Greenpointers honor activist’s ‘fierce advocacy’ with newly co-named Irene Klementowicz Way

people at co-naming for Irene Klementowicz Way in Greenpoint
A Greenpoint street has been co-named in honor of environmental activist Irene Klementowicz.
Photo courtesy of Council Member Lincoln Restler/X

Greenpoint locals have decided that one legendary local activist deserves to have her name permanently etched into the neighborhood. 

Politicians, neighbors, and family gathered on Saturday to unveil the newly co-named Irene Klementowicz Way at the corner of Freeman Street and Manhattan Avenue, blocks away from the infamous Newtown Creek.

Klementowicz — who died last January at 94 – was a longtime Greenpointer and one of the original diehard environmentalists in the nabe, which is now a hotbed of grassroots advocacy and activism. 

street sign irene klementowicz way
Pols said the co-naming would ensure Klementowicz’s name and legacy were remembered in the nabe. Photo courtesy of U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez/X
Irene Klementowicz was an inspiring community leader,” said Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, in a statement. “Her courage and tenacity in taking on major corporations polluting our neighborhood has energized many local advocates over the decades, myself included. Her indefatigable spirit will not be forgotten, and this street renaming will connect new generations of Greenpointers to discover her profound legacy.”

Shortly after she moved to the neighborhood with her husband and children in the 1950s, Klementowicz began to notice that the heavy industry that dominated the area at the time was negatively impacting the environment and the health of her neighbors. She spent more than 30 years fighting to close the Greenpoint Incinerator, which left fine black dust all over the neighborhood, and launched an equally as fierce campaign to force a local chemical company to install filters on its smokestacks to tamp down on the toxic, acrid fumes it produced. 

“Irene Klementowicz was a true champion for Greenpointers,” said Council Member Lincoln Restler. “Her commitment to making our community cleaner and safer inspired people across the neighborhood. She was an organizer, an advocate, and a champion for environmental justice. Her life is a testament to what New Yorkers can achieve for their communities.”

Over the years, Klementowicz took up dozens of local causes — she helped champion the fight to sue Exxon Mobile over the Greenpoint Oil Spill – a lawsuit which eventually forced the oil company to pay out a more than $25 million settlement, a large portion of which funded cleanup and community programs in Greenpoint.  

“If it wasn’t for her and the work that she did with the Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint, there would never have been a lawsuit against the oil companies, that polluted Newtown Creek, because her and her group laid all the groundwork for that to happen,” Laura Hofmann, a longtime friend of Klementowicz, told Brooklyn Paper last year. “There would never have been a benefits program for the community, there never would have been all the improvements that you’re seeing now.”

irene klementowicz talking at podium
Klementowicz is widely remembered for her advocacy and influence in the nabe. File photo courtesy of Mitch Waxman
Klementowicz’s activism inspired generations of Greenpointers to take up the cause – with two Superfund sites and a number of state Brownfield sites, the neighborhood is filled with environmental issues – and with groups and individuals willing to take them on.
“I was proud to work alongside Irene Klementowicz to push for a cleaner, safer Greenpoint for over 20 years,” said U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, in a statement. “From the fight to clean up the Mobil oil spill to recovery efforts at Newtown Creek, Irene was a tireless advocate for environmental justice in North Brooklyn. This street renaming will memorialize her fierce advocacy that helped to change our community and inspire younger generations to keep her work going.”