“Hell’s Kitchen Has So Much Character Compared to its Gentrified Neighbors” — Why Layla Law-Gisiko Cares for Her Adopted Home


French-born Layla Law-Gisiko emigrated to New York a quarter of a century ago and has been a member of Manhattan Community Board 5 for the past 17 years. She shares her from her West Side Story.

Layla Law-Gisiko during a break at Sergimmo Salumeria on 9th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Paris, France. I emigrated to New York 25 years ago. I came to New York as a journalist and a reporter, in pursuit of better opportunities. I was fortunate to cover incredibly deep and interesting stories, including social justice issues.

How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
Technically, I live in Chelsea but I spend a lot of time in Hell’s Kitchen. The 75th assembly district, that I am seeking to represent, is anchored around Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown and a tiny bit of the Upper West Side. Hell’s Kitchen has so much character compared to its more gentrified neighbors.

What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
I love the combination of old, and new. The horse stables, the historic theaters, the historic houses on Clinton, the new(er) buildings like Manhattan Plaza. (but not Hudson Yards)

Layla Law-Gisiko at the Roe protests last week. Photo supplied

And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
The traffic noise is just insane. The traffic itself is insane too. And thank god for Catie Savage and her Ella Litter Legion who rid us of trash!

Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
I was able to do a mix of staying put and escaping from time to time.

What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I’m a reporter and journalist. I’ve been very involved with Manhattan Community Board 5 for the past 17 years, where I chair the land use, housing & zoning committee. I love my job. I love my community activism.

What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I’ve discovered a side of resilience within that I did not suspect.

Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
Seeing our communities coming together was a sign of strength that only New York is capable of.

What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
Bumping into Andrew Yang at Little Pie Company while campaigning and having a full fledged conversation about Madison Square Garden tax break and how to repeal it.

Layla Law-Gisiko bumped into Andrew Yang at the Little Pie Company. Photo supplied

What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
Asking Fran Leibowitz to sign my petition while I was petitioning to get on the ballot.

What’s your superpower?
I’m a good listener

What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
stayin alive by the Bee Gees.

Which people inspire you the most?
Marie Curie, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my grandmother

What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“It’s not the battles we lose that bother me; it’s the ones we don’t suit up for.” —Aaron Sorkin— The West Wing

Do you love Times Square? Why or why not?
I love Times Square. Because I’m an immigrant and it reminds me how unique New York is.

Do you love Hudson Yards? Why or why not?
I hate Hudson Yards, because I am an immigrant and it reminds me how generic the city is becoming.

Layla Law-Gisiko at Manhattan Aquariums — a hold-out business battling the development of Hudson Yards. Photo: Phil O’Brien

If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Esca.

Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
I’m running for State Assembly in the 75th District. I am the candidate with relevant experience. I’m running to be of service, to fight for better policies, for effective government. Top issues are affordable housing, safety and quality of life, education, reproductive rights, gun violence.

Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places

Sergimmo Salumeria — They have the most delicious speck, prosciutto and mozzarella.

grind — I love Grind for their very balanced espresso. I love the Greek pop music they play.

Westway Diner —This place is legend. Whether you’re in the mood for a burger with fries, a Reuben or a cup of coffee, this place is always perfect.

Manhattan Aquariums — Armand and the team at Manhattan Aquariums are just so nice and chill. They are very knowledgeable. They are located in a hold-out building that refused to sell to the real-estate gluttons that developed Hudson Yards. The little house seems so vulnerable yet a symbol of resilience.

Stile’s Farmers Market — I love this little fruit and vegetable store and supermarket. Steve, the owner is just so nice and personable. We need to protect small business owners.

Layla Law-Gisiko at Stile’s Farmers Market on 9th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Fruit Stand on 9th Avenue (in front of Manhattan Plaza) — This is my favorite fruit stand in the city. Sammy is from Morocco. I feel a real connection, as my roots are in Tunisia, a country that has a shared history with Morocco. His produce from it is incredibly fresh and affordable.

Veterans Chair Caning & Repair — It feels miraculous that this place is still in its current location. They do a fantastic job with repairing chairs. I love people who practice their craft.

AntiGravity® Aerial Yoga NYC — Christopher Harrison, a long time resident of Hell’s Kitchen is the creator and founder of the anti-gravity aerial yoga. A genius, an acrobat, a gymnast and choreographer, Christo has created a great method that provides amazing relief and stretching.

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