By ALEX MINDLIN
Published: January 21, 2007
OF all the fake Statues of
Liberty out there -- the ones in the subways posing for
quarters, the tourists donning green sponge crowns --
Jennifer Stewart may be the most real.
In the last decade or so, Ms.
Stewart has earned a civic status just short of official,
with gigs at Gracie Mansion, jobs representing the city at
travel fairs and official functions abroad, and a trip to
Singapore with New York's Olympic bid delegation in 2005.
She also makes paid corporate appearances and is something
of a news media darling, having appeared in toga and crown
on CNN and on the cover of U.S. News and World Report.
It is a far cry from 19 years
ago, when Ms. Stewart first stood in a park dressed as the
famous statue. She was mortified. ''I felt stupid,'' she
recalled last week. ''I thought, 'The only consolation is
that no one will recognize me.' ''
But then came success. It does
not hurt that as a walking metaphor for American virtues,
Ms. Stewart is irresistible to politicians. In a signed
photograph that she keeps on her desk,
stands beside her at Gracie Mansion, raising her torch like
a wine glass, and beaming so broadly that his dimples appear
doubled. In another photograph, a slightly rumpled
Hillary Rodham Clinton joins her in Singapore, as does Mayor
Bloomberg in a third snapshot, flashing a tight grin.
''He's always been very
gracious,'' Ms. Stewart said of the mayor. ''He says: 'Oh,
hi, Miss Liberty. How's business?' ''
Out of costume, Ms. Stewart,
who gives her age as 120 (the age of a certain statue), has
tousled short blond hair and arched eyebrows. She lacks,
however, the heroic brow and jutting chin of the statue,
which she says look like ''Elvis during his Army years.''
She lives in Brooklyn Heights
in a joined pair of apartments, to which she hopes to add a
''de-greening room,'' where she could remove her coat of
hand-mixed theatrical makeup. (''It gets everywhere.'') The
apartment is festooned with statue stuff: a cupboard full of
statue-themed mugs, two dozen statuettes and a detailed
diorama for the set of a statue-themed children's TV show
she is pitching.
From the roof of her building,
one floor up, she has a view of Lady Liberty. ''The
magnitude of her totally boggles my mind,'' she said.
Fame has brought occasional
problems. Ms. Stewart's face graced the cover of a German
guidebook for five years without her permission, she said.
And, especially since Sept.
11, there have been rivals, including a woman who does
occasional work for the city's tourism agency, as does Ms.
Stewart. A gentle soul, Ms. Stewart is mostly philosophical
about the competition; ''The world is big enough,'' she
But she cannot resist an
occasional knock at the other ladies, including one who
decided to forgo sandals for black shoes. ''Some of them are
so bad,'' she said. ''It's like, 'Girlfriend, get rid of
those shoes!' '' ALEX MINDLIN
Photo credit: Kristen Artz / Office of the Mayor, 2005