Shadow # 11
More of the Sleaze Factor
On April 5th, the Community Board Three (CB3) Parks Committee met to discuss a letter written to CB3 Chairman Anne Johnson that was added to the agenda without notice. The letter, written by a Kim Y.Gavitt (of 119 St. Marx Place, Apt. #6, the supers apartment), who requested that a curfew be reimposed in Tompkins Square Park. As a result of the letter, more than 100 opponents of a curfew showed up at the committee meeting, only to learn that neither Gavitt nor any other curfew supporter had bothered to attend. (The owners of her building have pushed the hardest for a curfew in the park and have the most to gain from it).
CB3 member and Parks Committee Chairman Charles Crespo added to the evenings sense or mystery when he withheld Gavitts name as the author of the pro-curfew letter. Luckily, a SHADOW reporter managed to get a look at the letter.
At the general CB3 meeting on April 24th, Crespo raised the curfew issue again as part of his committee report. As a result, CB3 members Carol Watson (also an official of Catholic Charities) and Francis Goldin made a motion to "reiterate" CB3s previously stated opposition to a park curfew. This led to a lively debate between those who have been pushing for a curfew, such as Krystyna Piorkowska and Antonio Pagan, and those who oppose any curfew in the park, such as Watson and Goldin. Unfortunately for the Watson-Goldin motion, the final vote was 14 "yes" and 14 "no", with 4 abstentions and one "no vote".
A smiling Howard Hemsley, (a notorious curfew supporter), recognized that the vote did not yet represent majority sentiment on CB3 as Watson quickly pointed out that the failed motion only affected the "reiteration", but that tile boards stated opposition to a curfew still stands.
Meanwhile, Goldin demanded to know from a reluctant Charles Crespo the name of letter writing curfew supporter Gavitt. Crespos deliberate hesitation before coming up with Gavitts name stirred up some suspicion and led to some SHADOW research.
The most damning information came via the work of a housing advocacy group, "Good Old Lower East Side" (GOLES). They uncovered a letter distributed to occupants of a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel at 14 St. Marks Place. The notice was signed by Kim Y. Gavitt, as the managing agent, employed by General Property Management Associates, Inc., (GPM, located at 1697 Broadway, Suite 502).
The SRO has been owned by the family of Bertha Bronstein since the 1940s. Until last year it had been sublet to a man named Gesell in a relationship that a GOLES organizer said was "similar to DeLorenzos arrangement with the Happyland social club" where a fire killed 87 people. In December GPM brought in Kim Gavitt as the managing agent of the building.
Gavitts letter, addressed to all of the SRO tenants, says "there are no guests or visitors allowed in the building", which advocates say is a violation of the laws governing SROs. In fact, Gavitts notice amounts to harassment because SRO occupants are allowed to have another person stay with them and after six months they must be given a "hotel stabilization lease," which accords SRO occupants the same rights as any other tenant.
One line in Gavitts letter particularly angers housing rights advocates. Noting alleged complaints about drug users, the letter says, " only tenants are allowed in the building." The letter goes on to say " the only persons who would complain about this policy are the ones responsible for the intruders causing discomfort in the building". The letter then requires building tenants to sign an agreement reading: "I will vacate my apartment at the request of the Management, for any disturbance involving myself, my family, or my friends. No visitors". Emmanuel Bey, a resident of 14 St. Marks Place for two years, says none of the 50 occupants signed the letter. Kate Walter, in charge of the notorious "St. Marks 2-3 Block Association", and a self-proclaimed "writer", who has become famous for tirades against homeless people, anarchists, curfew opponents and for her vendetta against the All-Crafts Center, (a successful alternative drug rehabilitation center located in the former Electric Circus building on St. Marks Place), reportedly attempted to organize the SRO tenants against drug abusers who use the hotels three working bathrooms to smoke or shoot up.
