NY Daily News reports that Leslie Wyche (left), a life-long Harlem resident known for years as the uptown neighborhood’s honorary mayor, passed away Thursday evening at a Bronx hospital. He was 73.
Wyche worked in the office of current state Assemblywoman Inez Dickens during her time on the City Council, and belonged to both the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the advocacy group One Hundred Black Men, Inc.
“He really, really enjoyed people,” Dickens said.
“Practically everybody knew him, and they knew they could go up to him with a problem and he would take it to the right agency to get at the root of the issue.”
The dapper Wyche also appeared in several scenes as an extra in the movie “American Gangster,” where Denzel Washington played Harlem-based druglord Frank Lucas, said his friend Michael Garner, president of One Hundred Black Men.
“He was very socially conscious,” recalled Garner. “He gave back to the community. He was involved in politics.”
Though the title of Harlem’s mayor was largely ceremonial, Wyche saw the job as an opportunity for neighborhood advocacy. He enjoyed the social aspects of serving as “mayor.”
“I’m the kind of guy who likes to be among the people,” Wyche told The New York Times in a 2003 story about the mayoral gig.
“I think I have the right flamboyance for the job. You know, when you enter a room and people say, ‘Oh, the mayor is here!’”
Wyche, whose résumé also included stints as district manager for Community Board 9 and 11, actually won a 2003 race for the position in an “election” sponsored by The Amsterdam News.
But he considered himself a political independent whose main interest was getting what’s best for his beloved Harlem.
“I am here to work with whoever it takes,” he told The Times.
Wyche was a constant presence on the Harlem social scene, showing up in photos from across the years with former city schools Chancellor Joel Klein, politician Bill Thompson and City Councilman John Liu.
“He was at every party, every reception,” recalled Garner. “If Leslie Wyche wasn’t there, the social setting was not complete.”
Fraternity brother Carl Bell said Wyche had struggled with some health issues recently, including dementia, and he was moved to hospice care at Montefiore Medical Center shortly before his death.
Bell and some friends were eating breakfast Saturday morning at a Harlem restaurant when one of them mentioned Wyche’s death.
“The whole restaurant turned around when they heard that,” Bell said. “If you ever saw Leslie, he had crowds of people coming up to see him.”
Photo credit: Leslie Wyche and Donel Davis Harlem Art Center Hosts “Art Splash, Larger Than Life” Honoring Business and Community Leaders.