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COUNTDOWN TO NYE
The official Special Guests of Times Square New Year's Eve 2021 were the “Heroes of 2020": those whose courage, creativity and spirit — expressed in many ways, day in and day out — helped the city and the surrounding area get through an unprecedented, incredibly difficult year.
The “Heroes of 2020” will be comprised of more than 30 individuals and their families, representing a sampling of first responders, frontline workers, researchers, artists and activists who sacrificed in 2020 to provide care and support for their communities. These stories are symbolic of family stories in every community in every state across the country and around the world.
Historically, the Special Guests joins the Mayor of New York City on the mainstage just before midnight to lead the sixty-second countdown to midnight and press the Waterford Crystal button that signals the Ball Drop. This year, due to onsite social distancing protocols, the Special Guests did not appear on stage. Instead, each guest watched the festivities from a private, physically distanced viewing area with their family or loved ones from their household unit.
The “Heroes of 2020” are:
Frank Auriemma | Bethpage, NY | NYC Public School Teacher
A teacher in the New York City Public School system, Frank has been teaching music and chorus with his classes remotely since March. His partner, Antonio, has been in and out of COVID units as a Registered Nurse and Discharge Nurse since March of 2020.
Zaki Azam | Jericho, NY | Doctor
A first-year internal medicine physician along with a family of three other doctors and pharmacists in New York City, Zaki and his family have all been working on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic. They started caring for complete strangers until they had to care for one of their own at home: Zaki’s grandfather, who ultimately died from COVID.
Denny Brito | Sanitation Supervisor
Denny is a sanitation supervisor and COVID-19 survivor. Once he recovered, he returned to his 12-hour shifts making sure the men and women in his garage were protected with PPE and able to do their duties as essential workers.
Ardist Brown | Doorman at a Residential Building
Ardist has provided food to the elderly in his neighborhood and at his work. He is also a COVID-19 survivor.
Ling Chan | U.S. Postal Service Worker
Ling has been working for the USPS for over 30 years, and currently delivers mail to office buildings in Times Square. Though the pandemic has been challenging, she feels fortunate to still have her job and health and looks forward to a better year ahead.
Ronald Colbert | Staten Island Ferry Worker
In 1977, after serving on a submarine USS Cavalla in the Navy, Ronald decided to go see the Ball Drop and has been there every year since. This year will be his 40th New Year’s Eve in Times Square. He currently works at the Staten Island Ferry as a deckhand and has continued working at the Ferry through the ongoing pandemic.
Joseph Cuccurullo | Hotel Worker
Joseph is a hotel worker at the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square. He has been nominated by his colleagues at the hotel in recognition of his years-long dedication.
Chris Davlantes | ER Doctor
Chris is an ER physician from Kansas City who moved here during the pandemic to help work on the front lines, and he is moonlighting in Manhattan.
Baldwin Davis | Public Safety Worker at the Times Square Alliance
Baldwin has worked at the Times Square Alliance in Public Safety for 18.5 years, working during many NYE celebrations. Unfortunately, his twin brother Calvin, who worked alongside Baldwin at the Alliance for all that time, died due to COVID-19 earlier in 2020.
Denise Dillon | New York, NY | Grocery Store Clerk
A grocery store clerk, Denise and her husband (who also clerks at an essential store), have endured countless sleepless nights and working extra hours to provide for their family during the pandemic.
Ceyenne Doroshow | BLM and Trans Activist
Ceyenne (Kai-Ann) is the Founder and Director of GLITS INC. She was the co-organizer for the Black Trans Lives Matter Rally and March at the Brooklyn Museum this past summer. GLITS offers assistance to TLGBQIA+ members across the five boroughs, as well as creating sustainability through their housing program & leadership academy, at GLITS I SOUTH — the first Black-trans owned apartment complex in Queens, NY.
Juanita Erb | Vaccine Researcher
Juanita is a Clinical Research Nurse/Clinical Research Operations Manager for the NYU Langone Health Vaccine Center. In her role, she helped to ensure diversity, inclusion, equity, and access across the conduct of all of their research and helped to launch four new vaccine research centers in New York.
Felicia Fojas | Elmhurst Hospital Worker
Felicia is a pediatrician at Elmhurst Hospital, one of the hardest hit NYC neighborhoods during the pandemic. She and her colleagues have worked tirelessly to ensure the good health of the youngest New Yorkers. She comes from a family of essential workers including her mother who runs a long-term care facility in Queens for adults with developmental disabilities.
Amy Freeman Ivanov | Acute Care Therapist
An acute care therapist in a hospital, Amy’s entire family works as healthcare providers. Her younger daughter Jessica is a first responder with the Central Park Medical Unit, her older daughter is a physician working for City MD treating hundreds of COVID patients, and her husband is a Cardiologist.
Annmarie Gajdos | Staten Island, NY | Mental Health Provider
Annmarie currently handles communications for Integrity Senior Services, a mental health social work agency that specializes in care for the elderly. This is a segment of the population that has suffered from immense anxiety and depression due to COVID-19.
Danny Haro | Montclair, NJ | Pizza Delivery Person
Danny delivers pizza for a local shop in Montclair, NJ. He would deliver free pizzas to the Mountainside Hospital in Montclair every week to thank he frontline workers. Danny contracted COVID-19 in April and had to take two months off work to recover. He has since returned to pizza delivery and is grateful to help his community.
Shane Hathaway | Restaurant Row Restaurant Owner
Shane is the owner of Hold Fast, a restaurant on the historic block, Restaurant Row on 46th St. Pre-pandemic, Hold Fast was popular amongst the theatre community: actors, musicians, and stage workers. Shane and his team have been able to safely stay open during the pandemic although his business has been down by 75%.
