28 Apr 2022


“Show me a hero” by Lisa Belkin

Format: APA

Academic level: Master’s

Paper type: Book Report

Words: 1996

Pages: 7

Downloads: 0

“Show me a hero” is an interesting tale written Lisa Belkin, demonstrating the urgency and importance of reforming the existing public housing policy in New York. In the book, a federal judge gives a ruling to the effect that the city of Yonkers in New York desegregates by transferring the many poor minority residents into public housing to the middle-class part of the urban center. The white people are not amused by this ruling causing a major split in Yonkers. Moreover, the book also presents an assessment of consequence of this split and the ensuing battle to various stakeholders. Indeed the ruling by the court passes as a game-changer in all respects as many players face new life-lines. 

Nick Wasicsko, who was an upcoming political star having been mayor at a very tender age of 28 and a finalist for a Profile in Courage Award because of his deeds in the legal war finally, commits suicide. Another outcome is Billie Rowan’s loss of her lover with whom they had three children as he settled in the new house while on probation from the prison. This leads to her eviction and lack of hope. The housing lottery that Doreen James wins grants her a privilege of leadership among the tenants. This comes after losing her husband just some months into her pregnancy. Therefore, winning the lottery is such a huge boost in her life. The whites orchestrate a vehement opposition to the ruling by the court. However for Mary Dorman, a housewife, she starts supporting the project after getting the rare opportunity of serving as the liaison at the housing unit to assist the tenants to cope up with their new lives. Therefore, the entire book presents a story based on the public housing project and the risks as well as rewards that people in the ensuing saga face depending on the part they take in the matter. 

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Examining the risk and rewards undertaken in the public housing project discussed in the book 

The main project in this book is public housing for the many poor residents of color in Yonkers, NY. During the 1980s, the city of Yonkers in New York was the location for a bitter war pitting a lot of its locals and the political leaders against a federal court ruling that ordered the construction of public houses in the city. The plan made the city of Yonkers to implement a public housing plan within the largely white east-side districts of the town. The major opposition to this project was only overcome when the court imposed high fines, which threatened to take up the whole budget of the city.

Stakeholders in this public housing project as explained in the book are various people, some in support and other in opposition to it. The first stakeholder in this project is a team of the fearful white residents in the east-side of the town, who vehemently oppose the court-ordered plan for public housing in Yonkers. There are also the poor black residents who are eager to come out of the misery of the west-side projects. Another stakeholder is Oscar Newman, who is a housing consultant and an architect that is the one responsible for the designing of the new town public houses. Another stakeholder in this public housing project is Nick Wasicsko, a young mayor of Yonkers, who is able to face his constituency in a brave manner and attempts to have the city embrace the plan for public housing. Nick Wasicsko later got out of office and shot himself to death after his prospects for another term dwindled immensely. All these stakeholders take part in the developments that shape in the public housing project and either face the resultant risk of their actions or get rewards of the plan.

Among the best things about this book is its detailed assessment of a feud that develops as a result of the plan to construct low-income public housing units in Yonkers. The person who is the main character in the story is Wasicsko. His actions in relation to the public housing project make him to face the risk of losing his leadership position and the eventual decision to take own life. It has to be recalled that Wasicsko comes to take the control of Yonkers at a time when a federal judge had directed the city to correct the past pattern of segregation within its low-income housing units located on the east-side of the city, an area that is largely with the white population. In the book, the court gives a direction to the city to the effect that it constructs 200 low-income housing units on the east-side of the town. This decision greatly angers the white people, who are the majority among the residents of the region. These white residents, in the story, have been keeping public housing projects for a long time.

The political risk that Wasicsko faces starts with the manner he enters the scene of politics. He does not go into politics as a progressive leader. He also does not enter politics as a desegregationist. Instead, he goes into the politics of the Yonkers city as a greatly ambitious, smart and opportunistic personality. When the public housing ruling comes by, he is faced with only two options; that of implementing the legal order or simply opposing it as demanded by his constituents. The white residents, who are the majority in his constituency, demand that he alters the thinking of the federal judge, who gave the ruling and resists the orders. However, Wasicsko applies little energy in acting as per the demands of the white constituents because of his personal feelings about the public housing policy.

For the black residents, the public housing project comes with a lot of rewards to them. As mentioned earlier, the project enables them to escape from the bad conditions of segregated housing that they have been subjected to in the past. The white people who support the project have the reward of serving in various leadership positions. Some of them serve in liaison roles as they assist the black people to get used to the new life in the constructed public housing units. There are also risks of losing loved ones. There are those who lose their loved ones as they are settled in the new housing units on the east side of the town.

