May 18, 2017 • $1.00 Volume 87 • Number 20
The Paper of Record for Greenwich Village, East Village, Lower East Side, Soho, Union Square, Chinatown and Noho, Since 1933
Durst admits funding Pier55 suit, proving ‘Novo’ suspicion true BY LINCOLN ANDERSON
ollowing a federal judge’s stunning ruling in March that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had wrongfully issued a permit for the Pier55 project in Hudson River Park, Michael Novogratz and Tom Fox — as Villager readers have witnessed — have jousted at each other in the pages of this newspaper. The judge on that case,
Lorna Schofield, ruled that the Army Corps violated the federal Clean Water Act by fi nding that the “basic use” of Pier55 — a $200 million “entertainment pier” planned for off of W. 13th St. — was “water dependent.” Schofield scoffed that the project obviously did not need to be on a pier in the river, and there was absolutely no reason why it could not be sited on land. PARK continued on p. 12
At $33,000 a month, will the show go on at Cornelia St. Café? BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC
obin Hirsch is a storyteller. The longtime owner of the Cornelia Street Café in the Village can pontificate about everything from coffee to avant-garde theater to enumerating the artists the cafe has boosted and hosted to chronicling the history of his almost 40-year-old business. But now Hirsch is caught up in a narrative that some small
business owners say is bedeviling them: The (commercial) rent is too damn high. “We opened a little oneroom cafe with a toaster oven and rent was $450 a month. This was in 1977,” Hirsch, 74, told The Villager recently at the cafe, at 29 Cornelia St. Now, he said, his rent is $29,000 plus change, and including his share of real estate taxes for the building, it comes CORNELIA continued on p. 10
PHOTO BY Q. SAKAMAKI
With lion dancers, fittingly, Daredevil Tattoo, which is located in Chinatown, recently celebrated its 20th anniversar y. It’s also 20 years since the cit y legalized tattooing. See Page 4.
Marte’s journey comes full circle in Council race BY YUKIE OHTA
hat makes someone go into politics? As a person who has had little involvement in politics on any level, but who has lately become interested in getting involved on the local level, I was curious to know what compels someone to
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seek to enter public service. In my quest to find out, I asked Christopher Marte out to coffee the other day, so I could pick his brain. Marte is running for City Council in District 1, which covers most of Lower Manhattan, including Greenwich Village, the East Village, Noho, Soho, Tribeca, the Financial District, Chinatown, Two Bridges and his home turf,
the Lower East Side, plus Governors Island — and, for some odd reason, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the piers surrounding it — comprising a most ethnically, linguistically and financially diverse constituency. I first met Marte at a Soho community event and was fascinated by this young newMARTE continued on p. 30
David Leslie is on the expansion committee and is helping them search for more space.
LITTLE MISH’S BIG NIGHT: The Little Missionary’s Day Nursery Sara Curry Awards and fundraiser last Thursday was definitely the best one yet in the last 11 years. The parents raised a cool $46,000 through an auction on Bidpal (an auction using smart phones). Comedian Jim Gaffigan — three of whose five kids have attended the school — was the hilarious headliner at the event, held this year at the new Grand Hall event space in the basement of St. Mary’s Church, on Grand St. Meredith Monk also performed, wowing the crowd with her ethereal tonal poetry, John Giorno riffed a poetic trip on God and atheism, and Herman Hewitt, the historic St. Mark’s Place school’s chairperson and a longtime leader at Community Board 3, was the evening’s “surprise honoree.” Hewitt, also the chairperson of the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association, took his turn at the mic to
PETROSINO LEO: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio will be making a movie about Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino, the hero Italian-American cop who battled the notorious Black Hand, the Mafia’s precursor, more than 100 years ago. The organized-crime thugs preyed on Little Italy residents and were big on bombs, which led to the creation of the Police Department’s Italian Squad, later known as the Bomb Squad. Petrosino, nicknamed the “Detective in a Derby,” went undercover to Sicily, where he was gunned down by the mob while at a cafe. Apparently, DiCaprio will play Petrosino, though he might have to pack on a few pounds to portray the legendary lawman, who, built like a bull, was a bit stockier than him. The buzz is it could be an Oscar-winning role.
PHOTO BY LIZ MARIE SANDERS
Jim Gaffigan joked that after Donald Trump’s victor y, when he was walking around in the East Village, he felt people were thinking about him, “You did it!”
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May 18, 2017
blast President Donald Trump, though without mentioning him by name. “I’m an immigrant,” Hewitt, a Jamaican native, told the audience. “Each of us in this room is either an immigrant or descendant of immigrants. You don’t need anyone to tell you that you have to make America great again,” he declared to applause. Gaffigan somehow was able to poke fun at his wife, Jeannie’s, recent surgery. “My wife had a brain tumor, the size of a pear,” he said. “It’s gone, and so is my ability to win an argument with her. ... Why are tumors always compared to fruits?” he pondered, noting that big ones are called “the size of a grapefruit,” which is kind of tough on grapefruits. We enjoyed catching up with Little Mish parents Chris and Ally Ryan. Why, it wasn’t that long ago that we used to see Chris zipping around with the Critical Mass cyclists while videotaping the cops. He’s now a semi-mainstream dad — and his new gluten-free diet may well be contributing to his newfound “serenity.” As for Little Mish, Hewitt and the school’s legendary director, Eileen Johnson, confirmed that the school — which now serves kids ages 2 to 6 — is planning to add grades K through five. The school has huge classrooms, and will be able to do it by combining grades K/1, 2/3 and 4/5, she told us. “If demand grows we would need more space,” she said. “We’re looking to find more space for the coming years. Basically, we have three rooms that could serve as classrooms for the next few years.” Super-dad
NEW PARK BOSS: George Vellonakis, who designed the reconstruction of Washington Square Park about 10 years ago, has been tapped to be the park’s new administrator — as well as the executive director of the Washington Square Park Conservancy. He fills the dual roles previously occupied by Sarah Nielsen, who has departed for a new job at the Parks Department’s parks planning division. Nielsen was the park’s administrator since March 2013. Cathryn Swan, who writes the Washington Square Park Blog, raises some interesting points: “Her leaving the job brings up some questions — Was it her decision to leave? What role did the Washington Square Park Conservancy play here? And is the private organization seeking to sketchily expand its turf at the park now?” However, Rich Caccappolo, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Parks Committee, didn’t see any major conspiracy. “I was told that the opportunity that opened up in the Parks Department was more in line with what she had studied in school and had done previously in her career,” he told us. Vellonakis’s salary will be between $85,000 and $95,000. Of course, the park’s redesign — which included shifting the fountain slightly east to “center” it with the arch, a move many thought ludicrous — was fought bitterly by some, including with a lawsuit. Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, greeted the news of Vellonakis’s appointment with a blog post calling him the “Washington Sq. Park redesign nemesis.” Vellonakis also did the redesign for Abingdon Square, which some Westbeth activists fought tooth and nail, warning, among other things, that because some trees would be cut down, people on certain medications would get skin cancer. Vellonakis, who lives in the Village, is cool. But, from what we know of him, he won’t be a shrinking violet, so to speak, if park redesign-haters confront him. ... Well, this could be interesting. SCOOPY’S continued on p. 3 TheVillager.com
Scoopy’s Notebook SCOOPY’S continued from p. 2
some musical accompaniment to a disc of poetry by Anthony Haden-Guest. Among some of A.H.G.’s rhymes that caught our ear: “Back in that old and golden age, after the pill and before the plagues,” and “Cocaine whores shoplifting in convenience stores. …” Oh yes, the world-famous Elsa Rensaa — artist and Clayton’s wife — was also in the studio! Check out the radio segment at https://www.mixcloud. com/8ballradio/the-clayton-pattersonshow-w-the-villager-editor-in-chief-lincoln-anderson/ .
Annika Malloy-Good Sanchala.
OH, BABY: Congratulations to Sarah Sanchala, Assemblymember Deborah Glick’s chief of staff, and her husband, Neil Sanchala, on the birth of their daughter, Annika Malloy-Good Sanchala, on May 5 at New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. “Kieran is thrilled to finally meet his baby sister,” Sarah said, “but even more so that she gave him presents when they met.” They got Kieran a toolset and blanket and wrapped them and said they were from Annika. Hey, that’s a good way to nip any nascent sibling jealousy in the bud! Neil is a software engineer at Blue Apron. BACK IN BUSINESS: The gate on Jerry Delakas’s Astor Place newsstand had been closed during the day whenever we passed by recently, making us wonder if the longtime vendor was O.K. Jerry’s friend Marty Tessler, who lives at the nearby Stewart House, also worried about him, and was unable to raise him on his cell phone. “Great news,” Tessler reported Tuesday. “He’s O.K. He was back at stand today. He lost his cell phone, but stayed home due to weather all these months.”
CLAYTON RADIO: In case you didn’t know, Clayton Patterson has a show on 8 Ball Radio. The Lower East Side documentarian has always had the gift of gab and it serves him well behind the microphone. This past Tuesday, Patterson had Lincoln Anderson, The Villager’s editor in chief, on the show, taped in the storefront window at his Essex St. gallery / home. Topics ranged from Sunday’s tragic Norfolk St. synagogue fire to the battle to save the Elizabeth St. Garden to gentrification and bar oversaturation. A special dropin guest was composer Keith Patchel, who back in his punk-rocker days played guitar with Richard Lloyd and now, with his Mars Band, is collaborating with Carter Emmart’s digital trip to Mars at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Patchel also recently contributed TheVillager.com
Kristen Browde hopes her candidac y will “trans”-cend histor y.