According a neighborhood activist, Kate Walter, (who lives at 16 St. Marks Place, conveniently next door to the SRO), showed up at the April 28th "Resist 2 Exist" concert in Tompkins Square Park. Waiter said she doesnt know Kim Gavitt, a claim that some people find unlikely since Walter has also been logging many complaints against the SRO through CB3 and her own Block Association.
GOLES organizers say that this spring they were near agreement with the SRO owners and GPM. A stipulation was signed in Housing Court that promised repairs would be made to the building. A court ordered inspection found 183 housing code violations, but activists say there are actually about 400 violations.
While none of the promised repairs have taken place, GPM made a point of having Kim Gavitts name removed from the court papers as the SROs managing agent. Although Gavitt clearly signed her name as managing agent she is not registered with the state, as required by law. However, Gavitt was employed as the "supervisor" over the newly appointed managing agent of the SRO until May 1st, when she left GPM for undisclosed reasons.
An employee of GPM told a GOLES organizer that the company doesnt want to be directly associated with the family that owns 14 St. Marks Place, although GPM continues to manage the building. (A check of the 1989-90 Manhattan telephone book rinds a Kim Y. Gavitt living at 1461 Amsterdam Ave., near 133rd Street Double checking with 411 fails to turn up any Gavitts listed, and checking the number given by the phone company rinds it newly reassigned).
MORE COMMUNITY BOARD SLEAZE:
LOW-INCOME HOUSING FOR THE WELL-TO-DO AND POLITICALLY CONNECTED?
The role of Community Board three (CB3) in the August 1988 riot that swept the Lower East Side has been examined extensively in the pages of the Shadow and other publications. Yet CB3, complete with its new powers under the City Charter, has escaped repercussions for that bloody night two years ago. To more clearly understand our options in dealing with the city, a clear understanding of CB31s power and personnel is essential.
A Community Board is really powerless as far as actual decision making about land use and city expenditures. The important decisions lie with the Mayor and his commissioners and, to a lesser degree, with the newly expanded powers of the City Council. The Board really acts as a rubber stamp of decisions made by the movers and shakers in city government and the big money real estate interests that contribute to political campaigns. Before the new City Charter was approved, the Boards were the first step in the Unified Land Use Review Process (or "ULURP") required before the sale of city owned property.
The new ULURP procedures, as the old, will be controlled by the City Planning Commission, which remains probably the most important government agency. The Commission has the final say on zoning changes in the city as well as the positioning of often unpopular city facilities like homeless shelters.
Community Boards do have some powers relating to the increasing difficulties faced by the city and private developers to push through massive construction projects.
In the 1950s and 60s, development Czars like Robert Moses could destroy half the Bronx by using eminent domain to seize the homes of tens of thousands of people along the route of the Cross Bronx Expressway. In the 1980s, informed citizens blocked a massive expressway dubbed "Westway", scheduled to replace the West Side Highway. The city was forced by the courts to abandon the project after environmental impact statements revealed that Westway would cause massive destruction to Manhattans environmental quality of life.
Despite their lack of real power, Community Boards have come to represent the "official" word of a community when the city plans to build a shelter or close a park. The demands of residents to have a say in development decisions affecting them have been diverted to Community Boards, which are supremely undemocratic institutions.
The real power on each Community Board is in the hands of its paid staff-their funding comes from the City Budget. For the 1989 fiscal year ending in June, each Board received about $140,000 to pay salaries and office expenses. According to the new City Charter, additional cash will be provided to cover the rent for each board office.
According to the Mayors Community Assistance Unit (CAU), now headed by Michael Kharfen, while a new budget has been set for fiscal year 1990, it will remain "secret" until the summer.
Community Board Three covers the Lower East Side, roughly from 14th Street to Chinatown and from Broadway to the East River. The City Councilmember who appoints half of the 50 CB3 members is Miriam Friedlander with Borough President Ruth Messinger appointing the others. The Board members serve for staggered terms with half being reappointed every other year. The most recent appointments were made in May in violation of a City Charter rule prohibiting current Board members from serving beyond March 1st.
