Wyandanch activist Delano Stewart, who emerged into political prominence as the Long Island coordinator of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Democratic presidential bid, championed local empowerment through his Point of View weekly newspaper, and successfully pushed for a Wyandanch village center, died Sunday morning at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.
Stewart, who turned 75 last month, had received a lung transplant in 2012, but two years ago was given only months to live after showing signs of rejection, according to a daughter, Anika Stewart, of Wyandanch.
His daughter said Stewart, originally from Panama, never applied for U.S. citizenship perhaps, she said, because he never felt America considered black people as fully equal.
Nonetheless, Stewart was a staunch advocate of black voter empowerment, and frequently organized for local candidates for country and town government.
“He was a driving force for the Wyandanch community — a brilliant man who knew the issues and could express them, which made him hated by the power structure,” said fellow activist Eugene Burnett, who shared Stewart’s black advocacy despite their frequent tactical differences. “I didn’t always agree with him, but I’m sorry he is gone.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement: “Delano Stewart was a true visionary and a man dedicated to lifting up the community. Along with his wife Anne, their work provided the inspiration and the foundation for the revitalization that is occurring in the hamlet of Wyandanch today.”
One of seven children born in La Boca, Panama to a preacher and schoolteacher father, Stewart initially expressed himself through the arts. He studied English and theater at Canal Zone College, and eventually wrote at least three plays. Proficient as a bass guitarist, he performed as “Danny Rae” in venues such as Las Vegas after coming to the United States. In 1971, he helped found the Black Theater Alliance, which provided technical, material and other assistance to seven theater companies.
But Stewart’s interest in community planning began in the 1960s. After working for the New York City Community Development Agency, he helped his brother, Waldaba Stewart, win election to the New York State Senate in 1968. He worked in his brother’s office doing community planning.
After moving to Wyandanch with his wife and family in 1974, he became involved in efforts to win incorporation and self-rule for the predominantly black Suffolk County hamlet, which for decades has suffered from a lack of economic development and a faltering school system.
“Incorporation is the only avenue . . . through which the aspirations and potential of the Wyandanch community will be realized,” he wrote in a 1988 op-ed published in Newsday.
In 1996, he sold his 16-year insurance business to become a full-time writer and publisher for the weekly Point of View newspaper he had founded five years earlier. Using his newspaper as an editorial megaphone, Stewart accused government officials of “environmental racism” for allowing a giant landfill and a garbage incinerator to remain at the edge of Wyandanch — facilities he blamed for troubling rates of cancers in surrounding neighborhoods.
In 2002, Stewart helped organize a three-day workshop that produced Wyandanch Revitalization, a smart-growth plan that called for a pedestrian-friendly center near the train station that would incorporate affordable housing, a restaurant district and other economic development.
But he later expressed disappointment in Wyandanch Rising, an alternative development plan he told the Long Island Press in 2010 threatened to result in just “a prettier ghetto.”
In addition to Anika Stewart, Stewart is survived by his wife, Anne, and daughter Dara Stewart, of Wyandanch. Funeral plans are incomplete. He told relatives he wanted his cremated remains to be scattered on the waters of the Panama Canal.