The secret to his success is that people connect with him. Regis conveys a level of genuine honesty and good-natured familiarity that watching him feels like watching an old friend or a beloved member of the family.
A few years ago, he briefly mentioned an exhibition I was promoting and the result was a wave of phone calls from interested viewers who wanted more details and ended up purchasing tickets. Such is the power of Regis.
More recently he expressed his opinion about a local issue that is near and dear to my heart. For years there has been talk of reconstructing the beautiful, tree-lined Pelham Parkway in the Bronx to make it safer for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, but the caveat was that many of the glorious, towering trees that hug the edge of the road would have to be cut down. Finally, the project has gotten the necessary funding and approvals, and the construction is scheduled to begin this fall. Regis voiced his regret, shared by many others, that 87 trees, many of which are mature and healthy, would have to be destroyed in the process.
There has been debate about this topic for years. Public hearings have been held, editorials have been written. Some people have been advocates to save the trees and others have been advocates for the redesign of the Parkway to reduce the deadly accidents that happen along its strip. But when Regis started talking about it, suddenly it seemed to gain some new momentum. He bellowed (in typical and amusing Regis fashion), asking why the magnificent trees had to be cut down. He also reminisced (in sincere Regis fashion) about a recent drive through the Bronx, passing beneath the canopy of the Parkway's trees, saying, "It was absolutely magnificent. And the trees have gotten higher than when I was a kid and now they're going right over the top of the road and it's like you're driving into a forest. Absolutely spectacular."
That nostalgic comment was similar to my own daily experiences on the Parkway, so it sparked me to write to my elected officials to see if it was too late to do anything. Apparently, others have been motivated to step up their actions in order to try to save the "character" of the neighborhood, to make sure that the construction project will indeed make the area a safer place instead of just cutting down near century-old trees and causing changed traffic patterns that will affect local families and businesses for years. In a few short days, Regis Philbin's words inspired more media coverage, more people signing petitions, more people on the street with signs begging people to contact their government officials, more constituents writing to their representatives.
Today, I was happy to learn that, even though the reconstruction project is still planned to begin this fall, the healthy trees marked to come down will still be standing until at least September 2012 thanks to the efforts of people like Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., to reach a compromise. The Borough President writes: "Given the significant number of trees to be taken, I am calling on (Department of Transportation) and (Department of Parks and Recreation) to diligently review their plans and provide me a detailed accounting as to whether any trees now identified for removal can be spared. I am especially pleased to understand that, in fact, no healthy trees pursuant to this project will be taken until September 2012. This allows all parties involved to make a good faith effort to save the old growth, historic trees of Pelham Parkway."
Hopefully, the debate will lead to real solutions that will make the Parkway safe without destroying its historic character. All the good intentions on both sides will hopefully lead to common ground. Outspoken people like Regis should be thanked for putting issues like this in the spotlight of public discourse.