TRANS-EVENT: We hear that Kristen Browde — a transgender woman running for supervisor in New Castle, which includes Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua — will be holding a fundraiser at the Stonewall Inn on Wed., June 28, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. A longtime Villager who is helping organize the event, who requested anonymity, told us, “Her candidacy is historic, as she seems to be the first trans candidate to run for office with the backing of a major political party. Democrats, obviously! Historic bar, historic candidacy.” Kristen, who used to be known as David Browde, worked for 30 years as a reporter for NBC and CBS in New York City. LOOK EAST, YOUNG MAN: When we passed by the former Soho Square — redubbed Spring Street Park — at Sixth Ave. one night a couple of weeks ago, hard hats were getting ready to hoist General Jose Artigas off his pedestal, so he could be taken away for a sprucing-up. One of the crew helpfully told us that the statue would be returned, but would be rotated in the opposite direction to look westward down Dominick St. However, Jonathan Kuhn, director of art and antiquities, for the city’s Parks Department, told us this week that while it’s true the general will be shifted slightly north in the park, he will still be looking eastward once reinstalled. May 18, 2017
Marking 20 years of legal tattooing Named best weekly newspaper in New York State in 2001, 2004 and 2005 by New York Press Association News Story, First Place, 2015 Editorial Page, First Place, 2015 Editorials, First Place, 2014 News Story, First Place, 2014 Overall Design Excellence, First Place, 2013 Best Column, First Place, 2012 Photographic Excellence, First Place, 2011 Spot News Coverage, First Place, 2010 Coverage of Environment, First Place, 2009
PUBLISHER JENNIFER GOODSTEIN
EDITOR IN CHIEF LINCOLN ANDERSON
ARTS EDITOR SCOTT STIFFLER
CONTRIBUTORS ALBERT AMATEAU IRA BLUTREICH TINA BENITEZ-EVES SARAH FERGUSON BOB KRASNER TEQUILA MINSKY CLAYTON PATTERSON JEFFERSON SIEGEL SHARON WOOLUMS
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ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES GAYLE GREENBURG JIM STEELE JULIO TUMBACO
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May 18, 2017
aredevil Tattoo recently celebrated two decades of transforming human beings into amazing canvases. This year also happens to be the 20th anniversary of tattooing’s legalization in New York City. In a December 2014 article in The Villager, Dusica Sue Malesevic profiled Michelle Myles, Daredevil’s co-owner (“Female tattoo artists are really making their mark”). In 1989, Myles moved from Ferguson, Missouri to attend Parsons to study art. She had gotten her first tattoo during high school. Eventually, she started doing tattoos herself in 1991. Two years later, she moved to Ludlow St., which was then a very different neighborhood. “The first place that I had was across from the old Daredevil, an apartment I rented as a studio,” she recalled. “But that was when tattooing was illegal, so there was no sign out front or anything.” Back then, Myles explained, the tattooing scene was far more intimate. “You at least knew of everybody else who was tattooing in town,” she said. “It was a much more closed sort of thing. It was more about a couple individual artists that didn’t have shops.” Since tattooing was still underground then, it was difficult to learn how to do it, Clayton Patterson told Malesevic. In 1986, Patterson and Ari Roussimoff took over what was a tattoo-and-body art society and formed the Tattoo Society of New York. The club provided a sense of protection and community, Patterson said. He explained that it was a city Department of Health offense if anyone was caught doing ink, and the city could shut an artist’s operation down at any time. Meetings were held at famed Downtown haunts like the Pyramid Club and CBGB. “It was a very exciting time in New York,” Patterson said. In 1997, the tattoo ban was finally lifted. Yet, many inkers were not happy about legalization. “A lot of them were really opposed to legalization because when tattooing was illegal and underground, it was a hidden economy,” Patterson said. “A lot of people like that sort of outlaw lifestyle.” Similarly, Myles said when she first heard tattooing would be legalized, she considered it a calamity. “Now, I love my shop and it all worked out,” she told Malesevic. “But at the time, it was the worst thing possible because I wasn’t prepared for it.”
PHOTOS BY Q. SAKAMAKI
Michelle Myles, co-owner of Daredevil Tattoo, was enjoying the 20th anniversar y par ty for her business a few weeks ago. She and Brad Fink first opened the tattoo parlor on Ludlow St. in 1997. About four-and-a-half years ago, they moved to 141 Division St., in Chinatown. The place also now spor ts a tattoo museum, featuring vintage tools of the trade and patterns.
Since Daredevil Tattoo is now located in Chinatown, it was a natural to celebrate its 20th anniversar y with some skillful lion dancing.
The event drew a thoroughly cool — and heavily inked — crowd. TheVillager.com
TOP DRIVER DISTRACTIONS Using mobile phones Leading the list of the top distractions behind the wheel are mobile phones. Phones now do more than just place calls, and drivers often cannot pull away from their phones, even when driving. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, studies have shown that driving performance is lowered and the level of distraction is higher for drivers who are heavily engaged in cell
phone conversations. The use of a hands-free device does not lower distraction levels. The percentage of vehicle crashes and nearcrashes attributed to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening.
Daydreaming Many people will admit to daydreaming behind the wheel or looking at a person or object outside of the car for too long. Per-
haps they’re checking out a house in a new neighborhood or thought they saw someone they knew on the street corner. It can be easy to veer into the direction your eyes are focused, causing an accident. In addition to trying to stay focused on the road, some drivers prefer the help of lane departure warning systems.
Eating Those who haven’t quite mastered walking and
chewing gum at the same time may want to avoid eating while driving. The majority of foods require a person’s hands to be taken off of the wheel and their eyes to be diverted from the road. Reaching in the back seat to share some French fries with the kids is also distracting. Try to eat meals before getting in the car. For those who must snack while en route, take a moment to pull over at
a rest area and spend 10 minutes snacking there before resuming the trip.
Reading Glancing at an advertisement, updating a Facebook status or reading a book are all activities that should be avoided when driving. Even pouring over a traffic map or consulting the digital display of a GPS system can be distracting.
May 18, 2017
Fire destroys historic Norfolk St. synagogue BY LINCOLN ANDERSON
fire that broke out early Sunday evening gutted the historic Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue on Norfolk St., between Grand and Broome Sts. It took firefighters three hours to bring the roaring blaze under control. Fire marshals are investigating the cause of the fire. Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also visited the site Monday because the fire involved a house of worship, the New York Post reported. News reports said video showed three minors fleeing from the area on Sunday. On Tuesday, DNAinfo reported that police believe it was, in fact, arson. The building was landmarked in 1967. Founded in 1852, it was the oldest Russian Jewish orthodox synagogue in the U.S., but was abandoned 10 years ago. It was originally a Baptist church until being bought by a group of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants who converted it into a synagogue. Holly Kaye, the founder of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, said trespassers had been climbing up onto the building on its fire escape in recent weeks, according to the Post. The conservancy asked the Fire Department to remove the fire escape, but it refused to do so. “It seems like it was malicious nonsense from kids playing around,” Kaye said. Kaye said the congregation and the Chinese American Planning Council had been working on a deal to fund the synagogue’s renovations, the Post reported. It would have involved the council buying air rights from the synagogue to construct a high-rise building on a rear lot. The synagogue also would have built a Jewish-Chinese center with a worship space. “We were all set. A developer was going to come and renovate the synagogue and everything,’’ said its rabbi, Mendel Greenbaum. Speaking on his show on 8 Ball Radio on Monday, L.E.S. documentarian Clayton Patterson noted that kids had been caught trying to start a fire in the synagogue just a couple of weeks ago. “I can’t believe they didn’t use an accelerant,” he said of Sunday’s inferno. “It went up like a fireball. How much did they pay them?” he wondered. The synagogue’s exterior had been marked with orange boxes with “X” ’s in them — a sign to firefighters not to enter due to unsafe conditions. In 2013, the congregation, lacking funds to fix up the building and filed an application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to demolish it, with plans to develop the property residentially. But the congregation had a change of heart and was recently meeting with L.P.C. and the Department of Buildings in hopes of renovating the building, the Post said. In 2006, a storm blew out the place’s main window, and the conservancy made the synagogue’s restoration its top goal. As The Villager reported, plans called for a visitors’ center to be a meeting point for walking tours. There would have also been space for cultural programs, art exhibitions and concerts and lectures. “We see this as our signature project,” Kaye said back then. Also in 2006, then-City Councilmember Alan Gerson praised the effort to fix up the synagogue. “This is another step toward the continued rebirth and revitalization of the Lower East Side, as manifested by this magnificent edifice, this historic synagogue,” he told The Villager.
May 18, 2017
PHOTOS BY CLAYTON PATTERSON
An aerial shot from a neighboring high-rise’s roof shows the extent of the disastrous fire that gutted the synagogue.
It took firefighters about three hours to put out the blaze. TheVillager.com
POLICE BLOTTER Hit his daughter According to police, on Thurs., April 21, at 9:30 p.m. a young girl was assaulted by her father inside 60 E. Eighth St. The dad reportedly hit the 10-year-old on her back with his hand, causing substantial pain. Shoaib S. Harris, 35, was arrested Thurs., May 11, for aggravated criminal contempt, a felony, which involves a violation of an order of protection.
Un-fast, un-furious Police said that on Thurs., May 11, at 3:27 p.m. a man tried to steal a car from a garage at 300 Mercer St. A garage employee told cops he saw the suspect enter the place and get into a white Range Rover that the employee knew did not belong to the suspect. The carâ€™s keys had been left in its cup holder, and the man promptly started the vehicleâ€™s ignition. The employee approached and questioned the suspect, who exited the car and eventually left. Jason Strother, 25, was arrested for attempted felony grand larceny.
Bopped by bottle A woman became irate and lashed out when asked to leave a CVS store at 360 Sixth Avenue on Tues., May 2, at 5:20 a.m., according to police. When the suspect entered the establishment, an employee, 31, braced for trouble based on prior encounters with her. When the woman was asked to leave, she became â€œangry and erraticâ€? and hit the employee with a water
bottle, causing pain, bleeding from the nose and swelling. Claudia Peebles, 24, was arrested Wed., May 10, for felony assault.
Phone felon A woman was exiting the subway at the northwest corner of Seventh Ave. and W. 14th St. at 2:15 p.m. on Fri., April 21, when a stranger grabbed her cell phone, according to police. When the victim, 23, tried to pull away from the suspect, he punched her on her left cheek and ear and ran away with her phone and other items, police said. Unauthorized charges totaling $575.42 were made on the credit card before the victim could cancel it. The victim reported the robbery an hour and forty-five minutes after it happened. Wilfredo Serrano, 15, was arrest Mon., May 8, for felony robbery.
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â€˜Jumper upâ€™ on Pitt The Breaking News wire service reported a â€œjumper upâ€? â€” a man threatening to jump â€” from 91 Pitt St., a six-story building on the Lower East Side, on Thurs., May 11, around 3:30 a.m. According to Breaking News, Emergency Service Unit police responded, and by 4:50 p.m. they had the man in custody. The Police Department press office did not immediately confirm the report.
