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October 13, 1985
A lonely crusader for folks who need one

by Bill Reel
"STAND UP," George McDonald gently told the 84-year-old homeless man sitting in the little park on the East Side. The oldtimer slowly got to his feet. George stood right in front of him, taking his measure.

"Good!" George said, smiling. "We're almost the same size. I've got a suit that will fit you. The cuffs are a little frayed, but otherwise it should be fine. I'll meet you here Tuesday and give you the suit."

"Tuesday, Tuesday," the oldtimer said, making a mental note.

The three of us gabbed for a few minutes. The oldtimer said he had lived in New York since 1927, and had worked most of his life as a doorman, elevator operator and porter. He said he met Babe Ruth in 1939. I asked if he had ever been married, and he came back, "Yes, 12 years to the wrong woman!" We had a few laughs, then shook hands all around and said so long until Tuesday.

George and I got on the Second Ave. bus. I thanked him for his help. A week ago a reader wrote to tell me about the homeless oldtimer. I tried but failed to find him, so I put George on the case. George located him in the little park within 24 hours. Not only did George promise him a suit, he offered to help him get back to his old home town. He gave the oldtimer hope and comfort.

"George, you're a great guy, the closest I know to St. Francis," I told him as we bumped along on the bus. "But the question is, would St. Francis have made an effective New York City Council president?"

Slim, soft-spoken, Bible-reading George McDonald, 41, practitioner of voluntary poverty and daily prayer, resident of a tiny furnished room on E. 83d St., dispenser of sandwiches and smiles to bums and bag ladies in Grand Central Terminal seven nights a week, tireless advocate of food, shelter, clothing and dignity for down-and-outers, is running for City Council president against the darling of real estate developers, millionaire Andy Stein.

"Look, I'm perfectly capable of running for the City Council," George assured me, launching into a campaign pitch that struck me as persuasive. "I'm a practical person. I was a successful executive in the apparel industry before I got into politics half a dozen years ago, so I understand business. When I spoke at City Hall on the need to preserve single roomm occupancy housing, Cardinal O'Connor went out of his way to praise my statement. The Citizens Union said my views on the issues are thoughtful. I advocate mercy and compassion for the poor, but that's no reason my candidacy should be dismissed as impractical. I'm the most qualified candidate for the job, certainly superior to Andy Stein, who is a tool of the greedy real estate interests that cause homelessness in New York. Poor New Yorkers are entitled to a voice in city government. Rich people are already well represented."

Everybody says George McDonald can't win because he has no money, but the reason George McDonald has no money is because everybody says he can't win. His campaign has been broke from Day One. He caught a break last summer when medical magazine publisher Lou LeJacq, who has a strong social conscience, read about George's crusade for poor people and promptly gave him office space for his campaign at 53 Park Place. Lou belongs to the same exercise club as Mayor Koch, and he badgers the Mayor every morning during pushups to endorse George.

George is taking his best shot. He has asked former Mayor Robert Wagner and former Deputy Mayor Ken Lipper to raise funds for him for a media blitz in the final days of the campaign. "They haven't said no," he said, sounding hopeful. George has a 10-second commercial in the works that says: "Vote for George McDonald. Vote against Andy Stein. Two votes for the price of one." George thinks the ad would put him over. "Everybody loves a bargain," he said, grinning.

MEANWHILE, he's going it alone, scuffling for votes, trying gamely to run a campaign without resources. And every night he's at Grand Central, handing out sandwiches to poor folks for the Coalition for the Homeless. You have to love the guy for his heart.

He'll be at the Hispanic Day Parade today. "I managed to get a ticket to sit in pew 17 for the Columbus Day Mass at St. Patrick's on Monday," George said. "Now I'm trying to get into the parade."

George McDonald belongs right behind the grand marshal.

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