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December 4, 2005

Albert Arroyo, the 'Mayor of Central Park' — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said to him, 'Call me Jackie'


Nearly 90, Albert Arroyo (above, stretching) said, to Dan Barry in a story in yesterday's New York Times, "I am the first man to run in Central Park."'

Barry noted that no one has yet come forth to challenge Arroyo.

Back in the mid–1930s, when he was a young boxer from Puerto Rico, he began running on the 1.6–mile path around Central Park now used by thousands of people every day.

Time passes.


Arroyo stopped running about 10 years ago, in his late 70s.

Now he walks to and from the park daily.

Here's the article.

    The Mayor Who Ran, Ran and Ran

    THE mayor of Central Park lives in an S.R.O. on the Upper West Side.

    His one room has an unkempt bed, two small dressers that belong on the curb, lumps of clothes on the worn carpet, and a rusted hotplate that he means to throw out.

    The telephone permits him to dial only 911.

    Decorations are spare.

    They include a dusty State Senate resolution from 1985 that honors him for his contributions to the park, and an autographed poster of Grete Waitz, the nine-time New York City Marathon champion, that brightens the peeled-paint wall.

    "Keep up the good work," she wrote.

    The mayor, Alberto Arroyo, says he has lived here for nearly a quarter-century because it reflects the simplicity he has sought for most of his nearly 90 years.

    He has taken a vow of poverty, he says, like St. Francis of Assisi.

    "You've heard of St. Francis of Assisi?" he asks.

    He wears clothes that should be cleaned or tossed.

    He eats one meal a day, usually the lunch served at a local senior center, as long as it is not the oxtail or the knockwurst.

    He survives on Social Security and a modest pension from his old employer, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, but will not touch his savings because it is to be given away once he dies.

    And he lives here.

    "Everyone wants the maximum," he says.

    "I want the minimum."

    The mayor's true home, his Gracie Mansion, is Central Park, where he needs to be right now.


    Wearing a "mayor" cap over his sparse white hair and a coaster-size medallion around his neck, he pushes his four-wheeled walker toward the door.


    Mr. Arroyo was once a trailblazing runner.

    Back in the mid-1930's, when he was a young boxer from Puerto Rico with a radical sense of physical fitness, he began running on the 1.6-mile path that encircles the Central Park Reservoir.

    Now, thousands jog there every day.

    "I am the first man to run in Central Park," he says, a claim that no one bothers to challenge.

    But there is no question that in a city reluctant to wave hello, he became an identifiable, approachable character: the guy at the reservoir, the one with the white mustache, running, standing on his head, posing for tourists, forever sharing the many stories of Alberto Arroyo.

    How he stowed away on a ship; ran bare-chested in winter; defied a rapacious landlord to win rights for tenants; raised money to make this crushed-stone track what it is today; on and on.

    Along the way he also became almost a spiritual presence, one with the park - "a constant," says George Hirsch, board chairman of the New York Road Runners club.

    Mr. Arroyo stopped running a decade ago, reluctantly.

    Now he takes a good 20 minutes to walk the three blocks to the park, and another 10 to reach the reservoir's path.

    He shuffles counterclockwise on the trail, the better to fulfill his ambassadorial duties.

    As he moves north, nodding and saying hello to runners - "Hi, Mayor," they call - he recites stories that he has told too many times before.

    Still, when he tells them, it is as though one of the old London plane trees at the reservoir were given voice.

    Mr. Arroyo says he was there, for example, when a man removed his clothes, neatly folded them on the shore, and swam into the reservoir to drown.

    He was there when the police hung yellow tape around the spot where Robert Chambers left the body of young Jennifer Levin.

    He was there when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis [below, running with Arroyo]


    began looping the reservoir many years ago, and there when she visited the park a few days before she died, in 1994.

    By then they had become acquaintances.

    Mr. Arroyo remembers many things she said to him, especially this: "Call me Jackie."

    He continues along the path, talking about Jackie, and St. Francis, and Alberto Arroyo.

    "My time is up," he says. "People tell me, 'You're going to live another 10, 20 years.' Baloney.

    But nobody should be afraid to die because you keep living. You just go from one apartment to another."

    Mr. Arroyo sits on a bench dedicated to him near the South Gate House.

    It is the desk to his open-air office.

    People jogging by call out to him, while a boy one bench over slips carefully out of school clothes and into running shorts.

    Sunlight is giving way to shadow.

    The boy runs off, but the mayor says he will stay until dark.

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I was the next door neighbor of Albert for the past 4 years. We lived on 91st and Broadway. I always just call him Mayor whenever I saw him. Due to the renovation of the building into a luxuary place, we were bought out. I moved out last November, he was moving out as well. Although he wasn't feeling well and was in hospital for a while then. Last time I saw him, he came back in a wheel chair to visit the building. I heard he is moving out of the city. Hopefully he would still come back to visit central park from time to time.
All the high real estate price has forced out so much history on upper west side..Murder Ink was closed out at the end of 2007 as well. sigh..