Leah Jimenez | Bronx, NY | NYC Public School Teacher
A teacher in the New York City Public School system, Leah served low-income students and their families when the pandemic hit, and all went remote.
Hye Jun Lee | Election Poll Worker
Hye Jun worked as a poll worker for the most recent November election.
Kristina Libby | New York, NY | Artist
Kristina created the Floral Heart Project as a living memorial to those we lost to COVID-19. This community effort focused on providing sympathy for those lost to COVID-19 and love and support for everyone suffering and is intended to offset the wave of grief that is being experienced.
Sandra Lindsay | Port Washington, NY | Nurse / First person vaccinated in the US
Sandra, originally from Jamaica, is a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. She was the first person in the United States to be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine and volunteered to be the first to “inspire people who look like me.”
Jenny Liu | New York, NY | COVID Tester at CityMD
Jenny has been COVID testing patients during the pandemic for CityMD, working long hours on her feet as the endless lines swirl around the multiple sites that Jenny has worked at throughout Manhattan.
Shayna McClellend | Pictures for Elmhurst Photographer
Shayna was a lead organizer for the Pictures for Elmhurst, charity photography project wherein 96 professional photographers sold their photos to raise $1.3 million for Elmhurst Hospital. The donations went towards the hospital’s purchase of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
Bernadette Murrell | Brooklyn, NY | Sanitation Worker at the Times Square Alliance
Bernadette has worked for the Times Square Alliance since 1993, including covering over 20 New Year Eve celebrations. This pandemic has been devastating for her health and she lost family members to COVID. With the economic downturn, her family has lost their jobs.
Paul Nebb | Marlboro, NY | EMT
An EMT, Paul has worked long hours in 2020 and has not seen much of his family. Paul has worked as a volunteer EMT for the past 16 years. During the pandemic Paul has transported many COVID victims to the hospital and seen the pain it brought to both the individuals and their families. This has also caused Paul to go in and out of quarantine without the ability to see family for some time to make sure they remain safe.
Carol Porter | Teaneck, NJ | Musician/Piano Teacher
A musician that plays piano and gives piano lessons, Carol has been one of the piano teachers at Guitar Center in Times Square. With all gigs canceled, music has helped Carol get through this year though collaborations with some music teachers in the community. To spread some holiday cheer, Carol and her colleagues dressed up in holiday attire and made a video that was sent to a local hospital as a thank you for everything they have done as a staff.
Jemi Puno | Richmond Hill, NY | Flight Attendant
Jemi is a flight attendant who has helped bring essential workers to places in need of more staff and families to their loved ones during 2020. Jemi’s boyfriend is also a pharmacist who has worked non-stop and extra shifts to make sure people have their medications. Both have worked throughout the whole year to make sure people are safe and healthy in their community and around the country.
Bridget Reid | Community Service Worker
Bridget is a community services coordinator at the Department of Homeless Services. During this time, she has been on the frontlines removing the homeless from high-risk situations. During this time many of the DHS staff become infected and some have died. The pandemic has been a very difficult time for her and her family as they lost many close friends to the virus.
Jeremy Richmond | Army Recruiter
Jeremy is the Operations Sergeant Major for the New York City Recruiting Battalion. He recently moved to New York City in 2020 but has not been able to experience the city as a whole.
Artie Smarsch | NYPD
Sergeant Smarsch started his career with New York City Police Department in July 1984, was assigned to Patrol Borough Manhattan South in December 1989. and was promoted to special assignment in 1994. He has worked as community affairs supervisor for over 30 years. This includes all major and special events in the confines of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, one of which is planning The New Year’s Eve events since 1989.
Dustin Suanino | New York, NY | Palliative Care Physician
Dustin and his colleagues helped provide symptoms management in the second hardest hit county in NY at the time (March 2020),working to bridge the human connection when loved ones could not physically visit, advocate for those who are marginalized in society, and most importantly navigate through the uncertainty and the difficult decisions that rose from this novel virus and its nuances.
Louis Toigo | NYC Sanitation Worker
Louis Toigo is a long-time worker for the Department of Sanitation. He is also a COVID-19 survivor who had to take care of his father, wife, and children who also contracted the virus.
Wayne Tucker | Musician
Wayne and his band have been performing jazz multiple days a week throughout the pandemic at Grand Army Plaza, bringing music and joy to many, many New Yorkers, which was covered by the NY Times.
The Special Guest designation is an annual tradition for Times Square New Year’s Eve that dates back to the mid-1990s. Each year since, by selecting a Special Guest, producers honor an inspiring individual/s who represents public service, resiliency, and the human spirit. Past Special Guests include former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, former UN Secretary General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Muhammad Ali, Lady Gaga, Christopher Reeve, Medal of Honor winner Salvatore Giunta, and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.
“The Special Guest plays a pivotal role in the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, most notably by representing resounding resolve and a determined spirit, at a time when the world collectively awaits a renewed beginning,” said Tim Tompkins, President, Times Square Alliance. “This year, it feels most appropriate to shine a spotlight on the individuals who are tirelessly leading our nation through hard times with unshakable strength, determination and poise, as well as their families, who deal with their own set of sacrifices.”
“This year, undoubtedly more than any other in recent memory, we recognize the need to celebrate our local heroes,” said Jeffrey Straus, President, Countdown Entertainment. “As we join together to ring in the new year, the families celebrating in Times Square mirror families across the globe celebrating safely from their own homes.”