Borough President Markowitz fought height discrimination in high school

Markowitz: I fought for the little guy

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Borough President Markowitz cut his political teeth fighting for the little guy — literally!

His first foray into politics echoes back to the early 1960s when the 5-foot-5 and a half (he’s very proud of that half) pol fought size discrimination in Wingate High School, where he was barred from joining a public service club called the Long Fellows because he was too short.

“As crazy as it sounds in 2012, Wingate had a service organization that allowed only boys, which was perfectly acceptable in those days, but you had to be at least 5-feet-10, or taller, to join,” said Markowitz, who recounted his high school exploits during Wingate’s class of 1962’s 50th reunion this past weekend at Gargiulo’s Restaurant in Coney Island. “I wanted to be of service, so I started an organization called the Middle Men, which was for everyone under 5-feet-10.”

After a year, administrators at Wingate — which ultimately closed in 2006 — had learned their lesson in height discrimination and combined both groups into a community service club that included all young men, short and tall, called Fellowship.

Markowitz, who said he had been involved in student government since elementary school, now considers the formation of the more-inclusive club his first political achievement.

“I certainly felt like I achieved something,” said Markowitz.

Carol Weiner, a Manhattan resident and Wingate alum who graduated alongside Markowitz in the class of ’62, said the Beep “always wanted to be in politics,” and described her classmate as “mischievous,” and “short.”

“He helped to change that group from the Longfellows to the Middle Men,” she said. “It eliminated a discriminatory practice.”

But, as any politician will tell you, a victory for one group often comes at a cost to another. The borough president concedes that his first victory was mitigated by the fact that no women were allowed in either the Long Fellows, the Middle Men, or Fellowship.

“A real visionary would have created a club open to everybody,” Markowitz said. “Not just short guys.”

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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