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Everyday heroes earn accolades

It is an award that comes with no perk or privilege. Not even a plaque.

But I think there is honor in recognition, and value in a job well done. And that, really, is the reason for the Esmonde Awards. The Ezzys are annually presented to ordinary folks whom I encountered in the past year. They battled for a cause, stood up for what is right or otherwise distinguished themselves as fine citizens. They deserve a public pat on the back. So here, once again, it goes:

Mark Goldman -- The Erie Canal Harbor board's pursuit of Bass Pro finally ended in August, leaving it with no Plan B -- but ready, against all logic, to forge ahead with unneeded parking structures and faux canals. Into the fray came Renaissance man Goldman, whose Calumet Arts Cafe a generation ago sparked the Chippewa Street revival. His public forum in November, featuring NYC-based planner Fred Kent, gave form to the "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" development model long favored by progressives. The ECHDC board subsequently said it would alter its plans. Promises still need to be kept. But if the course has changed, Goldman's gathering was a turning point.

James Eaton -- A cognitively challenged elderly woman last spring was about to be evicted from her longtime West Side home, having neglected to pay her city garbage tax. Eaton, a financier, heard about her plight and stepped in. He purchased the house from the people who had bought it at foreclosure, then arranged for the woman to remain there for the rest of her days. Fellow parishioners from her church will take care of her ongoing affairs. Thanks to one man's generosity, a happy ending.

Lee Smith -- Yes, he can. It is 45 years since Smith gave up truck driving to open a barbecue place. Little did he know that Lee's Barbeque on the corner of Fillmore and Fougeron was the start of a mini-empire. He later bought the building next store and opened Lee's Lounge. That was followed in the '80s by the car wash across the street, called -- you guessed it -- Lee's Car Wash.

His one-man stake on the East Side corner is a high-profile model of ground-up entrepreneurship. Smith has provided jobs for hundreds of people and, at 77, he still is going strong.

Eddy Dobosiewicz -- To many, the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood is a grim reminder of better days gone by. To Dobosiewicz, better known as comedian Airborne Eddy, it is a boyhood home rich not just with memories, but with possibilities. Dobosiewicz put his money where his heart is by buying the vacant Strusienski Restaurant. Then the nonprofit Despensata Corp. -- named after an activist nun from his boyhood -- that he heads bought the empty, century-old Bank of America branch building.

Dobosiewicz is one of dozens of true believers who, with similar purchases, are giving the neighborhood a massive dose of the TLC it desperately needs. Rock on!

Jake Gruber -- He fought the power -- and won.

It started when workers from the county Water Authority accidently busted the Amherst homeowner's pipe, refused to fix it and then sent him a bill for thousands of dollars of leaked water. He refused to pay. He was out of town when the authority, in a typically arrogant move, shut off his water -- leaving Gruber's wife and their three young kids to fend for themselves.

Backed into a water-less corner, Gruber paid the outrageous bill -- then sued the authority for the money. It was David vs. Goliath, but David had a potent missile in his figurative slingshot -- the law. Gruber won his lawsuit, had it upheld on appeal and now -- after failing to receive a requested apology -- is suing the authority for $4 million in damages. You go, guy!


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