Tabia Robinson and Lincoln Anderson
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At $33,000 a month, will show go on at Cornelia St.? CORNELIA continued from p. 1
to $33,000 a month. For 30 years, the cafe had a lease that tied the rent to the consumer price index, so that in certain years, “the building benefited and in other years we benefited,” Hirsch said. The property’s ownership has changed hands many times, with Hirsch and his two former business partners having mulled buying the building twice. The original landlord asked the three artists if they wanted to buy it about six months after the cafe opened, Hirsch recalled. “If we could have come up with $45,000…we would not be having this interview,” he said. “That was an inconceivable amount of money for three starving artists.” Hirsch said they opened the cafe “by each of us rustling up $2,500 apiece.” Sometime around the early 1990s, the trio came up with a $100,000 deposit for the building but somebody else beat them to the punch. Mark Scharfman purchased the property around 15 years ago, Hirsch said. “Our original lease expired 10 years ago and you could hear him salivating in Westchester,” Hirsch said. “And at that point, we were at market rent. What the brilliant thing about this original lease was, as I said, some years it benefited the landlord, some years it benefited us. And we were exactly at market rate.” Hirsch said they had been paying $12,000 a month, but after the lease renewal, the rent jumped to $18,000 in 2007. “I knew when this was coming up for renewal, there was going to be some increase,” he said, adding that, through an attorney, he made an offer for a 15 percent increase for a 10year lease but was denied. Instead, the lease was renewed for five years with a whopping 50 percent — or $9,000 — increase. Landlord Scharfman said, “No comment, thank you,” and hung up before this newspaper could even ask him a question. “Rent’s certainly not going to go down in the foreseeable future,” Hirsch said, “unless the city says this is something that really does need protection.” (The Villager has reported extensively on the proposed Small Business Jobs Survival Act, and other pieces of legislation that address the issue of commercial rent increases.) On Wed., May 10, the office of City Councilmember Corey Johnson convened a meeting that included the city’s Department of Small Business Services, the Greenwich VillageChelsea Chamber of Commerce, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and Hirsch “to come up with a plan for
May 18, 2017
PHOTOS BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC
Robin Hirsch, longtime owner of the Cornelia St. Café. Since 2012, the cafe has its own label of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Cornelia Street Cafe hosts an ar t exhibition ever y month. The latest installment is por traits of women who have undergone or are about to undergo surger y to repair obstetric fistula. The Kupona Foundation sent ar tist Jac Saorsa to Tanzania to paint the por traits, cafe owner Robin Hirsch said.
how New York City government and the community can help the Cornelia Street Café survive and thrive,” Erik Bottcher, Johnson’s chief of staff, said in an e-mail. Hirsch and Sam Mattingly, who handles the cafe’s public relations, had approached Johnson and Mayor Bill de
Blasio at a recent town hall. Mattingly said, at the May 10 meeting, they talked about the plight of small businesses and skyrocketing rents. “The cafe has a history here and it should be protected. These are the places that tourists come to visit,” she said. “They don’t come to visit huge
restaurants — they can stay home and do that. They come to visit what’s New York, and this is New York. Other restaurants on Cornelia St. have also been squeezed out due to high rent. Next door at 31 Cornelia St., Italian restaurant Po, which Hirsch said was closing the day The Villager visited, had a rent increase of 120 percent, according to an April 27 Eater article. Home, another restaurant across the street from the cafe, closed last year. Hirsch noted that the restaurant row at one point won a collective award. “This restaurant row of which we are the grandfathers — it’s shriveling in front of our eyes,” he lamented. The cafe has always been more than a restaurant. Its downstairs — dubbed the Cornelia Street Underground — is a performance space that hosts poetry, literature, science talks, musicians, puppets, singers and actors, among other things. David Amram, 86, the legendary musician and composer, has been playing at the cafe for about 12 years. “It remains a wonderful experience to be there,” he told The Villager in a telephone interview. “People coming into Cornelia Street get an image of what the Village was and still is in spite of the colossal rents.” Amram lived in the Village for decades before eventually relocating to Beacon, N.Y. He plays piano, French horn, flute, and sings, and does what he called “spontaneous scat.” “The Cornelia Street Café today is a reflection of that amazing community sense that was all over the Village,” he said. “The rent that Robin is being charged is so outrageous,” he said, “it would be just about impossible to stay in business unless you were a multizillionaire.” Since October, Hirsch said, the performance space has been “under the umbrella” of Fractured Atlas; people can make donations to the nonprofit — which takes a small percentage — for the Cornelia Street Underground. Hirsch is working on getting the cafe’s performance aspect its own nonprofit status. “The arts programming that we do is so large and varied that it would deserve to become its own not-for-profit,” he said. “That would be one way of helping to pay the rent.” Meanwhile, the cafe’s 40th birthday, which Hirsch said they celebrate on July 4, is coming up. He said that, through the decades, the cafe has “sustained” him. “The three of us who started it — it enabled us to pursue our art,” he said. “I’ve written two books, both of which began here. It’s been a symbiotic relationship. We have championed all kinds of arts, and, in the same breath, it has enabled me to do my own stuff.” TheVillager.com
PHOTO BY C4P
The private car ting-company truck that fatally struck a woman on Six th Ave. Tuesday evening.
Woman is killed by garbage truck on Sixth Ave.
60-year-old woman died after being mowed down by a private sanitation truck at the intersection of W. Eighth St. and Greenwich and Sixth Aves. on Tues., May 16, around 11:40 p.m. According to police,
the woman was crossing from the north to the south side of the street and the truck was traveling eastbound from Greenwich Ave. Police found the victim lying in the street, unconscious and unresponsive, with severe body trauma.
E.M.S. transported her to Lenox Health Greenwich Village, at W. 12th St. and Seventh Ave., in life-threatening condition, where she was pronounced dead. Police are not releasing the woman’s identity yet, pending family notification.
The garbage truck was operated by M&M Sanitation Corp. Its 46-year-old driver remained at the scene. The investigation is ongoing. As of Wednesday, there were no arrests and no charges filed against the driver.
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May 18, 2017
Durst admits he funded Pier55 lawsuit, proving PARK continued from p. 1
The pier’s construction, plus its programming and maintenance for the foreseeable future, were all to be funded mostly by a massive cash gift from media mogul Barry Diller and his wife, fashion legend Diane von Furstenberg. According to Fox, the Hudson River Park Trust — the state-city authority that operates the 5-mile-long waterfront park — and the Army Corps have until May 22 to say whether they plan to appeal the ruling. If not, then the ambitious project would have to be redesigned and go through the entire approval and permitting process all over again from square one. Fox and his co-plaintiff, Rob Buchanan — both members of The City Club of New York — crowed over their lawsuit’s favorable outcome. Meanwhile, Novogratz, an uberwealthy hedge-funder “master of the universe” and chairperson of the Friends of Hudson River Park, hit the roof — as seen in the letters he wrote to The Villager, blasting the City Club plaintiffs as “crusty,” washed-up activists desperate to remain relevant. A veteran waterfront park activist, Fox led the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the Trust’s predecessor, and was intimately involved in the riverSERVING MANHATTAN AND THE ENTIRE TRI-STATE AREA
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At the 2016 Friends of Hudson River Park Gala fundraiser at Chelsea Piers, from left, Michael Novogratz, chairperson of the Friends’ board of directors, A ssemblymember Richard Gottfried and Scott Lawin, the vice chairperson of the Friends.
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front park’s early planning. Buchanan is a boating enthusiast who savors rowing in the river’s traditional Whitehall craft, which today are built at Pier 40. In a recent interview with The Villager, Novogratz, who goes by “Novo” for short, didn’t change his tune. In fact, he further charged that developer Douglas Durst, the scion of the Durst Organization and himself a former chairperson of the Friends of Hudson River Park, has actually been funding the City Club lawsuits against the Pier55 project because he is unhealthily “obsessed” with the park. Other park activists had also grumbled that they suspected Durst of fi nancially fueling the litigation. In a Villager exclusive, Durst last week admitted to the newspaper that, it’s actually true — he did fund the lawsuit. Novogratz accused Fox and Buchanan of fi ling “five lawsuits” against Pier55, “to try to stop a public project that did go through a complete vetting process with elected officials and community boards, who all support it. The Trust is representative government — its members are appointed by the mayor and governor,” he added. (In fact, there are only three lawsuits, though there have been some appeals.) In addition, he said, he and others have long suspected that Durst has been funding the lawsuits. “It feels like a conspiracy,” No-
‘It’s bulls--- to pitch this as a rich guy’s project.’ Michael Novogratz vogratz said, “by funding by Durst and a group of old guys who still want to seem relevant. Durst seems obsessed with the park. “It’s hard to get people inspired to do public / private projects,” Novogratz noted. “He’s ready to spend a quarter-million dollars to give a gift to the city,” he said of Diller. “It’s one thing if there was major opposition to this project — but it’s three or four grumpy old men. “This club was dead,” he complained of the City Club, like others, charging that the group seemed only to revive itself to fight Pier55. “It’s completely obstructionist,” he
PARK continued on p. 13
‘Novo’ suspicions true
Developer Douglas Durst in One Byrant Park, one of the high-rise buildings his company constructed and owns, with a view of the Hudson River in the background. PARK continued from p. 12
said of the litigation. “I don’t get it, I completely don’t get it. Good public citizenship doesn’t mean getting in the way of something just to feel relevant.” Fox says he’d like to see the former Pier 54 rebuilt in its original footprint, and have historic ships dock there, as outlined in the original Hudson River Park Act of 1998. That was the very pier where the Carpathia dropped the Titanic’s survivors. The Trust, however, not long ago stripped the crumbling concrete decking off Pier 54, as it pushed forward with its plan to build Pier55 on a new footprint between the old pile fields of Piers 54 and 56. Novogratz scoffed at Fox’s fi xation on the historic waterfront. “If you ask the whole community, ‘Would you rather have historic ships tethered to a pier or a dynamic arts pier — you should poll people — you’ll be about 95 to 5 in favor of an
arts pier,” he said. “Tom Fox is part of a small — but vocal — minority. It’s actually Looney Tunes.” In fact, Novogratz said, Fox, while claiming merely to be doing a civic duty, is doing just the opposite. “It’s not very patriotic what he’s doing,” Novogratz said. “He calls himself a patriot, ‘he’s standing up for the city, he’s standing up for the little man.’ … I mean, ask some people in Tribeca or in the West Village — who doesn’t want to sit and watch some bluegrass? “It’s bulls--- to pitch this as a rich guy’s project,” Novogratz further fumed. “It’s a rich guy paying for it, but the events would be $5 or free… some would cost more.” As for Durst, the fi nancial tycoon said, “He feels like he deserves to make all the decisions in the park, and that’s not the way it works. He doesn’t work well in a group. It was his way or the highway.”