Posted by: Yulei | Feb 15, 2009 8:07:54 PM

Namaste Alberto! We ingested those first-hand stories of Central Park with delight.
Was recapping details of our fabulous holiday in the US. Here goes...
A leisurely walk in Central Park
843 acres of green cover, cycling tracks, ponds n’ swans
Every romantic’s dream venue
A photo with 93-year-old icon,Alberto Arroyo,forever Mayor of the Park
His devotion to preserving nature is stark
A ‘Gandhian’ admirer
A believer in a world without violence, green trees and silence
Of one human family without any barriers,
Every one a brother and sister.
...Cheers from India.Good health.We share the same dream.Muaha, Sneha, Viren, Tarun, Keith n' Joan Shenoy

Posted by: Joan Shenoy | Aug 21, 2008 1:57:02 AM

Hye, Alberto.
J'ai rencontré Alberto alors que je faisais le tour du réservoir afin de voir une plaque au nom de Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Quelle ne fut ma surprise quand j'ai rencontré ce vieille homme qui a fait la gloire de Central Park.
Un homme de 93ans qui semblait heureux de nous raconter son passé et moi heureuse de pouvoir partager ma passion pour Jackie.
A jamais Alberto dans mon coeur merci et vive le footing.
Rencontre faite le 26 Avril 2008.

Posted by: Sam | Apr 29, 2008 10:56:44 PM

One meal a day? So that's what keeps the Doctors away.... Old man like this should be put into schools to tell their stories all around the world to all of the children that are hungry for examples from life.

Posted by: Laszlo Szontagh | Apr 14, 2008 10:18:19 PM

I ran the park reservoir on the 31st - they had a nice tribute to Alberto at pumping station #4. Live from NYC it is the AALS!

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Jan 3, 2008 11:43:52 PM

Hello Dear Alberto!!!

It was so nice to talk to you on tuesday at the Park. I always see you enjoying the gorgeous views and as I told you on tuesday you are a great inspiration for me!!

Thank you,

Carolina E. Vargas

Posted by: Carolina | Jan 3, 2008 3:20:09 PM


What would the mayor say about The Reservoir Project:


106 useless acres of the Central Park Reservoir as the site for the Centrál (CTRL), the future homeplace of World Government HQ.

XXII Century Starts In NYC!

Posted by: CTRL Group | Nov 14, 2007 11:54:50 AM

Hi everyone, I am actually a relative of Roberto. Although I have not met him personally, we have introduced ourselves on the phone last year. My father and Roberto use to hang out in New York. Roberto also has family; however, he is not in contact with them for some unknown reason. I am happy to hear that he is doing well, and I plan on taking a trip at the end of October so that we can get aquainted. I plan on bringing my father with me so that can catch up on old times. I found Roberto as I was researching my family tree and came across his phone number when I contacted a school who took on the name of our aunt "Ana Roque De Duprey" a woman activist who brought the right to vote to the woman of Puerto Rico and who assisted with bringing forth with the University of Puerto Rico.

Posted by: Melisa Arroyo | Oct 3, 2007 6:38:11 PM

I was in Central Park last Sunday, August 26, and the Mayor was there. My children took a picture with him. I found your site because I wanted to know if what he said was true. We live in Louisiana and were there on vacation.

Posted by: Tracy Liotta | Aug 30, 2007 12:27:08 AM

i live in Argentina and I know alberto arroyo,I go to NY every year and visit Alberto because we love him too much is a great person with a huge heart,this year we stayed there but Alberto wasn t in Central Park he was at the hospital  Mount Sinai because he was suffering from kneel problems  , we went to see him there,  and  we were shocked when we heard that his only concern the weather forecast and the people in  Central Park , I felt unhappy and came back to my contry with a pain in my heart to saw him there like a bird in a cage and probably he will never return to Central Park and perhaps he will be sent to a nursery home I would like somebody coud help him because he has no relatives at all and unfortunatelly we live far from him

Posted by: claudia doga | Aug 12, 2007 2:31:54 PM

One thing that many people fai to appreciate about this guy is his toughness. He is out there in all weather, all four seasons, year-round. If you've ever been out on that reservoir on a cold day, you can just begin to appreciate the endurance of this guy. Then realize he is out there winter, spring, summer and fall and he is moving at a snail's pace, he can no longer run to keep warm, but there he is anyway.

Posted by: Jack Aubrey | Apr 23, 2007 11:04:02 AM

i met you on tuesday around 6:00.we had a nice chat.i am looking at your web site with great interest.i look forward to getting to know you better.

Posted by: howard pruzon | Apr 12, 2007 9:53:36 AM

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