Gramercy Park is one of only two private parks in the city, and it's watched over by a longtime resident known as the Mayor of Gramercy. NY1's Michael Scotto introduces her in part one of "One City, Many Mayors."
A key unlocks the gate to Gramercy Park, one of the city's most exclusive spaces.
It’s controlled by Arlene Harrison. Her business card makes clear she’s in charge.
"I am the mayor. And it's permanent until I die," Harrison says.
Harrison is a trustee of the private park and is the founder of the Gramercy Park Block Association.
A resident since 1971, Harrison is a force in the community. She rises at 4, and by 7:30, she's on the street with her clipboard, greeting residents, checking in with building managers and keeping tabs on the neighborhood's condition.
"I look at the bluestone to see if there's any trip hazard," Harrison says.
Her focus is a two-acre patch of green. Created in 1831, Gramercy Park is owned by the 39 buildings surrounding it. Only their residents, and guests at the Gramercy Park Hotel can use it, with a key. A key so coveted, Harrison’s never leaves her wrist.
"I have it when I sleep and when I shower," she says.
Inside, Harrison governs from a bench, ensuring outsiders don’t sneak in, and residents follow the many rules.
"No more than six guests at a time. No private events. No commercial photography," Harrison says. "We say no to everything, because it's a slippery slope."
The park is usually almost empty. Often, more people sit outside the forbidding iron fence than inside.
"They look at it," Harrison says. "If you look at the ocean from a hotel room, it gives you joy."
Harrison formed the block association in 1994 after one of her sons was beaten and mugged across the street from her building.
In 2014, tax returns show Harrison was paid $140,000 as head of the block association.
She is fiercely protective of this exclusive neighborhood. Her toughness, she says, comes from her Brooklyn childhood.
"I grew up right next to Coney Island. That's why I'm a street fighter," she says.
That tenacity has allowed her to take oversight of the park to a new level.
"My ultimate dream, not to frighten people, however, would be to just either die in my sleep or die right here," Harrison says.
In the park that shapes much of her life.