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Living Liberty

Easy Lies the Head That Wears This Crown

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, Rudolph Giuliani 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 Senator 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 says.

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



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