PARK continued on p. 19
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May 18, 2017
Special-ed would be hit bigly by Trumpcare BY DODGE L ANDESMAN
T It takes a Villager. Your local news source
The Paper of Record for Greenwich Village, East Village, Lower East Side, Soho, Union Square, Chinatown and Noho, Since 1933
June 16, 2016 • $1.00 Volume 86 • Number 24
Critics blast landmark bill as ‘anti-preservation’; Say ‘loophole’ offers little hope BY YANNIC R ACK
contentious bill that will put deadlines on the city’s preservation agency to designate landmarks within two years was passed by the City Council last week. There was heavy opposition from preservationists and even initial disapproval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission itself — but the measure might be moot due
to a loophole, according to its chief critics. The legislation, Intro 775A, mandates that L.P.C. vote within one year to designate proposed individual landmarks, and take no longer than two years to vote on proposed historic districts — limits that the bill’s opponents charge could lead to the loss of countless potential landmarks. LANDMARKS continued on p. 12
Hoylman pushes Albany to pass child sex-abuse reform, but Senate stalls BY MICHAEL OSSORGUINE
he Omnibus Child Victims Act, or Senate Bill S6367, is the latest effort from state Democrats to reform the statute of limitations on victims of child sexual abuse. The bill, though still in committee, has momentum in the Senate as victims are stepping forward
and Senate Democrats are arguing against entrenched opposition. State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced the Senate version of the bill with several co-sponsors, including Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democratic Conference. ABUSE continued on p. 14
PHOTO BY TEQUILA MINSKY
Thousands of points of light: Monday night’s vigil stretched along Christopher St. from Waverly Place to Seventh Ave. South.
‘We shall overcome’: Vigils draw thousands to Village BY PAUL SCHINDLER
n two vigils in the West Village on Sunday evening, one crowd numbering in the thousands, another in the hundreds voiced shock, grief, and anger over the murder of 50 patrons of an Orlando, Florida, gay bar in the early morning hours of the same day. Speaker after speaker emphasized that the violence cannot be isolated from a climate of anti-L.G.B.T. hatred that continues to persist across the nation, but also pledged to continue building community to respond to hostility and bigotry where it exists.
At the same time, both crowds rejected the notion that hate is an appropriate response to the violence and speciﬁcally called out efforts to pit the L.G.B.T. community against the Muslim community over a tragedy in which the shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, is reported to have phoned 911 just prior to the massacre and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. Ken Kidd, a member of Queer Nation New York, took the lead in organizing a rally outside the Stonewall Inn that drew several thousand people. “We come together because this is a community that will
never be silent again,” he said. “I ask every person to think of someone you knew who was killed because of anti-L.G.B.T. hatred. Think of a time when you felt unsafe in your own community. And I want every single one of you to think not of what anyone else, not of what I, but of what you can do to change that.” Kidd said the L.G.B.T. community should draw strength from the 49 patrons of the Pulse nightclub who were killed. “We must go forward in love,” he said. Mirna Haidar, a representaVIGILS continued on p. 5
Graffiti artist tags Haring group in lawsuit ...... p. 16 Remembering Ramrod rampage of 1980.........p. 21 Here comes the sun energy...p. 18
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May 18, 2017
he repeal of the Affordable Care Act will have a significant impact on many Americans. But, for me, as a former special-education student, it hit particularly close to home. Already, there are myriad issues with the special-education process. However, at least once you’re admitted, the amenities for children are second to none. Special education is about much more than just small class sizes and more individualized attention from educators. The beauty of special-education schools is that they serve as the ultimate equalizer. At my former school, Gateway, which was at E. 14th St. and First Ave. when I went there, there were a mix of students with both learning disabilities and special needs. Special needs are less learning-based and describe both physical, speech and emotional barriers facing students. For example, students with MS or who are wheelchair-bound have aides who can assist their mobilization throughout the day. Those with severe disabilities — not being about to lift their hands to eat, not being able to chew, etc. — also have assistance, so that they can finally have a good education, instead of being institutionalized or homeschooled. Students with emotional disabilities — such as, issues with anger or keeping still — also get a certified aide to keep them levelheaded throughout the day. For students like myself in this situation, with extreme ADHD (attentiondeficit/hyperactivity disorder), they get time with a physical therapist one or two hours a day, during which they can learn techniques to sit and pay attention, and work off some of than unneeded energy in a welcoming environment. This was a helpful tool for me since I was able to get some exercise, plus learn behavioral techniques, allowing me to be calm and ready once class commenced. Students with speech issues, from the severe, such as not being able to communicate — due to autism, for example — to those with stuttering, are also assisted in a variety of ways through these aides. Essentially, what these tools indicate to students with these needs is, “You’re still valued, you’re still able to learn, and these physical and emotional barriers, that are not your fault, can be worked out so you can get a quality education.” Unfortunately, President Trump seems determined to leave those students behind. In this new bill, Medicaid expenses will be cut drastically, and the first cuts will be for Medicaid payments to these aides for students most in need. Since these aides perform tasks that are technically “non-education-related,” their work is considered to be under the healthcare versus education category. Needless to say, they are enhancing students’ edu-
Dodge Landesman says Trumpcare’s redefining special-ed aides as healthcare workers is a recipe for disaster.
cational environment, and their work certainly is related to education. But the classification is such where they are seen uniquely as healthcare providers. The bill has proposed that Medicaid be cut by 25 percent, and specifically, the first thing to go would be extra assistance, as well as medical amenities, in any educational environment. Also, the new bill stipulates that educational institutions would now be ineligible for any Medicaid assistance, which would make restoring funding in the future impossible. The schools would still be required by law to provide help determined to be purely “medical,” but now there would be no assistance. This would cause a domino effect, forcing schools across the country to close, unable to receive the necessary funding. And in the future, more students would be recommended for mainstream education, since the government aims to do all it can so the burden of these special students is no longer on its shoulders. Clearly, the battle to equalize special education will become even more difficult than it is now. Now is the time to write to your congressmember, to your senator, and ask them to speak out publicly against this provision. We need a groundswell of support, and perhaps it’s time to recognize learning-disabled and special-needs students as a marginalized, disenfranchised community. Yes, we are comparatively small in number, but we are entitled to an America that gives us the necessary opportunities to succeed. Under Trump’s America, that won’t be the case. Sad! Landesman is a graduate of Fordham University, and a former member, Community Boards 2 and 6 TheVillager.com
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‘Old guard’ vs. master of the universe and Diller Fox brushed off Novogratz’s disses of the City Club members and the lawsuit against Pier55. “It’s kind of like the old gang is getting together again, very disappointed that the park is being put up for sale,” he said of the club, which includes a number of veteran civic leaders, like preservationists Kent Barwick and Brendan Sexton. “I’m trying to be true to something I started, and not
PARK continued from p. 13
Calling it “a great idea,” though, Novogratz said he supported Durst’s idea for a Neighborhood Improvement District, or NID, for the park, which would have assessed a tax on property owners near the park, with the funds being used for the park’s maintenance and operations. But the Trust stealthily slipped in an amendment to the Hudson River Park Act at the very end of the state Legislature’s session in 2013, authorizing air rights transfers from the park to development sites on the other side of the highway — and the NID died. As for Durst, he had a falling out with the Trust and abruptly quit as the Friends’ chairperson in December 2012. Three months before bolting from the Friends, Durst had pitched a redevelopment plan for Pier 40 — the park’s beloved but deteriorating “family sports pier,” at W. Houston St. — but didn’t get any traction with the Trust or local youth sports-league parents. Durst, obviously very experienced in construction matters, had also recently shown up Trust C.E.O. Madelyn Wils when he publicly stated that Pier 40’s corroded steel support piles could be repaired for as little as one-third the cost that Wils had been citing — $30 million versus $80 million. “He is still deeply committed to the park, but he has a different vision from the Trust of how to move the park forward,” a Durst spokesperson said at the time
‘I did not want a personal battle with Barry Diller.’ Douglas Durst
Durst left the Friends. “He believes all sides have the best interest of the park in their hearts, but it was counterproductive for him to remain in his role as chairman of Friends.” Novogratz, who was then on the Trust’s board of directors, in turn, took over Durst’s former position at the Friends. By that time, the Friends had already turned into the park’s main private-fundraising wing, after having earlier been more of a watchdog group, fighting illegal municipal uses within the park. In an interview last week, Durst said, “I haven’t been involved in the [Pier55] lawsuits in over six months — maybe even longer. And my role was very limited in it.” Durst declined to reveal how much money he had poured into the legal effort. Basically, he said, Riverkeeper initially had been behind the lawsuit, but then dropped out. When the City Club, turn, picked up the ball, Durst kicked in funding to keep the lawsuit going. (According to a source who requested anonymity, Riverkeeper — “much to the chagrin of its staff” — was reportedly pressured to abandon the lawsuit by its two largest donors, who provide most of the environ-
‘We’re not walking away from the ﬁght.’ Tom Fox
Tom Fox is feeling good after a federal judge recently ruled in favor of his lawsuit against the Pier55 project, which he charges star ted off on the wrong foot by being planned and developed in secret.
