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September 24th, 2006

Zella Jones: Activist Par Excellence

by D. Clark MacPherson

Zella JonesThe NoHo Neighborhood Association has become a presence at many Community Board meetings and has often been a successful lobbyist as a result of the efforts of Zella Jones, its Executive Director. Problems ranging from traffic to pollution to liquor license saturation have only been part of its mission to afford a better quality of life for residents of NoHo. Recently, as a result of a tremendous amount of effort spent organizing and coordinating the event informally called the “Quality of Life Summit,” numerous city officials, police and elected leaders converged on the Puffin Room in SoHo. With leaders from SoHo, the Lower East Side Alliance and numerous other communities, Zella and the NoHo Neighborhood Association has given Downtown some new prominence in the eyes of those in power.

Zella Jones has not traveled an easy road to her leadership role. As a single mother living in what is now called NoHo (North of Houston Street), her activism started almost immediately after buying her loft from artist Duane Hanson in 1975. It was a building that still had manufacturing tenants in it and the fight for residential rights was gathering momentum in SoHo as well. NoHo was a rough neighborhood in those days and she was robbed of almost all of her possessions a week after moving in to her new loft. The thieves left only the furniture and some clothing. Then, she lost her job with Sail Magazine and was forced to take a job bartending at Lady Astor’s bar and restaurant which was located across the street from the Papp Theater. Eventually, she worked her way up to becoming manager before being hired by Time Magazine in her field of marketing and sales.

In 1985 she had her son Eben and started her own marketing and communications business so that she could work out of her home and care for her son. As she describes it, “The Neighborhood was very rough — lots of drugs, it was the beginning of crack and the beginning of my civic activism.” From that point on with her involvement in her son’s schooling and burgeoning interest in the area she was living in, her activist role became more and more relevant to her lifestyle.

Then she met Keith Crandall, a dynamic and passionately involved community leader who was active in Community Board #2 and the NoHo Neighborhood Association.

With activism came the inevitable interest in everything going on–garbage, crime, and recreation areas for kids, little league spaces–and the unending litany of problems to solve. Her life became filled with a plethora of issues and interests. As she describes it, there was “Development, zoning, landmarking, crime, sanitation–they became constant topics by 2000 and I guess by then I was a regular at CB#2 meetings and I think as Pres/Chair of NoHo NA. Added to that was City Planning, BSA, SLA…and then the City Council, State Senate and State Assembly.”

However much Zella Jones had accomplished, her most recent success at pulling together many of the organizations and leaders in lower Manhattan (and beyond) is what has brought her activist talents to the forefront. With her skills and the support of other leaders, the Quality of Life Summit has finally made every City agency and political leader aware of the gravity of certain issues. The proliferation of bars, especially, which has severely and negatively impacted Downtown, has been an issue that with her efforts has been underscored. Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly, State Senator Connor, Assembly member Deborah Glick, and even Governor Pataki through his changes in the S.L.A., have all taken notice.

Through her community service and the NoHo Alliance she has worked to make our community a better place to live. And, through her business, MarketXMarket Communications she has offered her knowledge and experience to clients wanting to understand how they are perceived in the marketplace. Either way, she has helped raise the bar for those who wish to interact with the community in which they live and work. And we are all the better for her efforts.

Zella Jones can be contacted by e-mail at:

Filed Under: Articles | New York | Politics





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