The individual with the most power on CB3 is Martha Danziger, the District Manager and highest paid employee on the Board. The CB3 budget projects that Danziger will be paid $40,730 this year. According to CB3 documents, Danziger has been on the staff of CB3 since at least 1982, when she was Board secretary.
According to a CAU-produced book explaining the duties of a CB member, the main role of the District Manager is to process complaints about city services and preside at District Cabinet meetings. Representatives of agencies that supply services to a community meet regularly with Danziger. They include Parks and Recreation, Sanitation, Police, and the Human Resources Administration, including Special Services for Children, Housing Preservation and Development, and the Health Department.
Board members and activists say that Danzigers powers go beyond that of a conduit of complaints. They say she's played a role as behind the scenes coordinator of the right-wing assault on Tompkins Square Park. The first evidence came when activists got hold of the sign-in sheet for a secret meeting held on August 2nd, 1988, just before the riot on August 6th. Top level police brass and Parks Department officials were joined by Danziger and other C113 members such as landlord and anti-homeless organizer Krystina Piorkowska, police informant and beer distributor Philip LaLumia, right-wing crackpot Philip Wachtel, and representatives of various elected officials.
According to Betsy Newman (a curfew opponent) of the Friends of Tompkins Square Park, she had called Danziger on August 2nd to discuss the deterioration of the Parks elm trees. Instead, Danziger urged Newman to attend the meeting at Manhattan South police headquarters to discuss plans to close the park that weekend. Newman attended the meeting where she says, "I felt intimidated from the start. It seemed like I was the only one there against the curfew." Newman adds that when a high ranking police official, Commander Baumert, asked "does everyone here agree?" to enforcing the curfew, there were no objections.
On the day after the 1988 riot, concerned community residents converged on CB31o examine the minutes of the June 28, 1988 Board meeting where the curfew had been discussed. (Minutes of CB meetings must be made public and CB3 routinely tapes its proceedings). However, when activists demanded the tapes, Danziger told them she had "accidentally" erased the part where a vote was taken on a motion concerning the park. At the time, Danziger laughed, denying she was CB31s equivalent of Rose Mary Woods (Richard Nixons secretary who also claimed she had "accidentally" erased a key Watergate tape).
Martha Danziger lives at a formerly city-owned building at 52 East 1st Street. A low-income co-op building regulated under Section 576, Article XI of the Private Housing Finance Law, the residents paid $2,000 for the building, or $250 per apartment unit in 1983 when the deed was signed. The deed holder is the East 1st Street Homesteaders Housing Development Fund (HDFC).
Considering her long standing hostility to squatters and CB31s professed aim of developing housing for poor people, it seems remarkable that Danziger would have made a home for herself in a city-owned building earmarked for low-income residents. Especially when Danziger grosses nearly $800 a week as CB3 District manager.
The deed for 52 East 1st contains a resale restriction that sources, who asked not to be named, say has sparked a bitter dispute among the buildings residents. Besides Danziger, CB3 member Lisa Kaplan, who is also chair of the important Zoning committee of the Board, resides at the same address. So does Lynn Tieffenbacher, a member of the pro-curfew and anti-homeless Tompkins Square Park Neighborhood Coalition headed by CB3 member Antonio Pagan.
According to sources, Danziger and Tieffenbacher want HPD (Dept. of Housing, Preservation and Development, a city-run agency which manages city owned buildings) to set aside the restriction on the buildings deed, which reads "The buildings co-op board] promises to operate the premises solely as a housing project for families of low income for 15 years from the date of deed". Currently, the low-income co-op owners cannot sell their units for a profit without approval from both the co-op board and the city.
Sources say that Kaplan has been standing in the way of scrapping the resale restrictions, and that has been a cause of friction between her and Danziger.