Arty Strickler, C.B. 2 district manager, is dead at age 60


By Lincoln Anderson and Albert Amateau

Arthur Warren Strickler died at his Bethune St. home in Greenwich Village on Saturday evening. He had eaten dinner at home with his longtime partner, David Spegal, who went to take a nap after the meal. When Spegal returned, Strickler was dead, having suffered a heart attack. He would have turned 61 in May.

Strickler — known to one and all as “Arty” — for the last 10 years was the colorful, combative, energetic and sometimes controversial district manager of Greenwich Village’s Community Board 2. He was a former member of the community board and from 1989 to 1991 was its chairperson. He was also a past Democratic district leader out of the Village Independent Democrats political club from 1991 to 1995.

Before becoming district manager, he held a job in the State Department of Transportation under Governor Mario Cuomo, which lasted until Republican George Pataki won the governorship.

He was a former president of Beth Simchat Torah, the city’s only gay and lesbian synagogue, which meets at Holy Apostles Church in Chelsea. Not all may have known it, but Strickler was also a devoted Mason, and for the last 10 months was the master of the Masonic lodge on W. 23rd St.

About 300 people from community boards, the world of politics and fellow Masons attended the hour-long funeral service that combined Masonic and Jewish ritual for Strickler on Tues. March 14 at the Plaza Community Funeral Home on Amsterdam Ave. at W. 91st St. The service was on the second floor of the funeral parlor and was linked by video to the ground-floor auditorium. Both floors were filled to capacity.

Ray Cline, president of Village Reform Democratic Club — and himself a past master of the Masons’ St. Cecile Lodge on W. 23rd St. — led the funeral services, which included Hebrew prayer and psalms by Danielle St. Simone, cantor of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.

Spegal, Strickler’s partner since 1979, told the assembled mourners about Strickler’s life and broad-ranging enthusiasms.

Bill Sansone, who had known Strickler since they were 14-year-old members of DeMolay, the Masonic youth organization, while growing up in Brooklyn, said fondly, “When it comes to Arty, you’d have enough anecdotes to fill an hour. He was an inspiration and a leader of all of us.” As an adult, Strickler became a Mason in 1966.

Spegal recalled that Strickler came out as a gay man in 1975, gave up a business and a marriage, went to live on a kibbutz in Israel for a year and a half and returned to the Village where politics became a passion. “He may not have always been diplomatic, but you always knew what he thought about things,” Spegal recalled. It is a trait recalled fondly by many friends, including the Board 2 chairpersons with whom he worked over the years.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who was chairperson of Community Board 2 from 1997 to 1999, helped select and promote Strickler for district manager — a paid staff position whose job is to run the board’s office and serve as an ombudsman for a broad array of complaints from the community about everything from graffiti to garbage. Gerson said upon hearing the news of Strickler’s death, he walked over to the C.B. 2 office on Bleecker St. and commiserated with the staff and looked at all the photos on the wall of Strickler’s office of Strickler posing with politicians. Strickler never saw a camera he didn’t like and loved to be photographed with movers and shakers. He was ubiquitous at local community events.

“His photo collection is really a photo pictorial of Village politics,” said Gerson. “He has pictures [of himself] with my mentor, Bill Passannante, Abe Beame, Mayor Bloomberg.

“I think he was the best of the best when it came to being district manager,” Gerson said. “He performed very well. He had the pulse on the community. He knew what was going on on every block. And he knew how to push through bureaucracy and get that street sign or pothole fixed.

“He was a street fighter,” Gerson continued. “He was not above a good knockdown, haul-out brawl, and sometimes that was to his detriment. But sometimes that character helped get things done. You need that in the district manager’s office. He was incredibly effective, and Community Board 2 — the Village, Soho, Noho, Chinatown and Hudson Square — is a better place because of his service.”

Maria Passannante Derr, current C.B. 2 chairperson, said of Strickler, “He was a very, very devoted district manager and an energetic person. He was very passionate about the local issues, particularly gay issues. He really dedicated himself to the community. I miss him already.”

‘Vividly alive’

Jim Smith, Board 2’s chairperson from 1999 to 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005, said, “Arty Strickler’s sudden passing is shocking. He seemed to be a bull physically. His energy for work was indefatigable. Arty was one of the most vividly alive men I ever knew. You had to like him. We made each other furious at times but I guess that just proved we touched each other. In one pair of pants he was all of New York at its flavorful, contentious, unique best.”

