Mel Wymore has a vision for this city that could be called utopian. In New York, Wymore sees the potential for global leadership in urban planning and sustainability, smart development and equality and justice for every citizen. It’s a tall order, of course, but somehow doesn’t seem entirely unattainable to hear him talk about it.
“I’m not an ideologue,” Wymore said during a recent interview on the Upper West Side. “I am someone who’s interested in creating a vision together in our community that is a higher quality of life. We already have a fairly high quality of life on the Upper West Side, but [we need one] that is equitable and sustainable and inclusive and a great place to visit.”
Wymore, a longtime resident of the neighborhood and, until late last year, the chairperson of Community Board 7, has announced his bid for City Council. He’ll be running for current Council Member Gale Brewer’s seat in the Sixth District in 2013, when she finishes her final term.
While the race in the Democratic primary is still warming up, a few other names of potential candidates have crossed the lips of speculators, including another former CB7 chair and current member, Helen Rosenthal, and education advocate and Community Education Council member Noah Gotbaum. But Wymore is the first to officially declare his candidacy, continuing his usual work in the community with an eye on bigger things.
“The reason I got onto the community board was that I organized my block to address what seemed like a tragic situation in the SRO building across the street from my house,” Wymore said, explaining how community activism has been guiding him for years. “There were many people that were underserved and no one was talking about it, so we organized a food program that is still in existence today.”
Wymore is a systems engineer by trade, having earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and mathematics as well as a master of science degree in systems engineering from the University of Arizona, where he grew up and his father was a professor. He has worked in robotics for defense contractors, on major capital projects for the Port Authority, invested in Internet start-ups and ran his own consulting firm in the ’90s.
This background has allowed Wymore to work on big-impact local projects during his time on the community board. He is most proud of his role in facilitating the community’s role in developing Extell’s massive Riverside Center, resulting in a plan that includes an open, welcoming public space instead of a closed-off residential zone. He worked for years championing and planning the renovation of the West 59th Street recreation center, which will reopen next year.
If elected, Wymore wants to focus on education (he has not yet taken a strong position either for or against charter schools), transportation (promoting bike lanes and multi-use streets) and small-business issues on the Upper West Side, and work to bring all five boroughs together more effectively on a citywide level. Wymore doesn’t shy away from giant projects or from difficult and personal ones.
Two years ago, right around the time he started as chair of CB7, he began the gender transition from female to male. Wymore lived as a heterosexual woman for most of his life, marrying and having two children, now teenagers, before coming to identify as transgender after a divorce and a period of living as a gay woman. If he wins the race, he will be the first transgender person to sit on the City Council. Wymore says that he sees such a distinction in much broader terms, however.
“I’ve always been committed to expressing myself as openly as I can, as an example that might allow for others to express themselves as openly as they can,” Wymore said. “You’re a girl who wants to grow up and be the president of the United States and that’s a path that you’re not sure that you can fulfill because you’re a girl? Well, that’s not good enough. We have to open up paths for all children, all expressions. If you’re a person of color, if you’re a person of other physical abilities, all of these ranges of difference; you know, I’m a voice for all of them, for everyone.”
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