Born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, Chris LeBron returned to the neighborhood in 2015 and began serving on Community Board 4 the following year. Here is Chris’ West Side story.
So what’s your story in New York? Were you born here or just arrived?
I was born in 1984 at Roosevelt Hospital on W58th Street and 9th Avenue into a working class Puerto Rican family. My father, Henry, was born in Central Harlem and grew up in Amsterdam Houses just behind Lincoln Center. My mother, Rosemary, was born in Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn and grew up in Hell’s Kitchen. They met in Hell’s Kitchen when they were teenagers. My dad dated John Jay and became a postman. My mother attended Princeton University and was one of the first women to graduate from the school. All roads led back to Hell’s Kitchen and they found an apartment on W47th Street and were married at St. Luke’s on Restaurant Row. I attended the district public school with my younger sister.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I graduated from the High School for Environmental Studies in 2002 and after attending CUNY Hunter College part-time, I transferred to Saint Louis University in Missouri. In 2009 I returned home and lived in Hell’s Kitchen first, then Brooklyn like all the other millennials, and moved back to Hell’s Kitchen in 2015 when my parents retired. I’m lucky enough to live in a rent-stabilized apartment on W47th Street.
What is your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
When I came home from a work trip or a vacation, I could always see Hell’s Kitchen from above. It’s that place on the island untouched by greedy developers. Surrounded by skyscrapers from the north, south and east, there is a large cutout of 5-storey buildings and seeing the house gives me peace.
And what is your peeve from Hell’s Kitchen?
Losing neighbors and friends to rising rents. Bike and sidewalk trash tracking.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for part of the time?
I stayed put during the pandemic. Occasionally, I’d hop on a pedal-assist e-bike and visit my friends in other boroughs, but staying here to be with my Hell’s Kitchen family has kept me alive. Have you ever taken the ferry to the Rockaways? It’s such a peaceful walk on the East River.
What did you do for work before COVID? What are you doing now?
Prior to COVID, I worked for the New York City Council as a policy director for an elected official who represented the neighborhoods of Brownsville, Ocean Hill, Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, and Crown Heights. Mom and dad are from HLM and I still have family who are residents of NYCHA. The elected chaired the HLM Committee and it was my way of giving back to people.
Since 2016, I’ve been on Manhattan Community Board 4. We’re getting into really hyperlocal issues. It is an unpaid job that requires a lot of commitment. We are 50 and they are some of the smartest people I have ever met. Now I am running for office full time. Sometimes you can catch me grabbing a quarter bar at Beer Culture on W45th Street.
On occasion, I advise and contribute to policy items related to the pandemic, particularly on how to improve the lives of parents and children across the country. My experience in the private sector and in government led me to collaborate with the journalists of parents.com. Much of what our government does rarely considers children, parents and guardians, which is insane because our children are going to inherit this Earth.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I wouldn’t call everything I learned during the pandemic interesting, but rather everything I learned during the height of the pandemic was born out of unfortunate circumstances and tragedy. What I take away from this whole experience is that despite the lack of leadership, good people can and do rise to the occasion to fill the void. I celebrate these people.
Tell us one thing that gave you hope during the pandemic?
Regular neighbors answering the call and getting organized. Catie Savage and her legion of litter. Chad MacDonald and the Hell’s Kitchen Rangers. The countless guardians of the Hell’s Kitchen free store. 7 o’clock bells, pots and pans. How we all celebrated in the streets when it was announced that Biden and Harris had won the 2020 election.
What is the most fortuitous (random/dark/insane) experience that has happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
I have lived here on and off for 38 years. What’s random or nonsensical to most people outside of Hell’s Kitchen is kind of normal to us. That’s how this community rolls and I love it. We are full of colors.
What is your closest contact with world fame and stardom?
There are so many celebrity sightings in Hell’s Kitchen. The other day I was sitting at Hold Fast next to Heidi Gardner from SNL. Apart from trying my best not to fan boy when I meet a SNL actor I like spending time with my friends.
What is your superpower?
What song do you sing out loud in the shower?
The middle – Jimmy Eat World
Which people inspire you the most?
Those who don’t care. Those who take a hit, land on their butts and get back up right away. “The Goonies never say die.”
What is your favorite quote or saying?
“Never do two things halfway. All ass one thing. -Ron Swanson
Do you like Times Square? Why or why not?
Yes. I grew up in the working class. I grew up in a Hell’s Kitchen overrun with crime. When I was a little boy walking to McDonald’s across from Duffy Square, I was surrounded by my family. The only thing visible to me were the illuminated advertisements. I pursued a career in marketing and advertising before joining the city council due to the bright lights of Times Square. Now, as an adult, I watch Times Square and connect it with all my friends and neighbors who work on Broadway.
Do you like Hudson Yards? Why or why not?
No. Hudson Yards is a disappointment. A scar and a permanent reminder of how greed will shave the needs of everyday New Yorkers. I can’t stand bullies.
Add your cheeky take or your personal profile?
VOTE www.chrislebron4ny.com and check my Instagram at @lebron4ny and @ca_lebron
Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places
Clinton Community Garden — I love watching people gardening and picnicking. It’s such an amazing place to enjoy a respite from all the chaos and even turn a stranger into a friend. Did you get their honey?! It is a fantastic locally sourced product.
The Gaff — I had never been in this pub before COVID. But with new friends come new places. On Sundays one of the bartenders plays jazz classics and it’s an incredibly smooth experience. Drinking a pint, reading the Sunday Times and talking baseball with Austin Rogers is a Sunday afternoon triple play.
Row of restaurants — Restaurant Row has become the crown jewel of Hell’s Kitchen. Delicious food. Great live music. When the street was closed to car traffic, it was such an oasis. I can’t wait to close the road permanently so we can enjoy that momentum again.
Esposito Meat Market “I quoted Ron Swanson earlier, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m calling a butcher. Their sausage is amazing but get there early. If you’re going to a barbecue, do your host a favor and offer to buy something from there.
Guantanamera — The owner Mario is an amazing host. The food reminds me of visiting family in Puerto Rico and the live salsa will put a smile on your face even if you don’t speak Spanish.
Westway Restaurant “It’s the birthplace of Seinfeld!” SEINFELL!!!
Sacco Pizza — Sacco’s is located on 55th and 9th Avenue. This pizzeria is fantastic and has been around for 75 years. I attended high school just around the corner at the High School of Environmental Studies and a slice of Sacco after class was mandatory.
Westside Theater — It’s a 130-year-old church turned into an independent theatre. Tickets are affordable and there’s nothing more colorful than a little slice of off-Broadway.
Frisson Espresso — Frisson should translate to “rocket fuel.” Rob and Tulian are amazing baristas and kind business owners. On warm mornings, you can sit on your front porch with a cup and watch Hell’s Kitchen come to life.
World Square “We don’t have a lot of green space in Hell’s Kitchen. The largest green spaces are Dewitt Clinton Park and this concrete slab at Hudson River Park south of the Intrepid. Worldwide Plaza gets lots of sunshine and when I’m feeling my winter blues, that’s usually where I go for some much-needed vitamin D.