The holiday spirit is bursting along bustling Lydig Avenue with its first-ever Christmas light decorations.
Neighbors can see strands of white bulbs with overarching red and green garland attached to lampposts along the avenue, between Cruger and Barnes avenues, reinvigorating a once barren neighborhood known as Little Albania, home to a major concentration of Albanians.
The idea came from Assemblyman-elect Mark Gjonaj, a realtor with ties to the community peppered with mom and pop dry cleaners, pizzerias and 99-cent stores.
After setting up his campaign office on Barnes Ave. in April, Gjonaj mingled with locals, absorbing what he sensed was resentment towards the way the neighborhood has been treated over the years.
But after lights were hung during the last week of November, Gjonaj immediately sensed the begrudging vibe lifted off people’s shoulders.
“I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to Lydig Avenue,” said Edith Blitzer, head of the Pelham Parkway Neighborhood Association and a longtime member of the community, having seen its changes for the past 40 years. “When you come out of your building and see the lights I find that it lifts your spirits.”
Gjonaj agreed with the sentiment.
“Bringing lights to Lydig Avenue has given people a little bit of self-esteem,” said Gjonaj, quick to point out that Sen. Jeff Klein, once the area’s assemblyman, did commit time to Lydig Ave.
But after Klein left to become state senator, the neighborhood “has been overlooked,” said Gjonaj, who defeated Klein’s successor and longtime assemblywoman, Naomi Rivera.
Lydig Ave. is now part of a growing list of neighborhoods decking their neighborhood with holiday lights.
Morris Park recently hung its lights throughout the long commercial corridor, a project Gjonaj backed.
Since running for office, Gjonaj has positioned himself as a go-to political figure spreading his personal, middle-class wealth to causes.
On top of donating nearly $3,000 for the Lydig Avenue lights, he helped pay for legal services on behalf of tenants at Tracey Towers, who sued their landlord for imposing sky-high rents.
Over the summer he helped pay for the funeral expenses of 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan, killed by a stray bullet in Morrisania’s Forrest Houses.
But Gjonaj has learned to limit himself on projects.
“I have no problem saying no,” said Gjonaj. “If a project appeals to me I’m going to make sure it happens.”
His latest donation is part of a lofty effort to spruce up Pelham Parkway. Though time is running short, Gjonaj said he is in talks with Joe Thompson to install a Christmas tree on White Plains Road and Pelham Parkway South.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383