mental watchdog’s funding and threatened to cut off their cash.) As to Novogratz’s charge that Durst is “obsessed” with the Hudson River Park, the developer said he won’t argue over that, but referred to his track record of leading the Friends for more than a decade. His Durst Organization gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund lawsuits to get the W. 30th St. heliport, Basketball City, the Police Department’s horse stable and the Department of Sanitation garage on Gansevoort Peninsula out of the park. Durst said that, until now, however, he has purposefully kept quiet about his having funded the Pier55 lawsuit. “The reason I did not want my name involved is I did not want this to be a personal battle between me and Barry Diller,” he said. “I have nothing against Diller — except he said he wishes I had been killed by my brother.” That scathing remark referred to Durst’s troubled brother, Robert, who is a suspect in three murders — of his own wife, a friend and a neighbor. Durst said he did not want to comment on the record about Pier55. He was willing to talk about Pier 40, though. “If they had listened to us,” he said of the Trust, “they could have had the pier finished and throwing off money by now, and you wouldn’t have needed airrights transfers.” Durst’s plan for Pier 40 called for redeveloping it with commercial office space — ironically, the same use the Trust is now pushing for. The park act would need to be amended to allow this use, however. Back in 2012, the Trust and local youth-sports leagues instead favored building residential towers at Pier 40, though, which also would have needed an amendment to allow it.
to see it go astray,” Fox said of Hudson River Park. Fox formerly headed up New York Water Taxi and today speaks around the world on ferry and waterfront issues. As for Novogratz’s crack that Fox is just trying to stay relevant, Fox asserted, “Relevant? Relevant to whom? I’m seen by others as an experienced and level hand when it comes to waterfront issues. But they don’t want level-handed, they want to sell the park. “The old guard is very experienced,” Fox declared, “and we’re not walking away from the fight.” Fox and Buchanan charge that the Pier55 project was cooked up in secret by the Trust and Diller and presented to the community as a fait accompli, which flies in the face of the tradition of community-based planning that was a hallmark of Hudson River Park, at least in its earlier days. As for everyone being disappointed over the Pier55 ruling, Fox said, skeptically, “They all come out in such droves to weep over its loss.” Regarding Novogratz saying Fox was being unpatriotic, Fox served in Vietnam. “Two tours,” he noted. “I don’t wear it on my sleeve that I’m right on public issues. What I do is what I feel is right, not what I’m told to do. We spent a long time to get Hudson River Park right. The way I describe myself is a warrior — I’ve been at this 35 years.” Fox used to live on Bank St. in the Village. “Pier 49 is where I used to go just to get away and that was going to be filled in by Westway,” he recalled of how he got involved fighting that mega-development highway / landfill project and, in turn, planning what would become the Hudson River Park. “This is a crime of passion to me,” Fox said of the park. “What I start, I finish.” Novogratz, who got involved in the park about a decade ago, said he did so simply because he and his family loved the park and he wanted to make it even better. Pier55 is just an extension of that, he said. “I did this because I had four kids that played in the park and there seemed to be a need for it,” he said. Asked if he knows whether the Trust will appeal Schofield’s ruling on Pier55, Novogratz said, “I’m staying positive. I think it will get built. It would be a tragedy if it doesn’t get built.”
May 18, 2017
EDITORIAL Nice try, Tucker!
uesday night, City Councilmember Corey Johnson went on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News to discuss his bill that would force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns. Johnson’s measure would require all New York City concession contractors to release their tax returns — but only if they have their personal name on their business. Trump owns the Trump Golf Links on city land in the Bronx. Not surprisingly, Carlson quickly pivoted the discussion to another tangential topic and then argued over that with Johnson. Carlson is a bright guy, but, from what we know of his show, this is his shtick — to wind up berating and badgering his guests over a topic out of left field. In this case, Carlson harangued the councilmember that, basically, he should not be concerned with Trump’s secret tax returns and should instead “do his job” and focus on quality-of-life issues in his Council District 3 (the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen). “You preside over a city that just decriminalized public urination, and you’re taking your time to basically grandstand on the national stage,” Carlson fumed. “How about filling some potholes and arresting some public urinators?” “This is about transparency and public accountability,” Johnson calmly answered. “Penn Station, it’s in your district — it’s a homeless shelter, it’s disgusting,” the anchor blared. Carlson did have one point — that some might say the bill seems to “single out” Trump since it focuses on individuals whose names are emblazoned on their businesses. Government can’t pass laws against individuals, only against behaviors, Carlson noted. Clearly, Johnson has staked out a position as a leader of “the resistance” in New York City. As we reported in last week’s issue, in his annual West Side Summit, Johnson declared the progressive West Side the ground zero of the New York resistance (“Trump trumps all issues at Johnson summit event”). Hey, maybe Carlson actually read our article! If so, at least he’s got good taste in local newspapers. “You give these speeches,” the Fox News talking head fulminated, “I just read one, where you’re like, ‘Trump is bad!’ but you ignore the guy living under the ATM machine or relieving himself… . I go to Penn Station every week. Have you been in the men’s room there?” Johnson smoothly retorted, “Unlike former Republican Senator Larry Craig, I avoid men’s rooms.” Nice one! Hey, Johnson’s good! Maybe he should get his own show on CNN someday. “Do you think the president should release his tax returns?” he came right back at Carlson. “I don’t know,” the Fox mainstay answered. C’mon, Carlson, you’re quoting British legal precdent one moment, but you really can’t answer that one? “Why don’t you get on those bathrooms?” Carlson lamely doubled-down. Johnson smoothly rebutted, “We need an independent counsel” to investigate Trump’s Russian connections, Trump’s real reasons for firing F.B.I. Director James Comey...and on and on and on. ... Let’s get our minds out of the bathroom. We have a president who might not even last 200 days in office. And unlike Carlson, we want Johnson to keep leading the resistance. For the record, Johnson is great on quality-of-life issues. He can do both. Now let’s hope that bill gets signed into law.
May 18, 2017
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Blaz ‘tech hub’ hypocrisy To The Editor: Re “Tech hubbub and rezoning” (editorial, May 11): I strongly agree with this editorial. Mayor de Blasio is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He says that affordable housing is his highest priority. But then he says he wants to put the city’s resources behind taking a site that could provide many affordable units in a good location, and developing a “tech hub” that, as the editorial points out, needs no city support and is developing in the Union Square area on its own. This is hypocrisy of the highest order and will not be forgotten in the mayoral election by Village residents. Katherine Schoonover
Should have been housing To The Editor: Re “Tech hubbub and rezoning” (editorial, May 11): This editorial is right on target. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has done an amazing job of safeguarding the historic buildings and the quality of the built environment in the Village — keeping the area as a magnet for visitors and a livable community for its residents. That has required a continuous battle against developers. They simply do not care a whit about the integrity of neighborhoods. The way the tech industry and architecture firms and other small creative businesses have grown on lower Park Ave. organically has been great. These companies have brought jobs, fresh energies and have helped preserve the beautiful old buildings in the area. If we cannot get affordable housing for the P.C. Richard site, which Mayor de Blasio should have supported — were his priority what he has said it is and not what it really is: catering to developers — we must allow the “tech hub” only if the neighborhood is rezoned in return. This is nonnegotiable. Joanna D. Underwood
Afraid to challenge Atzmon?
atre 80” (talking point, by Lorcan Otway, May 11): So glad that Lorcan Otway stood up to pressure from a small group of people who sought to bully him into canceling an April 30 panel discussion at his legendary Theatre 80 in the East Village. Some of these folks picketed outside the theater mainly because of the presence of one of the four panelists: jazz saxophonist and author Gilad Atzmon, a Jew who lives in London but was born in Israel and is currently promoting a new book. The protesters believe Atzmon is an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier — allegations he claims are untrue — but they didn’t have the courage to challenge him inside the theater. A few hassled patrons on their way into the theater with varied insults and one or two obscenities. “Atzmon has no place in the East Village or anywhere in New York,” stated one of these left-wing fascists, who sounded like the head of a particularly snooty condo board. He seemed literate, but obviously didn’t give a damn about the First Amendment. That such ugly sentiments exist in the once-freewheeling East Village is kind of shocking. But this is the age of Trump and some lefties are clearly taking on his oppressive style. Mary Reinholz
It’s not equivalent To The Editor: Re “Now more than ever, free speech lives at Theatre 80” (talking point, by Lorcan Otway, May 11): I object in the strongest terms to The Villager’s apparent attitude that platforming a Jew-hater and objecting to platforming a Jew-hater are equally legitimate points of view. This is the same kind of bogus equivalism that we all reject when the mainstream media does it regarding climate change, for instance. Bill Weinberg
Geography to Airbnb To The Editor: Re “Area has a lot of parks” (letter, by Alec Pruchnicki, May 11): Alec Pruchnicki needs a geography lesson. Neither Sara D. Roosevelt nor First Park is in Little Italy. Liz
To The Editor: Re “Now more than ever, free speech lives at The-
LETTERS continued on p. 22
And don’t forget the ‘Russian dressing’! TheVillager.com
This time, the xenophobic demagogue loses
NOTEBOOK BY PATRICIA FIELDSTEEL
YONS, FRANCE: On May 7, France redeemed itself, not only in the eyes of the world, but also in its own self-image. My compatriots chose to reject a racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, reactionary demagogue who tried to seduce the country with her faux empathy for les oubliés (the forgotten ones) — the unemployed, poor and suffering citizens of France. Still living with the stain of the Pétain years, of collaboration and the government-sanctioned murder of most of its Jews, as well as the horrors of the Algerian War, France voted a resounding No to continuing the shame of that past. Perhaps the specter of the unfolding nightmare in the U.S. also gave the French pause. Sunday night, I went with my Westie, Emily, to the mairie, or hotel de ville (town hall), for the vote counting, which is done by hand. Voting in France is always on Sunday, with the polls opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 7or 8 p.m. There are two rounds, two weeks apart. Unless one person wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the second presidential round is between the top two candidates. Voting is direct, done by hand, and is by popular vote. Registration is automatic when a citizen turns 18. Women were first allowed to vote on April 29, 1945. When Emily and I arrived, the counting had just begun. I nodded hello to the two police officers on duty and took a seat between my friend, Ludmilla, who is 92, and the editor of the local equivalent of The Villager. The mood was solemn and respectful. We were not allowed to talk, though whispers were permitted. As is stated by law, the room was divided into five tables with four citizens apiece and a fifth to oversee each table. During the course of the day, voters are randomly asked if they would like to come back in the evening to count. I spotted a number of people I know, including a dog-walking friend who was counting for the first time, as well as the mayor, who was overseeing a table. The scene was the same at Nyons’s four other polling places. This year, in the second round, two-thirds of those voting had to choose a candidate for whom they didn’t vote in the first round. Nearly one-quarter of all voters abstained altogether. When voters arrive at the polls, they’re given an opaque envelope. Two separate sheets of ballot paper exist, each with the name TheVillager.com
PHOTO BY PATRICIA FIELDSTEEL
Counting ballots in Nyons, in the South of France, during the recent French presidential election.
of a candidate. All paper used has been recycled. The voter enters a curtained booth (“un isoloir”), folds the paper containing his or her candidate’s name and inserts it into the unsealed envelope. Voters exit the booth and drop their envelopes into a clear Lucite box, known as an “urne.”
