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Meet the Mayor of Rockefeller Center

By Julie Smith SchneiderFeb 23 2021
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“We often call Rockefeller Center the heart of New York,” says Jordan Sandridge, a member of the property management team at Rockefeller Center. “And CJ is the heart of Rockefeller Center.” CJ—aka Correll Jones, a stalwart of Rockefeller Center’s hospitality team and a lifelong New Yorker—is the official Mayor of Rockefeller Center (yes, it’s on his business card), a beloved presence to the people who work here, and a welcoming beacon for visitors.

CJ started his career of 19 years (and going strong) at Rockefeller Center as a greeter in 2002. Before the team at Rockefeller Center recruited him, he worked as a doorman at the University Club of New York on 54th Street for nearly two decades. When he first interviewed at Rockefeller Center, he arrived early and wandered around, surveying the interiors of the buildings and coming to a conclusion: As beautiful as the spaces were, it wasn’t for him. “My personality is too bold to be working inside,” he says. “I'm an outside man.” But, it turned out, the job would actually be working in his preferred location: outside. “I tell people that change is scary, but change is also good,” he says. “I think I made one of the best choices of my life coming here.”

To start each work day, CJ hops on the subway for a 45-minute or so commute from his home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to Rockefeller Center. When he arrives, donning a sharp gray suit and hat, around 8:30 or 8:45 am, he’ll make some rounds to get a pulse on what’s happening around the campus that day. He’ll walk down to the Rink Level to see what restaurants and retail shops are open, then up to the Plaza. He’ll walk to each building to make sure the greeters are in place. “Then, from 10 to a quarter to 6, I’m right in front of 30 Rock helping people,” CJ says. “Basically my job is to make sure everybody is comfortable and feels welcome. To make sure that you get to your destination and that our staff are smiling and engaged in conversation and recognizing returning customers.”

Over the years, CJ has encountered all sorts of people in his line of work: news anchors, TV stars, politicians, and visitors from around the globe. He has met two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Recently, he spotted a mayoral candidate giving an interview in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. “When he finished his interview, I went over and gave him my business card. I said, ‘Let me tell you something. It ain't easy being a mayor,’” CJ says, laughing, “and he got a kick out of that.”

The holiday season at Rockefeller Center is a special time of year for CJ. Well before it was his job to tout all that Rockefeller Center has to offer, he would take his daughter ice skating at The Rink. Now, he takes pleasure in sharing holiday traditions with visitors as well. Some visitors return year after year to see the famed Christmas Tree and skate around the ice rink, yes, but also to greet CJ, who relishes giving them twigs and pine cones from the Tree, as well as seed packets for growing their own Christmas trees, as special souvenirs.

“To me, this is the best city in the world.”
—CJ

Serving as Mayor of Rockefeller Center is central to CJ’s life, but downtime is important, too. Born in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in 1962, he now lives in his Flatbush home with “the boss lady,” his fiancée and partner of many years. He describes himself as a basketball fanatic—the Brooklyn Nets are his favorite team—and a lover of baseball. “Unfortunately, I’m a Mets fan,” he says, nodding to the team’s history of winning (or, rather, not).

His dedication to his sports teams is as fierce as his loyalty to his city. “You can go anywhere in the world and you’ll never find nothing like New York City,” CJ says. “The culture, the nationalities—you don’t find that nowhere else but New York. We are strong people. It’s a 24-hour town. To me, this is the best city in the world.”

Aside from Rockefeller Center, his favorite spots in New York City are Barclays Center (home to the Nets, of course), 14th Street in Manhattan, and Central Park, though he tends to spend his weekends relaxing closer to home. “My ideal day off: I’m getting up in the morning, going to get the newspaper. I’ll watch a little Jerry Springer. I’ll go out and take a walk, have some lunch, come back home. That’s a typical Saturday,” CJ says. In the summer, he likes to take his 10-year-old granddaughter to the park and to Wendy’s, her favorite, for meals together. “I’m a typical old G-pa, just doing his grandfather duties.”

Early in the pandemic, CJ and many of the tenants were away from Rockefeller Center for a bit. When The Tonight Show filmed its first episode back at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, after a stint of running the show remotely, CJ made a cameo in a segment with host Jimmy Fallon, both safely donning masks. (You can spot CJ at the 37-second mark of this clip.) Adjusting to the new normal of life during this time has required some ingenuity. As a people-person known for his broad smile and friendly handshake, CJ has developed new ways to make his welcoming spirit known: He’s been perfecting the art of smiling with his eyes. “Even with a mask, you can still hear his big laugh,” says his colleague Sandridge. “It’s a full-body laugh.”

Returning to Rockefeller Center gave CJ a fresh perspective after almost two decades on staff. “I really took a look at all of the buildings. I had started to take the beauty for granted,” CJ says. “It took me a pandemic to realize that this is an iconic place. When they built it, they really built it. This whole complex is just unbelievable. There’s no place like Rockefeller Center.”


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