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Former Yonkers Mayor Angelo Martinelli at his home says, ‚??I don‚??t know if anybody will be able to capture those days. Those days were tumultuous." / Ricky Flores, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News


YONKERS, N.Y. - In May, actor Jim Belushi tried to save the Land of Oz as the voice of the Cowardly Lion in the animated film, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.

Now he's tapped to play a mayor who says he tried to save Yonkers from itself.

Belushi will portray former Yonkers Mayor Angelo Martinelli, part of the growing cast of Show Me a Hero, an upcoming HBO miniseries by award-winning producer David Simon that will delve into the tempest that was the city's desegregation battle in the late 1980s.

"It's never really gone away," said Martinelli, who is "delighted" to be played by Belushi. "I don't know if anybody will be able to capture those days. Those days were tumultuous. I had friends that turned against me because I wanted to settle that thing. I probably got a few extra gray hairs that I didn't need."

Belushi isn't the only notable in the cast. Also on board are actress Catherine Keener as Mary Dorman, a white homeowner who came to accept the desegregation order, Alfred Molina as former mayor and desegregation opponent Hank Spallone, and Winona Ryder as former Yonkers City Council President Vincenza Restiano.

"Honestly, she's a beautiful woman," Restiano said. "I don't know what the word is to say to you about that. Shocking, I guess, in a way. But I also think the story is a good story to tell. I'm pretty happy about a lot of things that have taken place in Yonkers, a lot of things that we are proud of. I think we handled this pretty well in the long run."

Simon has co-written and produced several successful series, including The Wire, Treme, The Corner and Generation Kill. Show Me a Hero is based on the 1999 book by former New York Times writer Lisa Belkin. It details the controversy surrounding a 1985 federal desegregation order and its aftermath, primarily through the experiences of Nicholas Wasicsko, the young mayor who stood at the center of the desegregation firestorm.

The idea for a miniseries dates to 2002, when Simon reached out to co-writer and former Baltimore Sun colleague Bill Zorzi and asked him to read Belkin's book. Zorzi said he made his first trip to Yonkers then and interviewed key players in the desegregation battle. But The Wire premiered that same year and other projects followed, putting Show Me A Hero on hold until now. Zorzi, who is immersed in the project, said it remains an intriguing tale.

"It's the idea of home, and where the nation still is," Zorzi said. "It's not like this went away as a result of this. It didn't go away in Yonkers and it didn't go away in the rest of the country. It's corny, but to me it is an American story that needs to be told, or a story about a part of America that is not often told."

No timetable has been set for the filming or when the series might air.

The central figure in the story remains Wasicsko, who is due to be played by Oscar Isaac, the star of Inside Llewyn Davis and the upcoming feature film Star Wars Episode VII.

Wasicsko ran for mayor in 1987 pledging to oppose the desegregation order from U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand, which called for the city to integrate its schools and housing. The ruling, which made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988, stemmed from a 1980 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. It included a mandate to build low-income housing in Yonkers' predominantly white eastside.

Martinelli, who was running for his seventh two-year term, took the unpopular position before the election that the city should negotiate a settlement on its terms. He still maintains it cost him the election.

At 28, Wasicsko became the youngest city mayor in the country. However, days before his inauguration a federal appeals court upheld Sand's order, convincing Wasicsko that the city had to comply. In the months that followed he stood his ground amid intense political pressure and community outrage. In the deadlock that followed, a City Council majority defied the judge despite crippling fines of $1 million a day that pushed the city to the brink of bankruptcy.

It was a tense time that some, including Peter Smith, then the longtime executive director of the Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority, thinks should remain in the past - not in the television spotlight.

"I'm just sorry this whole thing is coming around again, to be honest with you," said Smith, who will be portrayed by actor Terry Kinney, who is best known for his role in the HBO series Oz.

"Yonkers is a better town than it was 25 years ago," said Smith, who is now on the board of the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation. "David Simon does good work and Bill Zorzi has written tremendous stuff. I've watched Treme, I've watched some of The Wire. I just hope they do a good job, that's all. What we went through is long past, and Yonkers deserves better than to have its reputation knocked again and again."

Several key figures in the real-life drama have since died, including Wasicsko, who was only 34 when he shot himself on his father's grave in 1993.

Contributing: Ernie Garcia of The Journal News



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: HBO miniseries to revisit Yonkers desegregation saga

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