Yonkers' Desegregation Focus Of New Show From The Wire’s David Simon

Oscar Isaac and Jim Belushi will star in the HBO miniseries focused on the racial history of Yonkers—and there’s a Westchester Magazine connection.

Ex-journalist and TV showrunner David Simon became a critical darling when he dismantled Baltimore’s institutions of power for his raved-about show, The Wire. Now, Simon has his sights set on another mid-size American city: Yonkers.

Simon will do a six-episode miniseries for HBO about the controversy surrounding the building of low-income housing in Yonkers in the 1980s, an issue that drew national attention. The series, titled Show Me a Hero, based on Lisa Belkin’s book of the same name, airs this Sunday, August 16, at 8 pm eastern. It’ll focus on Nicholas C. Wasicsko, played by Inside Llewyn Davis’s Oscar Isaac, who, in 1987, used the housing issue to become the mayor of Yonkers—and, at the time, the youngest mayor in the country at age 28.

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Former Yonkers Mayor Angelo Martinelli

Wasicsko’s opponent in the mayoral race? Then-six-term Mayor of Yonkers Angelo R. Martinelli, who now serves as chariman of Today Mediathe company that publishes Westchester Magazine (oh, and the father of the magazine’s current publisher, Ralph Martinelli!).

In Show Me a Hero, Angelo Martinelli will be played by Jim Belushi. “He’s a nice, handsome guy,” the elder Martinelli said of Belushi. “That’s pretty good. They’re going to make him better than I am.” His dream casting? “When I was young, people said I looked like Gene Kelly,” he says. “If it could have been an older Gene Kelly, I would have liked that a lot. But I think Jim Belushi is tremendous.”

“It’ll serve a good purpose,” Martinelli says of the series. “There’s a lot of people still talking about the desegregation case that hit Yonkers, which was dramatic and disastrous. In the long run, a lot of people who had fears about what the determination would be when they built the low-income housing and such—it never turned out to what they thought it would be. If that’s what the series is going to be about, I think it’ll tell a good story.”

Martinelli just hopes that the series portrays the events of the time and people accurately. “I hope they’re able to really capture what happened,” he says. “It took a lot of courage on the part of Wasicsko, even if it came late, for him to switch [sides on the housing issue] and for him to stay the course. That’s the reason we got by this whole thing, otherwise we would have suffered.” He adds that a lot of Yonkers’ recent progress, like the development of the waterfront, was just starting to gain traction when the desegregation suit hit, and it’s taken decades for the city to get back on track.

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One sign of Yonkers’ renaissance is the number of film and television productions that have set up camp there. Martinelli hopes that Show Me a Hero will join them. “They can use the City Hall,” he says. “City Hall and its council chambers have been used for a lot of movies. Why not the one about Yonkers?”

Though Martinelli didn’t read Belkin’s book, he does plan on watching Show Me a Hero. “I’m taping it,” he says. “I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see it. Hopefully it’ll be something I want them to have, and let them know that their grandfather or great-grandfather played a role in getting Yonkers straightened out.”

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