The Heartbeat of Rockaway: Lew M. Simon Way

 The Heartbeat of Rockaway: Lew M. Simon Way

By Katie McFadden

“You could probably name any block in Rockaway after Lew Simon and it would be appropriate,” Deputy Inspector Carlos Fabara of the 100th Precinct said. But there’s only one street most deem to be the heartbeat of Rockaway—Beach 116th Street. For years to come, people will remember the man who was the heartbeat of Rockaway as they pass the new sign on Beach 116th and Rockaway Beach Blvd., dubbing the corner, Lew M. Simon Way.

Many at the co-naming ceremony on Saturday, June 11 spoke of what the Lew M. Simon way was. The ceremony was made possible through the New York City Council. In a process started by former Councilman Eric Ulrich after Democratic District Leader Lew Simon’s sudden death on November 6, 2021, the co-naming was carried through by current Councilwoman Joann Ariola and a unanimous vote by NY City Council to name the southeast corner of Beach 116th and Rockaway Beach Blvd., Lew M. Simon Way.

Many found the location to be appropriate, across the street from a corner named after another notable late local, Beverly Baxter. “It’s appropriate that he’ll be the steward of the block. He’s looking right at his great friend Beverly Baxter. He was the mayor of this block. He loved our community. We’ll always walk by and will think of some scenario where we think, ‘Freakin’ Lew…,” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said.

Councilwoman Ariola also pointed out the appropriate timing of the co-naming ceremony on Saturday, as it was just a few days short of the start of early voting for NYC’s primaries. And the ceremony could only be conducted in one way—with a bullhorn. As Ariola held a pink bullhorn, she said, “at most of these events, we bring a microphone but because this event is to remember our beloved Lew Simon, he always had a megaphone in his hand, so that’s why today, we came with megaphones, because that’s how he would want it done.”

Ariola and Pheffer Amato were joined by Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers, District Leader Jeanette Garramone, Lew’s dear friend and Chief of Staff for Senator James Sanders, Lisa George, Dan Brown on behalf of District Attorney Melinda Katz, who couldn’t be there, Senator Joe Addabbo, who returned to Rockaway just for the occasion, Deputy Inspector Fabara, Scott Dunn of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula and many others who took over the corner to watch the unveiling of the shiny new street sign above Beach 116th Street.

Many reflected on Lew with love and humor, recalling the tenacity of the fearless champion for Rockaway, who’s way of doing things sometimes got under people’s skin. Pheffer Amato opened saying she regretted not wearing an Old Navy flag t-shirt, a signature look of Lew’s. “Lew didn’t care what party you belonged to, he loved you or hated you, but it was the same relationship we had with Lew. I never met a person who I loved so much, and at the same time I wanted to kick the crap out of,” she said to laughs from the crowd. “The bottom line is it all came from his heart. He was all about community.”

Senator Addabbo gave a perfect example of how there was no middle ground with Lew. “He ran the gamut. There were times when you wanted to hug him and there were times where you wanted to strangle him. Here’s the guy who, in 1998, was at my wedding. In 2001 he’s running against me. Only Lew Simon could do that, and we were friends later on,” he said. But added that Lew was more than that. “He truly cared. A measure of a person is to see what he does when other people aren’t watching. Yeah, Lew liked to do things when people were watching, but I don’t know how many people were watching at Stop and Shop at 3 in the morning. Lew was out there, always looking to help as a volunteer. Some of us get paid to help others, Lew did it as a volunteer. I’ll always have a place in my heart for Lew Simon.”

Councilwoman Brooks-Powers also spoke of those moments where no one was watching. “Even in his last days, when Lew would be in the hospital, I would get a text message, ‘I need you to help this person.’ ‘I need you do help that person.’ They didn’t even have to live in Rockaway. Lew didn’t care where you were from, what you looked like, what your story was. 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 always wanted in your corner,” she said. “Lew truly deserved this. He truly was the heartbeat of the Rockaways.”

Dan Brown, on behalf of Melinda Katz, recognized Lew for his help in fighting for Rockaway’s, and now citywide, ferry service. Garramone spoke of the values that Lew instilled in everyone. “We want to keep Lew’s memory alive by fighting for this community, not fighting with each other but for each other,” she said.

Dunn saw the street co-naming as a win for Lew Simon, after a lifetime of losses. “Lew would appreciate this more than anyone. Lew was a community person. Lew was a giver. Lew was about making a difference.  We went to high school together and the one thing I learned from Lew…Lew ran for election in high school, and he lost. Lew ran for election in college, and he lost. Every election Lew ran for, he lost. Lew never gave up. He never quit. And that’s one thing I learned from Lew, that you can get knocked down all over the place but keep trying. Keep on being tenacious. Ultimately, Lew won. I think 116th is the most appropriate street for Lew because it’s the center of the Rockaways. He’s not finished. I know we can count on him helping us from above,” Dunn shared.

Holding back tears in memory of her close friend, Lisa George, who Lew helped kickstart her Zumba Under the Stars class, spoke of the lesson he instilled in her. “If there’s something that he’s going to leave with every one of us, it’s help others, help people, pay it forward, fight for what’s right for Rockaway,” she said.

After everyone said a few words, all of the leaders, joined by the Forte family, were given the honor of pulling the string to uncover the sign above beaming, Lew M. Simon Way.

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