Tuesday, June 27, 2017

40 Years ago - - the 1977 summer in NYC

On that oppressive and sticky July evening, I was enjoying my rainbow sherbet while my parents and I were watching TV - - suddenly a little after 9, the lights in our fifth floor apartment went out.   We looked out the window and saw the entire Flatbush, Brooklyn neighborhood in darkness, unaware of a massive blackout which brought NYC into darkness.  The next day, we went outside to see the commercial strips of Parkside Ave and Flatbush Ave in ruins, stores looted as owners guarded whatever little is left of their merchandise.

That was one of the many facets which collectively made up the summer of 1977 in NYC - - one summer which nobody will ever forget - - Star Wars, NY Yankees with the Reggie/Billy Martin feud, the Son of Sam terrorizing Queens and Brooklyn, the second blackout in 11 years, and the dirty NYC Mayoral race - - how an unsung hero from Greenwich Village would win it and save NYC from heading deeper into financial abyss.

Let's look at these five:

1.  Star Wars:  Jaws defined summer blockbusters, Star Wars wrote the book on  science fiction sagas. The groundbreaking film written and directed by George Lucas defined the generation where everyone would be dressed up as a Stormtropper or Darth Vader while having a great love story of a would be Jedi named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who rescues Princess Leia and leads the rebels in the destruction of the evil Empire and the Death Star.  The film thrilled millions of moviegoers all summer long.   And where else to watch this film but the 2,100 seat Loews Astor Plaza in Times Square with it's massive 70MM screen and Dolby sound - - the cheering of an sold out audience would rock the basement.   The Astor Plaza is now gone but the legacy of Star Wars remains a worldwide icon.

2.  NY Yankees:  I remember the 1977 Yankees - - Guidry, Munson (sadly he was killed in a plane crash in 1979), Randolph, Rivers, Catfish Hunter, and the feud between manager Billy Martin with Reggie Jackson, a scruffy right fielder who struggled most of the season - - only to redeem himself and the entire Yankee team in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with only three at-bats, three pitchers he faced (Mike Torrez, Burt Hooton and Elias Sosa) - - one pitch each, and three hard swings of his bat - - 3 home runs in one game which led the Yankees into their first World Series Championship in over 15 years.  Jackson earned the nickname Mr. October, and Yankee manager Billy Martin a longer tenure on his job.

3.  Son of Sam:   Throughout 1976 into the summer of 1977, the .44 caliber killer or more known as the Son of Sam, would terrorize blonde women (and some men whom they were with) in parked cars within the outer boroughs of The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, killing six and injuring nearly a dozen more.  The Son of Sam's reign of terror in a city already filled with fear triggered the largest manhunt in NYC Police Department history with as many as 250 officers/detectives working on this case.   At the end, it was a parking ticket which the vehicle was traced to a David Berkowitz of Yonkers, an ex-Marine and postal worker who delivered mail by day and killed people at night.     On August 10, 1977 New Yorkers who stayed up late watched or listened to the news that the Son of Sam was taken into police custody - - and he had the nerve to say to the Yonkers and NYPD  cops that his neighbor's dog ordered him to carry out the killing spree.  David Berkowitz is presently serving multiple life sentences..

4.  The 1977 blackout:   In 1965, New York experienced it's first blackout on a cold November day.  However, the 1977 blackout occurred on July 14 during a hot, muggy, and miserable evening when a lightning strike at the Con Edison power plant in Buchanan, NY triggered an 1 hour chain reaction which blanketed the city's metropolitan area (including New Jersey) into total darkness by 9:30 PM.   Right after the lights went out, looters took advantage on anything that was not nailed down in stores.  Beds, electronics, TVs, groceries, furniture - - anything that can be carried out or hauled by truck - - looters terrorized the city, especially Bushwick, Brooklyn and the south Bronx.   Within minutes, stores were cleaned out by looters, every NYPD officer was called into service and precinct prison cells were filled, courts were overburdened with many perpetrators (and a lot more who were never caught from the pilfering.)

5.  The 1977 NYC Mayoral race:   NYC was still hemorrhaging from the 1975 fiscal crisis which NYC teetered on the brink of bankruptcy as well as the destruction of the Bronx's housing market and the city's rising crime rate.   Incumbent Mayor Abraham Beame was faced with five candidates running for the Democratic ticket, all eager to kick Beame out of City Hall.   Did you know about Bella Abzug?   She led the pack in the Democratic Primary race, but Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch got first and second places, respectively - - knocking Beame out of his tenancy.  However, neither candidate achieved the 40 percent mark to win the primary outright so a runoff two weeks later was done.  In the runoff, Koch won New York with 54 percent of the vote against Cuomo's 45 percent. Cuomo was undeterred by his loss to Koch so he went on the November ballot as a Liberal while Roy Goodman would represent the Republican party in the election.  Round 2 of Koch and Cuomo was no contest despite mudslinging between Koch and Cuomo as Koch went on to win the November Mayoral election.  For NYC, it was a new beginning with a new incoming Mayor in 1978 and Koch was the man which he would really save NYC from the 1975 financial ruin.  Of course, Cuomo went on to win the NY State Governor race in 1982.  But it was Ed Koch, a Bronx-born and longtime Greenwich Village resident - - who invented the catchphrase "How am I doin?"

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