The “Save Harlem” case exemplifies all the leading characteristics of Manhattan Super Lawyer, Adam Leitman Bailey. Not yet forty years of age, Bailey has shown extraordinary fire in his belly for defending underdogs and negotiating more than he could have gotten at trial. There are three major methods that drive his success in achieving these outstanding victories: assembling a team of creative thinkers, inspiring that team to sign on to extraordinary ideas, employing all available tools: courts, legislatures, and popular opinion.
The Save Harlem plaintiffs came to Bailey with a simple problem. They had all signed commercial leases with a landlord who had extracted from them a clause allowing the landlord to rescind the leases so that the building could be demolished, but had all been promised that there were no plans for such a demolition. The building in question was one block west of the cultural epicenter of Harlem on world famous 125th Street, home of numerous institutions key to African American culture, notably the Apollo Theatre. Each of the tenants was either a traditional Harlem business or one that had given up opportunities to be in the more famed sections of Manhattan so as to strengthen the sense of community in Harlem, particularly amongst African Americans. The building was also the longest buildings in Harlem taking up more square feet horizontally than any other building.
Bailey immediately realized that the real story of this case was that the main drag of Harlem, 125th Street was undergoing a rapid transformation from a cultural and ethnic reservation to a completely generic suburbia right in the heart of one of the most unique and dynamic neighborhoods in all of America.
In short, Harlem was losing its soul.
That realization became the heart of the Bailey strategy. Instantly, his mind began to churn with ideas for litigation, legislation, and popularization of the idea that promotion of Black prosperity should not necessitate impoverishment of Black culture.
The first thing he needed was a key phrase to capture the idea in a way that would resonate in all three avenues of attack. He commissioned his team to find it. It had to be both simple and undeniable. At last, the slogan was found, “Save Harlem.” This became emblazoned in orange on blue t-shirts, printed on placards by the score, and given as the name of the organization he formed for the sole purpose of being the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Bailey had managed to boil down the entire controversy to three syllables: Save Harlem.
Under this banner, Bailey’s team organized rallies directly under former President Clinton’s office windows on the grounds of the State Office Building on 125th Street. Bailey arranged for both electronic and print media to be present. Bailey contacted every politician with an interest in African American culture to lend support. Bailey commissioned his team to draft legislation to make the entirety of 125th Street a protected historical zone dedicated to the preservation of Black culture.
Night and day Bailey labored in the streets with his rallies, in courtrooms with his lawsuit, in the corridors of City Hall with his legislation, and on the telephone with countless political figures.
His clients had been transformed from clients to a cause, a cause worth fighting, a cause bigger than his clients, a cause fundamental to the unique contributions America has made to the planet’s culture.
In the courtroom, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. in a two hour oral argument convinced the State Supreme Court judge to sign an injunction blocking the building’s demolition. The lease was drafted in a way that potentially made its demolition provision unenforceable because it stated that the tenants were not permitted to seek court intervention and some of the tenants had recently finished major improvements relying on the former owner’s promise not to demolish the building. These arguments led to the signing of the injunction stopping the demolition and continuing in effect until a settlement was reached a year later.
In the end, Bailey prevailed in winning an enormous settlement for his clients. One area resident noted that this case “taught those who would seek to make Harlem one generic neighborhood like thousands that they had better rethink the idea. For them to inflict that cost on American culture was to prove in the future impractically expensive.” The settlement allowed for each of the commercial tenant to receive a large payment and continue their lease for a specific period of time. One of the commercial tenants is still in possession of its restaurant today. As of July 2009, the building had not been demolished.