Aubrey Lees, C.B. 2 chairperson from 2001 to 2003, said, “Arty was a force of nature, really, very unique. And he had a strong personality and lots of different interests and long friendships. You really wanted to be on his good side. He was someone who was very straightforward — either he liked you or he didn’t like you. He was a very hard worker, very committed to the community board.”

The 50 volunteer members of each board are appointed by the borough president and local councilmembers. Strickler’s strong personality saw him sometimes clash with board members. However, he said he necessarily had to be political in his position.

Last May Strickler, speaking about being district manager and making a reference to Manhattan County’s Democratic Party chairperson, told The Villager, “As Denny Farrell once told me when I was district leader, ‘In this business, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.’ This is politics.”

Another truism of Strickler’s was, “No one is appointed to the board for their looks — these are all political appointments.”

His best friends on the current board were Bob Rinaolo, the board’s secretary, and Carol Yankay, the board’s second vice chairperson.

Strickler planned to keep his job and retire in five years.

Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, said, “Arthur Strickler was a passionate community member whose knowledge of the issues and dedication to public service will be in many ways irreplaceable. His commitment to the Greenwich Village community, energy, enthusiasm and overall desire to help others will be remembered and deeply missed for years to come.”

Gay-rights activist

Strickler was also a gay civil rights activist, marching in his first Gay Pride Parade in 1976, but still feeling a bit nervous having just come out the year before.

“I had a tambourine in my hand, and I was tambourining in front of my face so no one would see me,” he told The Villager in 2001 in the newspaper’s Gay Pride issue.

He said growing up in Brooklyn he’d experienced strong homophobia. Though he knew he was gay as early as 12, it took him years to come out and then some more time to become comfortable with it.

Cline told The Villager that Strickler left the Masons at one point, feeling the group was too conservative, but later returned, feeling comfortable at the more liberal 23rd St. lodge, dubbed “The Lodge of the Arts.”

Strickler also did a lot on behalf of children. Smith recalled Strickler was a founder of the Greenwich Village Youth Olympics, an annual event until a few years ago.

“The hot dogs were free and the candy and soda was free — and every kid got a medal,” Smith said.

Strickler was a founder of the Greenwich Village Children’s Halloween Parade, which is co-sponsored by Community Board 2 and New York University.

John Beckman, N.Y.U.’s vice president for public affairs, said, “N.Y.U., like all its neighbors in Greenwich Village, mourns the sudden passing of Arty Strickler. New York is not a monolith; it is a city of neighborhoods and communities. And those communities are made strong and vibrant by the devotion of people who care about them. Arty was such a person. His passing is a real loss to this community, and he will be missed.”

Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president of government and community relations, said, “The N.Y.U. community joins me in expressing deepest sympathies on the death of Arthur Strickler. He brought great passion, energy and dedication to his work on behalf of Community Board 2 and the residents of Greenwich Village.”

Ed Gold, a veteran C.B. 2 member, said Strickler, in fact, at one point had hoped to get a job in N.Y.U.’s community affairs department but lost out to Carol Reichman, a former Board 2 member.

Added Gold of another interest of Strickler’s, “He and I were really the only serious coin collectors on the board. In fact we went to several coin shows together. He specialized in Judaica and Roman coins.”

Gloria Harris, a community assistant in the C.B. 2 office, said the board staff is taking Strickler’s sudden passing hard.

“It’s not easy, because we were really close to Arty,” she said. “Arty was like our parent, not only our boss. Sometimes things got a little rough around the edges — but we always stuck together as a family. But we will miss him. It was a huge shock to this office.”

Among those attending Strickler’s funeral service were Congressmember Jerry Nadler; former Public Advocate Mark Green; Councilmember Alan Gerson and his father, Herman Gerson; Councilmember Rosie Mendez; Stonewall Democrats president Dirk McCall; Aubrey Lees, Brad Hoylman, Don Lee and Arthur Schwartz of Community Board 2; Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3; Anthony Borelli, former C.B. 4 district manager and current planning chief in Borough President Stringer’s office; Brad Sussman; Matt Viggiano of State Senator Martin Connor’s office; Penny Ryan, C.B. 7 district manager; Martha Danziger, former C.B. 3 district manager; Catherine Abate, former state senator and former New York City Department of Correction commissioner; Kathy Kinsella, former C.B. 5 district manager; Gary Parker, current C.B. 5 district manager; and Mort Berkowitz, of Mort and Ray Productions, the street-fair production company.

Strickler, in addition to his partner, Spegal, is survived by a sister, Roberta, and a niece and a nephew. Contributions may be made in his memory to the Masonic Brotherhood Fund and Masonic Youth Foundation and sent to the Masonic Temple at 71 W. 23rd St.