The political career of Wasicsko starts when he wins a seat on the City Council. At this stage, he undertakes no front actions but chooses to listen and watch closely what unfolds in the city. His choice of running for the mayor position two later is what thrusts him into hot political risk, considering the public housing project as the elephant in the house then. Being the mayor of the city of Yonkers is regarded as a very symbolic position. The seat does not come with a lot of administrative power, but it is given much attention within the city. The holder of this position receives respect and blame in equal measure. As a mayor, a person in this position is in charge of hiring and firing civil workers. Moreover, the mayor is the one who designs the city budget and signs all checks. However, it is a job that is sought by the most established individuals since it is viewed as a part-time job.

Undertaking to vie for the position of mayor of the city of Yonkers, Wasicsko decided to make the battle appear as a referendum on the youth vs. the aged. His main opponent initially had a solid mass backing than him. However, Wasicsko put in more effort with his campaign team. They walked in every part of the city and campaigned hard while keen to ignore any source of discouragement. Wasicsko employed a lot of enthusiasm, which attracted more people to his campaigns.

The federal court ruling is what came to turn the tiding in the middle of the campaign period. Wasicsko had paid very little interest to the case initially. Like many other leaders, Wasicsko had thought that the case would just be silenced through the corridors of justice and go away never to be had again. Little did they know that the public housing project was one very vital development plan that would determine the risks and rewards that they would face in the future. U.S. v. Yonkers, a case about the public housing project in the city, stands for everything in the book, starting with race, class, neighborhood to the American dream. In the past, the problem of public housing in this city was viewed as just another school desegregation issue. The case had been brought to the court by the Justice Department in the year 1980 before being enjoined later by NAACP. 

The genesis of this project case was the argument that the reason there was segregation in schools was the presence of the same vice in the public housing sector. The Black and Hispanic students attended same schools since their families were made to reside in similar few neighborhoods. It was argued in the courts that for this situation to be changed then, the neighborhoods of these families had to be altered. The judge gave an order for this reshuffle of the neighborhoods under a reformed public housing plan.

The City Council of Yonkers filed an appeal to this decision by Judge Sand. Moreover, most residents of Yonkers constituency who were whites were greatly irritated by the order by the court. Nick was part of those who supported the appeal by the Council. The judge had thought that by opening up Yonkers to be cosmopolitan, much development would be brought in. Moreover, he thought this would give it class and uniqueness. But the residents did not think in the same manner. The whites saw strength in the barriers and segregation that existed. According to the residents, the barriers and boundaries were a way of identification and one that gives them a sense of belonging and place. To them, they were not racists by supporting this segregation.

By the time Wasicsko made the choice of vying for the mayor position, Yonkers had not started to construct the new houses. The judge had applied some patience to permit the city to come up with the specifics of the plan in terms of the number of units and the exact location to build them. Later, the judge compelled the city to build 200 low-income public housing units and other 800 middle-income ones on the east-side of the town. The city of Yonkers attempted to stall these orders from the court by failing to obey deadlines in the belief that the matter would be silenced and forgotten with time. 

However, at the time of launching the campaign of Wasicsko, the judge made a ruling that because the leaders of the city had problems finding the suitable housing locations on the east-side of the town, there was the need to recruit a consultant to perform this function on their behalf. The council obeyed this order and did a nationwide search for the said consultant. The consultant was Newman. 

In the wake of this project’s tussle, Wasicsko got an opportunity to capitalize on for the benefit of his campaign. He encouraged the electorate to elect him and he would be the answer to their protests about the decisions of the court. Wasicsko based his campaigns on the east-side of the city, where he knew the court ruling had been received with a lot of anger. He promised the electorate that he would appeal the order of the judge. It was his stance on the housing project debate that gave him a lot of votes making him to win the polls.

After his election, Wasicsko started facing the reality that any appeal on the order of the judge would not succeed. He was advised by the city lawyers to abandon that move because it had been by-passed by events. The mayor decided to renege on his urge to appeal to the dissatisfaction of the whites on the east-side, who had elected him overwhelmingly. They became disappointed that he could not stop the public housing project. Therefore, his political star deemed and he knew he would not make it again for a second term. He had risked his political fortunes by refusing to resist the project. These were just some of the consequences of the actions of those who were involved in the public housing project development plan. 

In this book, Belkin at times loses sight of the major public policies that are at stake. However, Belkin makes readers to be able to feel both the hopes and fears of the home-owners and the housing tenants who were greatly disadvantaged. The white home-owners felt that their neighborhoods, as well as values of their properties, were at risk as a result of the new public housing plan to be implemented. The poor tenants, on the other hand, wanted relief from the many years of segregation by getting comfortable homes. Therefore, this book presents vivid pictures of city politics, racial tensions and the difficulties that people face in realizing the American dream.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). “Show me a hero” by Lisa Belkin.


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