Duane Jackson: Times Square vendor who thwarted car bomb runs for Congress

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A street vendor who helped thwart a bombing attack in Times Square in May 2010 has announced he is running for Congress.

Duane Jackson, a disabled Vietnam veteran, called himself “a real outsider” in a campaign that, if he won, would force him to give up the stall where he was working on May 1, 2010, when he noticed smoke curling out of an unattended sports utility vehicle and alerted the police.

Police evacuated the square, and a bomb squad diffused a crude device inside the vehicle made out of firecrackers and propane gas tanks.

In the aftermath, Jackson, 59, turned into a New York celebrity. President Barack Obama congratulated him by telephone and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrated him as one of the heroes of the day. People lined up to thank him as he returned to selling handbags and golf clubs from his stall.

Now he plans to run as a Democratic candidate in New York’s 19th congressional district, just north of New York City, against the Republican incumbent, Nan Hayworth, he said.

“If there was ever a time for an unknown street vendor from 45th and Broadway to step up and say, ‘I’m going to get involved,’ then this is the time,” Jackson said in an interview on Tuesday.

He describes himself as a small-business owner with 15 years of experience in city planning, including stints as a planner for the former New York City Board of Education and as a deputy director at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Spokesmen for both city entities were unable to immediately confirm those details.

Jackson said he became a street vendor in 1989.

“I started that as a temporary thing,” Jackson said. “One year turned into twenty.”

He first set up shop in downtown Manhattan’s financial district, becoming known for his second-hand golf clubs in particular, until the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, seven blocks away from his corner, compelled him to head uptown to Times Square.

He said he has been a member of Disabled American Veterans since 1991 after serving in the Navy and has worked as an advocate for veterans’ rights.

He added that he was closely involved in efforts to protect the legal right of disabled veterans to vend on the streets of New York City when midtown commercial businesses lobbied to restrict the right in the 1990s.

Following the 2010 thwarted bomb attempt, Jackson said he resolved to do more for his community. He said national security would be one of his priorities should he win office.

“I’m a strong supporter of the war on terrorism,” he said. He also said he hoped to help change the partisan dynamics in Congress.

“It’s not the Republicans’ house, it’s not the Democrats’ house, it’s the American’s people’s house,” he said.

Just days after Jackson and fellow street vendors helped police avert disaster in Times Square, authorities arrested a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, Faisal Shahzad, for the failed car bomb plot. Shahzad later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.


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