Magazine article The New Yorker

WEST SIDE COUP; SMOKE-FILLED ROOM; SMOKE-FILLED ROOM Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

WEST SIDE COUP; SMOKE-FILLED ROOM; SMOKE-FILLED ROOM Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

Hell's Kitchen today bears little resemblance to the world of "West Side Story" and dock wallopers. The old Tenth Avenue saloons frequented by members of the sadistic Westies mob have been replaced by sports bars and brunch spots, and most of the tenement buildings are now called "luxury walkups," as the local power broker Jim McManus likes to say with a bemused rasp. McManus, who is seventy-two, and a lifelong bachelor, has overseen the neighborhood's Tammany Hall-style political club, the McManus Midtown Democratic Association, since 1963, brokering deals and doling out favors to his constituents in the old patronage manner of Carmine DeSapio and Boss Tweed. When the comedian Colin Quinn's aunt, Maureen, is having trouble renewing her lease on West Forty-ninth Street, it is McManus she calls upon for help.

McManus no longer delivers votes in meaningful numbers--his candidate for Manhattan borough president in 2005, Carlos Manzano, placed ninth in a field of nine--but a guest at the club's holiday party, last month, could have been forgiven for thinking he'd stepped into a time warp, as an assortment of judges and city councilmen dropped by the clubhouse, on West Forty-fourth Street, to pay their respects. Framed photographs of John F. Kennedy and the Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams hung on the walls, and McManus retreated to the storage room in back, smoking, and "receiving guests like the don of the West Side," as one longtime member put it.

About midway through the party came the announcement that a new club president had been elected--Michael Spillane, whose name evoked an era when, as T. J. English, the author of "The Westies," said recently, "the political apparatus and the criminal element were not that far apart." Spillane, a lawyer, is McManus's nephew, and also the son of Michael (Mickey) Spillane, the so-called Gentleman Gangster--a revered local figure who ran rackets in Hell's Kitchen for nearly two decades before being chased to Queens, in the seventies, by the rival mobster Jimmy Coonan.

The Spillane announcement came as news to Carlos Manzano, the failed candidate and current club president. He had skipped the party in order to take a final exam at N.Y.U., where he is a graduate student. Several club members called him with news of his apparent ouster. …

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