France is breathing a massive sigh of relief.
A polling official loudly intones, “A voté!” (“vote cast”), a ceremonial but crucial part of the process. The voter signs the roll and his or her voter registration card is hand-stamped: “A voté.” Another option exists — casting a “nul” or “blanc” vote, neither
of which count. Dating back to the French Revolution, they’re regarded as protest votes. Instead of enclosing a candidate’s name in the envelope, the voter can chose to enclose nothing or a blank piece of paper (un blanc) or to enclose a shredded or otherwise marked-up piece of paper with a non-valid name or message (nul). This year, someone slightly north of here enclosed an unused condom (“un préservatif”) marked “Made in Thailand.” And in nearby Grignan, a town inextricably associated with literature and the great letter writer Madame de Sévigné, voters wrote in “Bob Marley,” “Donald Trump,” “Céline Dion” and “Ni la peste, ni le choléra” (“Neither plague nor cholera”), a play on what many regarded as choosing between the plague and cholera for president. These votes counted as “nuls.” All nul and blanc envelopes must be examined and signed by an overseeing official, and these votes, despite their not counting, go to the préfecture and eventually the Ministry of the Interior to be examined. Voting nul or blanc is somewhat frowned upon, the feeling being it’s the obligation of every mature and responsible citizen to make a decision.
The counting was an exhilarating experience, witnessing firsthand a representative democracy in action, complete with built-in checks and balances and no room for machine or computer error or fraud. The four people at each table worked in pairs, with one opening and reading out the vote and the other marking it down in the tally; then the roles are reversed. Throughout the evening, the air was punctuated by staccato cries, “Macron!” “LePen!” “Macron!” “Macron!” “Le Pen!” At 7:16 someone called out, “Fillon!” — the former prime minister — and there were muffled giggles; at 7:30 someone else called out “Mélenchon!” — the far-left candidate — and no one laughed. When each table finished their tallies, the votes were placed in a larger envelope, sealed, then collected. All ballots eventually go to the Ministry of the Interior in Paris, which oversees elections and spends about €3.84 ($4.20) per voter. The lists are tallied with the number of voters, signatures and envelopes collected. Each precinct is required to submit a report and any irregularities that may have occurred. The mood in the room was somber, strictly nonpartisan but friendly. This is a small town — a big city around here — of only 7,000 people and everyone knows everyone else or, at best, most everyone in the room knew everyone else “de vue” — by sight. We waited till the results came in from the four other polling sites and at 8:16 p.m., Socialist Mayor Pierre Combes announced the totals: 2,394 votes were cast for Macron (69.43 percent); 1,054 votes for LePen (30.57 percent); and 488 ballots were nuls or blancs (12.40 percent). Out of 5,440 registered Nyonsais voters, 3,448 made an actual voting choice. Nationwide, in reality, LePen placed third: 20,254,167 voted for Macron; 11,416,454 voters abstained; 10,584,646 voted LePen. And 4,045,395 chose nul or blanc. In June, the process will be repeated for the national legislative elections, when the real strength of Macron’s ability to push through his agenda will be determined. For now, we are all just breathing a massive sigh of relief. Fieldsteel, a former resident of Jane St. in the Village, for the past 15 years has lived in a chateau in Nyons. May 18, 2017
Sparrows, pigeons lead pack in park â€˜bird censusâ€™
PROGRESS REPORT BY GEORGIA SILVER A SEAMANS
s I wrote this report, last month, about Washington Square Park, this treasured green space was blooming with cherries, crabapples and magnolias. Year-round and migrating birds were foraging, nesting and resting in the park. Smaller animals are also present; we are seeing butterflies and flies in greater numbers in the park. The idea for Washington Square Park Eco Projects germinated more than four years ago with a mission to showcase and celebrate the nature of the park. WSP Eco Projects formally launched in 2014 after a successful fundraising campaign on ioby.org. Our first goal was to map all the trees in the park and the historic and modern routes of Minetta Brook, a stream that used to run aboveground from its confluence at W. 11th and W. 12th Sts. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. through the park, and then southwest to empty into the Hudson River at present-day Charlton St. There are more than 300 trees in the park. The WSP Eco Map does not show the locations of shrubs or herbaceous perennials, though recently some of this data was captured via iNaturalist during the City Nature Challenge 2017. Since the mapâ€™s launch, we have expanded the scope of our work. We offer park-based educational programming, which has included the 2014 Family Nature Scavenger Hunt and seasonal tree walks in 2014 and 2015. We partner with local nonprofits and large institutions on programming, too. Last fall, we co-sponsored an oak planting workshop and a winter tree walk with the parkâ€™s conservancy. We curated a cube of nature picture books and field
VILLAGER FILE PHOTO BY FACEBOY
Miranda, photographed t wo years ago, is Washington Square Parkâ€™s friendliest pigeon, according to some. Pigeonsâ€™ lifespan is six years.
guides for the Uni Project, which set up a reading room in the park in September. Authors and publishers donated most of the books in our collection. We also contributed an ecology game to the reading cart, a Nature Bingo Card designed for us by The Bird Feed NYC. It is a great game and we will bring it back to the park this year. We also engage in research. With a permit granted by the city Parks Departmentâ€™s Natural Resources Group, we are in year two of a wildlife survey. The Parks Department permitted Observing Wildlife Longitudinally in Washington Square Park in April 2016. WSPEco Projects surveyed wildlife in the park between August and December 2016. Wildlife seen within the parkâ€™s
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May 18, 2017
boundaries were formally recorded. Birds that were merely heard, flew overhead or were observed outside the park, as well as wildlife that were neither bird, nor squirrel, nor rodent (such as, butterflies) were not officially recorded. Also not counted were birds or squirrels that had flocked around a human providing food. The Eco Projects surveyors walked the same continuous loop through the park a total of seven times in 2016 and recorded 33 different bird species, totaling 1,157 individuals. The greatest number of individual birds (350) was recorded on Aug. 31. The greatest number of species recorded on a single checklist was 15 on Oct. 13. The species observed most often was the house sparrow (403 across seven checklists) followed by the rock pigeon (383 across seven checklists). The least-observed species â€” one individual in each instance â€” were the American kestrel, brown creeper, winter wren, Carolina wren, golden-crowned kinglet, Swainsonâ€™s thrush, magnolia warbler and swamp sparrow. House finches were only observed on one date, Dec. 31, when nine were spotted. A single hermit thrush was spotted on two separate dates. Our permit was renewed in time for the 2017 spring migratory season! So far, we have completed two survey walks. In addition to common species such as the American robin, house sparrows, and rock doves (pigeons), we spotted darkeyed juncos and song sparrows. We have noticed more European starlings in the park than we did during 2016 survey. A red-tailed hawk was spotted once on our first walk of the season, though the nesting pair is active. There are two eyases (baby hawks) in the nest. Check
out the live hawk cam at http://www. ustream.tv/channel/e3uYJSDgmbz. We expect and hope to see a variety of warblers, thrushes, wrens, woodpeckers, chickadees, etc. Please let us know what you are seeing in the park. You can log your animal and plant observations in at several places, including eBird or via iNaturalist, where we have two project pages (WSP Wildlife Observations and WSP Plants & Fungi). If you use social media, tag us @wspecoprojects. WSP Eco Projects has already hosted one event this spring: a Natural and Social History Awareness Tour on May 5, as part of Janeâ€™s Walk 2017. Guided Nature Bingo is coming up on June 4, as part of the World Science Festival 2017. Look for our pop-up library; weâ€™ll announce the hours and locations on social media. Also, we hope to roll out our Urban Wildlife Education Boxes soon. Washington Square Park is is beloved by local residents and on the New York City to-do list of many tourists. It is also a bio-diverse green space that provides numerous environmental benefits â€” to nonhuman animals and people alike â€” and should be stewarded to improve its ecological performance. For more information, visit www. wspecoprojects.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Seamans is director and co-founder, Washington Square Park Eco Projects
Letters to The Editor LETTERS continued from p. 20
Christy is a gem, but it is neither a park â€” itâ€™s actually a community garden â€” nor in Little Italy. DeSalvio is an asphalt playground â€” adults who go inside it without children get ticketed â€” with just a few plane trees providing a little shade here and there. If by â€œNYCHA park,â€? Pruchnicki means the one on Eldridge St., that is also a playground, and far from Little Italy. Petrosino Park â€” made smaller than it already was by the Citi Bike takeover of our art-installation space â€” is in Little Italy. Should that be all for this vibrant, vital community? I know of no one who lives in Little Italy, young to old and spanning every other spectrum, who does not love the Elizabeth St. Garden. What is the cause of the housing crisis in Little Italy? Illegal deregulation of affordable housing, including rampant Airbnb. In my building alone, three-
quarters of the rent-stabilized units have been illegally deregulated by our landlord. Airbnb followed. Have I been able to get Mayor de Blasio or Councilmember Chin to lift a finger to address this issue? No. Borough President Gale Brewer has taken some action but neglects to follow up. There is no need to build what we already have, unless your intention is to reward developers to whom you owe, or from whom you might hope to gain, favors. Georgette Fleischer E-mail letters, not longer than 250 words in length, to news@thevillager. com or fax to 212-229-2790 or mail to The Villager, Letters to the Editor, 1 MetroTech North, 10th floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Please include phone number for confirmation purposes. The Villager reserves the right to edit letters for space, grammar, clarity and libel. Anonymous letters will not be published.
