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Show Me a Hero: A Tale of Murder, Suicide, Race, and Redemption Hardcover – March, 1999


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The War That Forged a Nation
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"The pipe bomb was small as pipe bombs go, but the explosion could be heard from several blocks away--a sharp bang as rows of factory-fresh ceramic tiles shattered into a pile of razor-edged rubble. Neighbors who were drifting off to sleep sat upright, awake. Family members who were preparing for bed looked at each other first with questions, then with certainty they had the answer. 'I guess somebody is trying to blow up the new housing,' one man joked to his wife. But it wasn't a joke. That's exactly what someone was trying to do."

In 1988, when a federal judge ordered the city of Yonkers, New York, to integrate more thoroughly its low-income housing throughout the city, it set off a bitter dispute that would consume the town for the next five years. Among those caught in the controversy was the city's 28-year-old mayor, Nicholas Wasicsko, who had used the issue to his advantage during his campaign and found that he would never be able to escape it, either during or after his administration. Veteran New York Times journalist Lisa Belkin focuses not on the abstract "sides" of the integration debate, but on the people who take those sides. It's that personal perspective that makes her account most worth reading.

From Publishers Weekly

In the late 1980s, the city of Yonkers, N.Y., made national headlines because of a bitter battle waged by many of its residents and political leaders against a federal court-ordered public housing plan. The plan compelled Yonkers to build public housing in the predominantly white east-side districts of the city. The heated opposition to the plan convulsed the city, which complied with the court order only when court-imposed fines threatened to consume the entire city budget. Belkin, who covered the story for the New York Times, follows the housing battle through the eyes of its participants: fearful white residents of the east side; black public housing tenants anxious to escape the misery of the west-side projects; Oscar Newman, the housing consultant and architect who designed the new town houses; and Nick Wasicsko, the young mayor of Yonkers who courageously confronted his own core constituency and tried to get the city to accept the plan (and who, five years later, out of office and out of prospects, shot himself). In her effort to interweave so many personal perspectives, Belkin sometimes loses her focus on the key public policies at stake. She does, however, enable readers to feel the hopes and fears of both the homeowners, who felt that their neighborhoods and property values were threatened by the housing plan, and the disadvantaged public housing tenants, who were seeking redress for years of discrimination and simply wanted a safe place to call home. Belkin's gritty book is a vivid slice of urban politics, racial tension and the difficulties inherent in realizing the American dream.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 331 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T); 1 edition (March 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316088056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316088053
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I've never written one of these before, but I just read that reader from New England and I had to respond. I think we read two different books. The one I read captured the chaos and heartbreak of the city I have lived in all my life. I was at a lot of the meetings and clashes that fill this book, and reading Belkin I felt like I was there all over again. More important, I learned so much about the behind the scenes wrangling that I didn't know. One dimensional? No way. She peered into people's souls. Did she streamline? Yes. And as a reader, I thank her. The point was the essence of a city in chaos, and she painted that portrait in gritty and riveting detail. It wasn't her job to make sure everyone in town got their name in her book. As for Hollywood, I don't think they'll have the guts to make this movie. There are no pat happy endings here and no easy answers. Just a story that I couldn't put down.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a well written book that encourages thinking about important social issues. The City of Yonkers was forced by the courts to desegregate housing after years of discriminating against minorities. The decision was made to have small groups of cluster homes scattered throughout white neighborhoods. All hell broke loose in the white communities after the court decision. Whites feared a minority presence and a decline in property values and fought viciously against the homes. Poor families hoped for a safer, better place to live and raise their families. A balanced and complex story, well wrought, with an interesting cast of characters from politicians to single mothers desperate to move their families to safer neighborhoods. All the answers about the future of public housing aren't here, but certainly a clearer concept of the issues involved, from personal to political, can be gathered from this fascinating story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Miriam Kadar on June 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Show Me a Hero is a stunningly complicated story about a simple everyday need: shelter. The youngest mayor of a city whose heyday passed long ago struggles to implement a judge's order to build housing for the poor on the city's historically white, middle class east side. Belkin takes the reader inside City Hall, underscoring the petty fights and politics, balancing the ridiculousness with moving tales of those who fight the housing to protect what's theirs, and of the women struggling to provide adequate housing for their children despite poverty, errant men, and poor health. There are surprising twists and turns, with a heartbreaking end that brings tears to the eyes of the most jaded reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Wickett on January 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
A well done look at the diversifying of America. Lisa Belkin, a NY Times reporter, gives us this look at the city of Yonkers, NY and the ramifications of a Federal Court Justice requiring said city to provide public housing on it's East Side, the good side of the tracks.
Belkin has taken the events in a chronological order from many different views: Nicholas Wasiscko, voted in as the youngest mayor of any major U.S. city; Judge Sand, the Federal Court Justice; Mary Dorman, a citizen from the East Side who joined in with the protestors; Alma Febles, a single mother with young children from the West Side; and Norma O'Neal, a health care provider from the West Side who's eyesight was deteriorating at a rapid rate are some of the main characters in this unfolding crisis.
The United States Justice Department filed suit against the city of Yonkers and was soon joined by the Yonkers Branch of the N.A.A.C.P. in claiming that the city had systematically kept the Black citizens down by continuing to provide Public Housing on the West Side of the city only. They claimed this created a ghetto environment that led to a lack of advancement of the population. When Judge Sand issued his 163 page opinion, it quickly became a hot topic within the city residents and the upcoming Mayoral and Council race debates.
Nicholas Wasiscko, who had wanted to be the mayor of Yonkers since his early teens, saw this as a means of separating his views from his opponents and declared he would not follow the decision if elected. The election was a very close one, but he won. As he began overseeing new city council meetings, large throngs of citizens began appearing and protesting the ruling.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Janine W. on December 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Show Me A Hero" is a compelling story of public housing reform that went on in Yonkers, New York from 1988-1998. The author told the story in a very captivating way, giving the insight of several people, not only the political perspective, but also from the perspective of the people that lived in the public housing. The city of Yonkers was handed down a court order that it had to build public housing on the white, middle-class part of town. This became a huge political battle and nearly ripped the town apart, while eventually ruining the career of the then mayor, Nick Wasicsko. As much as the white, middle-class residents didn't want the new public housing complexes in their neighborhoods, the people living in the public housing really would have preferred to be surrounded by their own. They felt uncomfortable and like they were not part of the community. This story closely follows the lives of several families who moved from the run down public housing to the new housing, townhouses, that they hoped would offer them a better life. Many times these people felt more threatened and afraid in their new homes in the middle-class neighborhood, than they did in their old apartments that were surrounded by violence and drugs. It was very interesting to get some understanding of the vicious cycle that poverty can create--children having children, absent fathers, the sick and elderly, all contributing to these lifestyles. Lisa Belkin wrote this story using a combination of documented facts, common knowledge on how people felt, and did so from a journalistic approach. This is the result of six years of work she did observing, researching and following these families. I think Yonkers did a lot of things right, and also has a lot to teach the rest of the country about how to do it better.
I found this book to be very entertaining and would recommend it.
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