In this century, New York City has been the scene of complex political, social and economic struggles, and few of its inhabitants are known to have committed themselves more whole-heartedly, more consistently, or on a greater variety of fronts than Stanley M. Isaacs.
The Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center opened in 1964 and was named in honor of Mr. Isaacs, whose historic career in municipal government started at the age of fifty five when he was elected Manhattan Borough President.
Mr. Isaacs was considered one of the most effective members of New York City government and was known for his “missionary zeal,” and high standards. He was a Republican with reputation as a fighter for civil rights and decent housing for low-income families. His most well-known piece of legislation was the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs bill of 1957 which barred racial discrimination in private housing.
He served as Manhattan Borough President from 1937-1942 under Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia whom he helped elect when he was the leader of the Fusion Movement. His admirers say one of his main achievements as Borough President was influencing the construction of the East River Drive. He convinced city planners to follow the route along the river which helped prevent major traffic jams on the Upper East Side, rehabilitated run-down waterfront properties, and saved over a million dollars in land purchases.
Mr. Isaacs served as the minority leader of the New York City Council from 1942-1962 until his death at the age of 79.
Throughout his political career, he was known to be continually at odds with the legendary Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Mr. Isaacs wanted “Shakespeare in the Park,” Mr. Moses did not. Mr. Isaacs wanted the Asphalt Plant on East 96th Street on the East River Drive, Mr. Moses did not.
One of Mr. Isaacs’ most colorful victories over Mr. Moses occurred in 1956 when Mr. Moses had ordered bulldozers to tear up a playground in Central Park to make room for a parking lot. Mr. Isaacs suggested to a frantic neighborhood mother that she rally together with local mothers and their baby carriages and demonstrate in front of the bulldozers. Rather than battle dozens of mothers and babies, Mr. Moses had to give in.
Mr. Isaacs served on boards of more than 26 organizations including the Dalton School on East 94th
Street and the United Neighborhood Houses, a federation of settlement houses. He carried on his family’s tradition of leadership and service.
His grandfather was Rabbi Samuel M. Isaacs who immigrated here from England in 1839 to take over New York’s third oldest synagogue, Congregation Sharaay Tefila. Mr. Isaacs who was born in Manhattan in 1882, was the son of Myer Isaacs (it was Myer Isaacs and his father who published the Jewish Messenger, the first English-language Jewish newspaper in America).
Despite a hectic political career, Mr. Isaacs was known as a committed family man to his wife, Edith and children Myron and Casey. Casey was once quoted as saying, “Dad was a wonderful man and a wonderful father who always made time for us.” Edith Isaacs was a founding board member and worked tirelessly to raise money to start the Isaacs Center. Myron and Casey were also active members of the board.
The Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center honors the name of one of the city’s most distinguished politicians and carries on the Isaacs’ family tradition of service to the community.