Morrow, longtime Silver staffer, retires


By Albert Amateau

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 has been working for Silver, whose district includes Lower Manhattan, for the past 12 years and previously worked for former state Senator Manfred Ohrenstein for eight years. Ohrenstein’s district included Lower Manhattan, Chelsea, the Village and part of the Upper West Side.

Morrow’s workdays 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. She was Silver’s liaison for Community Boards 1 and 2.

“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. “I’m ready to throw my body in front of the bulldozers,” she quipped. “There are lots of issues out there.”

Morrow lives in Chelsea, not far from the planned stadium site.

Among the recent causes that stand out for Morrow during her tenure on Silver’s staff are the Second Ave. 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, which began in 1992, shortly after she came to work for Silver, over the city’s plan to use Piers 35, 36 and 42 on the Lower 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, 65, came to New York while she was still a student at the University of Minnesota 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.

She was vice president of the Village Independent Democrats club from 1976-’77, when she quit to run the Village office of Bella Abzug’s mayoral campaign. She had been a member of Downtown Independent Democrats, before the district lines shifted and she joined V.I.D.

In 1992 she moved into the Penn South co-op in Chelsea. “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 worked for advertising agencies and took off for long trips. “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. “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.”