The more we read and post about Willets Point
, the more interested we are to meet that neighborhood's lone resident: Joseph Ardizzone.
AMNY.com finally gave Ardizzone a proper introduction to the world. Check out this excellent profile and Web video.
The clip is a bit jumpy but the package is a great little piece of Net journalism.Joseph Ardizzone is the mayor of Willets Point Boulevard.
Not that the title confers much prestige. Willets Point Boulevard is
pockmarked dirt road that cuts through the Iron Triangle in Queens,
surrounded on all sides by tin-roof chop shops and junk yards.
But for Ardizzone, it's home, and has been for all of his 75 years.
He is the only resident left in the distressed neighborhood, and has been for decades now.
And even though the city is trying pave over this blighted corner of
the city and kick out all the businesses, Ardizzone says he isn't
leaving -- and is rallying the rest of the neighborhood to the cause.
"I'm going to stay here as long as I can," said Ardizzone. "If they can
do this to me what can they do to the future children of this country?"
When Ardizzone was a child, Willets Point was still mostly farmland,
and his family kept chickens and goats on their property. The World's
Fair in 1939-40 gradually started to change all of that, and by the
1960s and '70s, the chops shops and warehouses had taken over.
The rest of the families that made up the neighborhood eventually moved
out, but Ardizzone stayed, living in the rooms that he grew up in,
above a coffee shop.
"Where would I go?" he asks. "My sister is always trying to get me to
move out, but I like it here. It's quiet in the evenings, and there is
always somebody to talk to."
The Bloomberg administration is calling for a $3 billion redevelopment
of the area, including a million square feet in retail space, a
convention center, and a hotel. City officials have threatened to
invoke eminent domain to push out reluctant businesses, and of course,
the area's lone resident.
The plan is undergoing a land-use review by the City Council.
But the business owners say they are desperate to remain in a place,
where there can be near their suppliers, and are looking to Ardizzone
to lead the way.
"He's the king of the junkyard. This place is in his blood," said Frank
Abissi, who has run a tire shop in Willets Point for 15 years, after
relocating from his native Afghanistan. "He knows that if we have to
close we can't support our families. I came to this country to work.
What can I do?"
And as long as he's there, many folks feel like they've got at least a fighting chance to take on City Hall.
"They are going to have to drag Joe out of his home … and lock him up
somewhere to make sure he doesn't come back," said Jerry Antonacci,
whose family has owned a waste removal facility in the area since 1959.
"You live in a place until you are 70-something years old, how are you
supposed to move?"
He credits Ardizzone for organizing the opposition.
"Lots of people don't have the time to keep up, so he updates them,
tells them what's going on. For a one man band, I'd say he's doing all