Buhmann on Art Shirin Neshat: ‘Dreamers’ at Gladstone Gallery BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN While the Iranian-born and New York-based Shirin Neshat has focused on issues of gender, identity, and politics in Muslim countries for years, she now turns her attention to an investigation of American culture. In this exhibition, she explores the burdened and complex life of an Iranian living in the United States during today’s tumultuous climate. By presenting both a new film entitled “Roja” as well as a new series of photographs, Neshat invites her audience to confront the ambivalence of living across two cultures, which between them are rife with friction. Over time, Neshat has developed a unique visual language that manifests as a poetically abstracted epic, often utilizing recurring dreams, memories, and desires. In “Roja,” we find her inspired by the surrealist films of Man Ray and Maya Deren, among others, as she embarks on a subject with obvious personal overtones. The film traces an Iranian woman’s disquieting attempts to connect with
Copyright Shirin Neshat; courtesy the artist & Gladstone Gallery, NY & Brussels
Shirin Neshat: Untitled, from “Roja” series (2016).
American culture while reconciling her identification with her home country. The film is further accompanied by photographs that give Neshat’s well-known series of portraits, covered
with calligraphy derived from religious texts and poetry, a new twist. In these works, Neshat focuses on white men and women from the United States. By obscuring and blurring their fea-
Copyright Shirin Neshat; courtesy the artist & Gladstone Gallery, NY & Brussels
Shirin Neshat: “Roja” (2016, video still).
tures, she transforms these portraits into a metaphor for the mystification that enforces cultural boundaries and prohibits sympathetic attachments across race, class, and nationality.
May 19–June 17 at Gladstone Gallery (515 W. 24th St., btw. 10th & 11th Aves.). Gallery hours: Tues.–Sat., 10am– 6pm. Call 212-2069300 or visit gladstonegallery.com.
Copyright Shirin Neshat; courtesy the artist & Gladstone Gallery, NY & Brussels
Shirin Neshat: “Roja” (2016, video still).
May 18, 2017
Bill Hoffman’s mark on artistic, gay, and Jewish life Caffe Cino pioneer, playwright of Broadway’s ﬁrst AIDS story, librettist was 78 BY LAWRENCE D. MASS William M. Hoffman, who died at age 78 on April 29, was an important and beloved figure in at least three communities: artistic, gay, and Jewish. In each, he left an indelible mark. A pioneer of the precious gems of gay street theater that came together in an anthology he edited, “Gay Plays,” Hoffman, a native New Yorker, was a leading light of Greenwich Village’s legendary Caffe Cino. As a playwright, he is best known as the author of “As Is.” In 1985, it became the first Broadway play about AIDS, following Robert Chesley’s Off-Off Broadway “Stray Dog Story” and preceding the premiere of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart.” “As Is” was a hit and is widely credited, together with “The Normal Heart,” for creating greater public awareness of AIDS and its impact on our lives and times. Following its run on Broadway, “As Is” became a film starring Colleen Dewhurst as the AIDS hospice worker. My eyes still swell with tears when I recall the coup de théâtre that concludes the play. Despite harsh condemnation of homosexuality by the Catholic Church, here was a nun whose compassion for humanity leads her to share the most deeply personal ritual of her charge, a gay man dying of AIDS. Reflecting on their last exchange, she lifts up her hands to reveal her nails, painted red. It was one of those moments that would mark William M. Hoffman as a master of theater, art, and the human heart. Perhaps the pinnacle of Hoffman’s achievement was “The Ghosts of
ator, Beaumarchais, and the fabled Marie Antoinette, the ghost of whom Beaumarchais’ ghost is in love with. The at-once historical and magical tale is deftly constructed around Beaumarchais’ lesser-known sequel to these plays, “La Mere Coupable,” which takes place in the throes of the French Revolution that the earlier plays take place Courtesy Gay City News on the cusp of. William M. Hoffman, 1939-2017. So long as there will be opera, it’s a Versailles,” the opera he co-created certainty that “Ghosts of Versailles” with his lifelong friend and collaborator will find an enduring place for itself composer John Corigliano. One of the alongside “The Barber of Seville” and most prestigious events in American “The Marriage of Figaro.” Though it operatic history, this very grand opera hasn’t happened as such yet, it’s an was a world premiere commission by ideal triology project for future directhe Metropolitan Opera to mark the tors and opera companies. A “Figaro” cycle, like the “Ring” cycle. 100th anniversary of the company. In a life of contributions as rich Still early in her career, Renée Fleming, now retiring from the opera and varied as Bill’s, this remembrance stage, played the co-starring role of will perforce omit much. But mention Countess Almaviva. The opera recaps, should also be made here of the work comments on, and develops the stories he did on restoring the reputation and of some of opera’s most famous and place of the librettist as co-creator. beloved characters — that jack of all Hoffman felt that just as Da Ponte is arts and trades (and hearts) Figaro recognized and celebrated as the coand those paragons (and parodies) creator of Mozart’s operas, so should of nobility, the Almavivas. They are his own contribution be fully recogthe protagonists of two of opera his- nized, a co-equality likewise champitory’s most famous and beloved works, oned by composer Corigliano. It was Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” an uphill battle he was never to win, at and Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” least not in our own times and in more “Ghosts” is also the story of their cre- traditional operatic venues. Bill went on to write and revise other plays, many of them with gay themes, one of which, “Cornbury,” was an adaptation of an earlier play about the mythic first governor of New York who was known to have cross-dressed. Panoramically, Bill recreated the early New York of the Dutch, Queen Anne, and the Indian wars. The political insights are as endless as the humor. At various points, he hoped to make the play into a musical, which tweaked the interest of Hal Prince. It’s hard to imagine another story that could so sweepingly recreate the early history of New York. There were many other projects,
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greater and lesser, that Bill worked on, most recently, “Morning Star,” a musical-dramatic co-creation with Ricky Ian Gordon of the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, in which so many garment workers, most of them young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, perished. The story revolves around a Latvian Jewish family. “Morning Star” was a co-production of the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Goodman Theatre and had its world premiere in Cincinnati in 2015. In the interstices of this work is another issue that hugely preoccupied Bill and which colors everything he ever wrote: his Jewishness. In the many revisions and stagings of his play “Riga” (his parents were Latvian Jews who escaped the Holocaust, in which most of their relatives were murdered), he was deeply concerned about antiSemitism, past, present, and future. In the midst of his work on these plays, he established an informal network of artists and writers concerned about anti-Semitism, among whose regulars were soprano Regina Resnick, writer and feminist Phyllis Chesler, my partner Arnie Kantrowitz, and me. Like many artists, Bill left much undone. But just as there aren’t yet words to say how much he touched our lives, there aren’t yet measures to assess his impact. Because so much of what he had to show and tell us foretold of the future as it recreated the past, it’s certain that the story of William M. Hoffman, like few other artists of our communities and times, awaits a sequel, a “Ghosts” of his life and times. In his later years, he relocated from Soho to Beacon, New York, an hour or so up the Hudson River from Lehman College, where he headed the theater department and directed many original plays and productions for his students who loved him. There, he lived and worked with his husband, Russ Taylor. My last visit with them was in January. Bill had been suffering from increasingly serious and frequent illnesses, many of them stemming from severe arthritis. His role as perhaps my closest friend for more than a quarter century is inestimable. May he rest in peace. But may his ghost haunt us forever. TheVillager.com
Just Do Art BY SCOTT STIFFLER
IRISH REP GALA BENEFIT: “SONDHEIM AT 7” Unpredictable but always dependable, Chelsea’s passionately prolific Irish Repertory Theatre is poised to pull up stakes from their West 22nd Street home — but only for one night. Wonderfully welcoming though its recently restored facility may be, there just aren’t enough seats in the house for the crowd expected at this annual gala benefit performance. No less than the legendary Angela Lansbury is set to introduce “Sondheim at 7: Celebrating the Songs of Stephen Sondheim.” Directed and arranged by the Irish Rep’s artistic director Charlotte Moore, with a full orchestra and chorus under the direction of John Bell, the titular 7pm start time lets loose “as many hit songs as we can fit into 90 minutes,” as performed by Broadway stars Nancy Anderson, Melissa Errico, Mark Evans, Danielle Ferland, Malcolm Gets, Jeremy Jordan, Rebecca Luker, Howard McGillin, Ryan Silverman, and
Photo by James Higgins
A star-studded salute to Sondheim is served up at June 13’s gala benefit for the Irish Repertory Theatre (seen here, 2016’s “Finian’s Rainbow”-themed gala).
festival running (and leaping and twisting) its way across all three of the theater’s venues through June 4. May 20’s block party has all the essential elements: food, crafts, and children’s activities — plus the official announcement of a top-secret new undertaking (“the largest capital project in the company’s history”) and, of course, performances and workshops from in-house talent as well as troupes from the surrounding community. So far, the roster includes Al Son Son Tablao Flamenco, DJ Todd Jones, East Village Dance Project, Kinetic Architecture Dance Theater, Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Step Team, White Wave Young Soon Kim Dance Co., and indigenous song and dance troupe Silver Cloud Singers. The block party is free. Sat., May 20, 11am–4pm in front of La MaMa’s theaters on E. Fourth St. (btw. Second Ave. & Bowery). For info, visit lamama.org.
WEST VILLAGE CHORALE SPRING CONCERT: “AMERICAN VOICES” Photo by Whitney Browne
La MaMa showcases in-house and community talent, at their May 20 “Dancing in the Street Block Party” (Pua Ali’i Ilima O Nuioka, seen here from 2011, returns this year).
Max Von Essen (and that’s just the lineup they had as we went to press). The selections are equally impressive displays of high quality and name recognition, from the likes of “Sweeney Todd,” “Into the Woods,” “Gypsy,” “Company,” “West Side Story” and more. Tues., June 13, 7pm at Town Hall (123 W. 43rd St., btw. Broadway & Sixth Ave.). Single ticket packages start at $100. Cocktail and dinner packages at Bryant Park Grill start at $500. To purchase, visit irishrep.org or call 212-727-2737.
LA MAMA: “DANCING IN THE STREET BLOCK PARTY” Fifty-five daring, daffy, enigmatic, and engaging seasons after Ellen Stewart started it all by giving voice to TheVillager.com
Photo by Phil Armstrong
Songs of spiritual awakening fill the Meeting Room of Judson Memorial Church at May 21’s spring concert from the West Village Chorale.
