “In overcoming many obstacles in his own life, Harry became a tenacious champion for improving and strengthening our community. A tireless advocate for gay and disabled rights and for improving our transportation system, his many achievements brought dignity and equality to people’s lives, while making our city a better place to live and work.”

Wieder suffered from Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder, which not only affected his balance, but caused his hearing to swing unpredictably from normal to near deafness.

“For about four months he was not able to fully participate in meetings, but he still showed up!” Pisciotta noted. “Fortunately, he got new hearing aids that helped him tremendously, and he seemed to be in much better shape in April and was participating a lot more than he had been recently.”

Wieder got onto Community Board 3 — which covers the East Village and Lower East Side — in 1999 when he was appointed by then-Councilmember Margarita Lopez. He was a member of the board’s Transportation Committee and also its committees on Human Services, Health, Disability and Seniors / Youth and Education.

Wieder was also active in Coalition for a District Alternative, or CoDA, a progressive Lower East Side Democratic organization.

His funeral was held Friday in Forest Hills, Queens, at Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer Memorial Chapels. The service saw an outpouring of love from many sectors of the community.

“If he decided something needed to be righted, he would not relent,” said Chelsea resident Danny Robert. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Robert arrived at the funeral home in his wheelchair, assisted by a breathing tube.

“Sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get the rest of us involved,” said Robert. “Harry could be really funny, but he could also be a real pain.”

An early member of ACT-UP, the activist gay-rights group, Wieder stood at the front line of its protests in the 1980s, as it campaigned for greater awareness of AIDS prevention and anti-discrimination laws. Along the way, he personally campaigned for some of today’s leading gay lawmakers.

“He was a very active volunteer, a good, fun driver,” said state Senator Tom Duane. In Duane’s 1989 run for City Council, Wieder drove Duane around in his beat-up Buick Regal. “He pulled into the City Hall parking lot, and just batted an eye at the police officer at the gate like he owned the place,” Duane recalled. Wieder used special hand controls to drive.

The diminutive, nearly deaf activist was also an outspoken member of the 504 Democratic Club, which specializes in advocacy for the disabled, as well as a member of Disabled in Action.

“Harry organized a coup for the disabled community and got the 504 to endorse me,” said former Councilmember Margarita Lopez. “He was a strategist, and his intelligence was beyond that of ordinary people.”

Like Duane, Lopez also took campaign rides from Wieder.

“The car had incredible gadgets, and a velocity that you will envy,” said Lopez.

An only child, Wieder was born in Forest Hills, Queens, to Holocaust-survivor parents, and attended the Dov Revel Elementary School, an Orthodox yeshiva. His childhood friend Rabbi Yesocher Ginzberg gave the eulogy.

“He never allowed a handicap to get in the way,” said Ginzberg. “Even as a child, he was the statistician of the basketball team, and he belonged on the team.” Ginzberg and Wieder grew apart after elementary school, but were reunited decades later by their neighborhood activism as members of Community Board 3.

Wieder was diligent in his attendance of Board 3 meetings, and many mourners recalled seeing him at meetings just prior to his death. Known for his feisty temperament, Wieder would sometimes use his crutches as weapons when he felt slighted.

“You knew when you met Harry that it wasn’t going to be a quick hello,” said Assemblymember Deborah Glick. The self-described “disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle-aged dwarf” penned lengthy letters to politicians on a wide variety of topics.

West Village resident Ellen Peterson-Lewis credited Wieder for making city buses kneel- and handicapped-accessible.

“All the bureaucrats in government will miss him,” she said. “He fought fiercely for this cause.”

At the time of his death, Wieder did not have a partner, although Duane spoke of his crushes on restaurant waiters, “cute boys” and his own partner’s brother.

Following the burial, Ginzberg advised mourners to visit and console Wieder’s mother, Charlotte, the 86-year-old Auschwitz survivor.

“We are all Harry’s family, and that makes you our mom,” Ginzberg said to Charlotte. “So let us know what we can do for you.”

Among other public officials present at the funeral were Comptroller John Liu, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Borough President Stringer, as well as former Public Advocate Mark Green. All recalled the love-hate relationship of a dwarf who jeered them one moment and, in the next moment, hugged them tightly.

“You weren’t done talking to Harry until he was done talking to you,” said Quinn. “Harry went out of his way to be devilish, and as we continue to struggle in his name, we need to maybe be a little more devilish ourselves.”