Off-Off Broadway’s emerging vocabulary, La MaMa remains a dependable destination for ambitious, innovative art of all stripes — but it’s the medium of movement that’s front and center at this epic block party, which coincides with the start of “La MaMa Moves,” a dance
The nonsectarian, independent chorus that adds your voice to theirs every December at a “Messiah Sing” concert and a Caroling Walk through their beloved namesake neighborhood has chosen, for their 2017 Spring Concert, a program whose selections will fill the towering Meeting Room of Judson Memorial Church with testimonies of spiritual awakening and hope. Drawing on the work of American composers, the selections range from traditional spirituals by Alice Parker and Moses Hogan to 20th century classics by Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. A Chorale commission will premiere Thomas Jefferson Peters’ “Good-Night” (a setting of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley), and former Chorale leader Michael Conley is represented by an excerpt from his “Appalachian Requiem.” Colin Britt, the Chorale’s current artistic director, conducts, with Elena Belli on piano. Sun., May 21, 6pm at Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South, at Thompson St.). Advance tickets are $25 general admission, $10 for students. At the door, $30 general, $15 students. To order, and for more info, visit westvillagechorale.org. May 18, 2017
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Marte’s journey comes full circle in Council race; an immigration lawyer. While studying for the LSAT, Marte coached and mentored the “Twin Dragons,” the M.S. 131 co-ed basketball team in Chinatown, and volunteered at the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops and the Elizabeth St. Garden in his spare time. Also during this period, Sheldon Silver, the then-speaker of the state Assembly, was convicted of federal corruption charges. Marte did not know much about local politics then, but knew about Silver from the news, and thought something needed to be done about rampant corruption in politics. This was the turning point, when his life moved toward politics. In February 2016, after briefly flirting with running for Assembly, Marte decided to run for Democratic State Committee — an unpaid party position
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comer who has decided to run against a two-term incumbent in one of the most influential districts in New York City. A lifelong resident of District 1, Marte, who is 28, is the youngest of four children. He was born on the Lower East Side to working-class parents from the Dominican Republic. His father owned a bodega on Rivington St., and his mother was a nurse and teacher before coming to New York. Marte attended P.S. 20, a diverse public school on Essex St. that has a dual-language Mandarin program. That started him on a journey of multicultural encounters. By the time he graduated from college, he had lived or studied in seven different countries and spoke Chinese, in addition to English and Spanish. During high school, Marte lived in Japan and then Hungary through AFS (formerly American Field Service). In Japan, his first study-abroad experience, Marte lived in a rural community and commuted two hours a day to and from Osaka, a large city, to study. “I kind of fell in love with it,” he said. That experience led him to take off again, this time for Hungary, where he enrolled in an arts program to study European architecture. For his application, he sketched one of the sculptures from the Elizabeth St. Garden. Marte went on to receive a B.A. in global studies from Long Island University Global, a program that sent him to study around the world. His first stop was Costa Rica, where he interned for a senator and worked on a United Nations plan to clean up land mines on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. His next stint was in the Dominican Republic, where he did field research on the often-contentious relationship between Dominicans and Haitians, two very different peoples sharing the same island. Then it was on to Ecuador, where he did research on indigenous people’s rights. After that, it was China for a year, where Marte studied language, history and culture, as well as politics. He then
Christopher Mar te at DeSalvio Playground in Little Italy this March.
backpacked from Shanghai to China’s western border with Pakistan, his conversational Mandarin coming in handy — until he ventured farther westward, through regions where people spoke many local dialects. “The trip changed my world,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself, not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring.” He ended his trek by staying with a Kazak nomadic family in a yurt atop a mountain in Pakistan, just as monsoon rains hit. He witnessed large-scale destruction below due to mudslides on the mountain. He was lucky to survive. On his last stop before returning to New York City in 2011, Marte studied at the London School of Economics, delving deep into mathematics and finance.
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While finishing up school in New York, Marte interned for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, and then worked in the private sector at Castle Oak Securities, a minority-owned firm, where he saw firsthand how money flows and how markets work. He then put this knowledge to work as an investment analyst at IBM Retirement Fund. Throughout this time, Marte also served on the young professionals board at Defy Ventures, a nonprofit organization that helps formerly incarcerated individuals start businesses. Marte has a personal tie to the organization: His brother Coss had served time in prison, and Defy Ventures helped him open a gym — ConBody — on the Lower East Side that hires ex-convicts as personal trainers. Within three years, it became a highly profitable venture. Marte’s life took a turn when the Black Lives Matter movement began. After he heard about a 35-year-old unarmed Mexican man being shot by police in Pasco, Washington, in early 2015, Marte flew out West and interned at a law firm to help undocumented individuals, mostly farm workers, apply for green cards. He often found himself sitting between the white lawyers and the Mexican families they represented. “When my parents came here, my dad was undocumented,” he said. “It really hit home, seeing these families trying to do something with their lives.” Inspired by this experience, Marte again moved back to New York City, planning to go to law school and become
One-quarter of Marte’s campaign contributors are artists.
— knowing nothing about how to wage a campaign. He grabbed a tote bag and clipboard and knocked on doors, went to every community event, stood at subway stations. In the end, he lost in a three-way race, but only by 1.9 percent, and ended up getting more than 2,000 votes. Undeterred, the very next day and ever since, he has attended community meetings and sought to educate himself about issues affecting Downtown residents. “Two thousand people voted for me for a reason,” he said he thought to himself. He also reflected on what he had learned thus far in politics. Basically, he saw politicians being reactive — but not proactive — and he also found that the district’s constituents lacked a platform to voice their issues. “This is the most basic thing that any politician can provide,” he said, with exasperation. “Have a town hall meeting, understand the issues, and try to address them. It’s not that hard.” He noted disapprovingly that, in her seven-and-a-half years in office, the incumbent, Councilmember Margaret Chin, has not held a single town hall meeting. In early 2016, Marte saw the deed restrictions lifted for Rivington House, the MARTE continued on p. 31 TheVillager.com
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AIDS hospice and nursing home right across the street from his childhood home. A developer planned to redevelop the historic former school building as high-end condominiums. This was when Marte decided that, if he was going to run for office again, it had to be for City Council, because this is where real change happens at the local level in New York City. “I just think that you have to be really proactive to protect places like the Rivington House and Elizabeth St. Garden,” he said. Marte supports saving the Little Italy Garden, while Chin is the prime advocate for developing the site with senior affordable housing. In December 2016, Marte filed to run for Council. By March, he had raised a stunning $50,000. “Key people in the community donated,” he reflected. “I think that really shows that the support is there — not only financially. People are willing to believe that I’m the guy to win the seat. It was amazing.” He is trying to raise as much money as possible early on, so that when summer comes and his campaign gets into full swing, he will be able to spend more time going door to door, meeting people to listen to their concerns. “You meet amazing interesting people,” he said, “people you don’t see every day because you’re going to every door.” Marte is running a very neighborhoodspecific campaign, though there are a few issues he sees as important for constituents district-wide, such as development, for one. “This whole district has become a construction site,” he stated. “Whether you’re in FiDi, or N.Y.U. or Two Bridges or on the Bowery, you always hear and see construction. It’s not being against development, it’s asking what developers are giving back to the community. Is this type of development good for the community? These things are not usually discussed in the early stages. I think that’s the one big issue.” For the most part, though, Marte finds that people are generally concerned about what is going on in their children’s schools and on their blocks, or if their affordable grocery stores will survive. “That’s how you make a connection,” he said, “always knowing what’s happening or about to happen,” and then giving residents access to information about their neighborhoods, so that they can help change things themselves. Understanding what a block or neighborhood is going through is key to reaching voters. Marte grew up hanging around his father’s bodega, where he would meet everyone from his community, from working people and homemakers to the homeless. He also lived through the first wave of gentrification
PHOTO COURTESY FRIENDS OF ELIZABETH ST. GARDEN
Christopher Mar te, four th from left, with suppor ters of the Elizabeth St. Garden outside The Cooper Union in November, delivering an invitation to Mayor de Blasio to visit the Little Italy green oasis. They buttonholed the mayor on his way in, and he promised them he would visit the garden, but he has still yet to do so.
on the blocks just east of the Bowery. So, he understands the issues now affecting the blocks even further east, where residents are currently being displaced and established businesses are being replaced by new ones. I asked Marte whether or not he sees tensions between Downtown old-timers and newly arrived residents — if they bring conflicting issues to the table. “When the fight is local, you’re able to bring everyone together,” he said. He gave the example of 462 Broadway in Soho, where L’Ecole, the restaurant of the International Culinary Center, used to be. Developers want to convert most of the building into a department store of sorts. “All residents have concerns about this,” he said. People who live on Crosby St. treasure its quiet. And all residents, regardless of when they moved into that area, are against big, bright store signs lighting up the street at night and trucks unloading merchandise at late hours and having even more sidewalk traffic than before. “Nobody wants that,” Marte said. As a neighborhood historian, I could
not help but ask Marte if there is a particular local place that he misses. He told me he regrets that the open-air market that used to be at Chrystie and Grand Sts., at the B/D subway station, is gone. He remembers it as a place where Dominican, Chinese and Italian locals came together to buy produce and interact. “My parents used to go there to do their vegetable shopping,” he recalled. “I used to carry the shopping bags for them, zigzagging through all these vendors crowded in one lot. Rats running around. People yelling, negotiating prices.” Today the space is a soccer field. Marte’s grassroots campaign has attracted many people previously uninvolved in local politics, as seen by the fact that most of his donors had never contributed to a political campaign before. It’s also interesting that 25 percent of his donors so far are artists. He feels that many people are eager to get involved in local politics, but simply don’t know how to do it. “You really see people taking up a call to arms,” he explained. “I feel like there has been a real awakening. In my generation, there was no roll call to go into poli-
tics — unless you were brought up in it or there was a personal reason to do it. The reason I did it was because we had one of the biggest political corruption cases in the history of the state. And growing up across the street from Rivington House and seeing how that whole transaction happened, that affected me personally. That made me say, ‘O.K., I want to do something.’ And now, people are also personally affected by what is happening on the national level. They are really feeling like they have to do something.” Marte’s background as a native of the Lower East Side melting pot, his international education, his private- and publicsector work experience, his volunteer work, and his passion for social justice make him a person who can communicate with people from all walks of life and can effectively turn issues into action. But he has a long road ahead to the September Democratic primary election. As Marte got up to head back to his campaign office, he turned and said, “It’s going to be an interesting summer.” Ohta is founder and director, The Soho Memory Project May 18, 2017
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