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The Priest and The Mob

CHRISTMAS EVE MASS has just ended at St. Athanasius Church in the South Bronx. Three little girls in angel costumes and a trio of pa­rishioners dressed as the three wise men stream outside into a cool mist blowing on Tiffany Street. Inside, the 80-year-old church is glow­ing in the warm light of hundreds of red and white candles. To the left of the altar, churchgoers gather around Father Louis Gigante and ex­change holiday greetings.

For many families in the Hunts Point community, the 56-year-old Gigante is a saint. He has been credited with single­handedly halting an urban death march by rescuing sections of the South Bronx from arsonists and abandonment. In the last 10 years, the South East Bronx Com­munity Organization, a not-for-profit housing group founded by the Catholic priest and politician, has developed al­most 2000 new or renovated housing units for low-income families in the area and hundreds more are in the works. Gi­gante and SEBCO — of which he is presi­dent and chairman — have helped resur­rect a neighborhood where garbage­-strewn lots once stood.

As Gigante later guides his gray Cadil­lac down Southern Boulevard and out of the South Bronx, his parishioners return to the housing projects that surround St. Athanasius. While the priest, known to all as “Father G.,” once was a fixture at the church, these days church members usually see Gigante only on the Sundays he says mass. He spends less and less time at St. Athanasius and, in fact, no longer lives in its rectory. It is unclear where Gigante actually resides, but neigh­bors say he does not live in either of the Manhattan apartments he owns, and his upstate home is almost a four-hour drive from the Bronx. Where once the streets of the South Bronx were Gigante’s backyard, they now seem to interest him purely in terms of their profit potential. The housing built for his hard-pressed Latino parish may be Gigante’s public legacy, but it is not the selfless contribution of a saint.

A four-month Voice investigation of Gigante and SEBCO has revealed that the priest and his publicly financed developments have been a $50 million opportunity for the Mafia. The homes that Gigante’s parishioners live in — senior citizen projects, one- and two-family houses, large and small apartment buildings — have been built, to a large extent, by companies owned by or affiliated with top-ranking members of the Genovese or­ganized crime family. For years, Gigante has been close to the leadership of the crime syndicate, a relationship that has a distinctly personal side to it: the Geno­vese gang includes Father Gigante’s brothers Mario and Ralph, and is now run by the priest’s eccentric older broth­er, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante.

In the course of the investigation, the Voice examined thousands of documents concerning SEBCO from city, state, and federal agencies and conducted inter­views with numerous law enforcement officials, public officials, and friends of the priest. Other documents obtained by the Voice revealed that in addition to con­tracts for SEBCO developments, mob-­connected contractors have received more than $80 million in other city, state, and federal contracts over the past six years.

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At the same time that Father Gigante’s operations have been profiting these mob-tied construction companies, the priest has enriched himself. Gigante’s business transactions appear to be laced with instances of fraud, conflict of inter­est, misrepresentation, and misuse of public funds. SEBCO has been used to make him a wealthy man.

These revelations about Gigante and SEBCO come at a time when Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and the state’s Organized Crime Task Force, headed by Ronald Goldstock, are in the midst of a broad investigation into labor racketeering in the construction industry. The probe, which has already resulted in the indictment of Gambino boss John Gotti, is also targeting three of Father Gigante’s close associates, including his chief assistant.

Father Gigante’s considerable sway over construction in the Bronx, an indus­try long controlled by the Genovese synd­icate, first came to the attention of prosecutors by way of wiretapped phone conversations. Building contractors have been overheard discussing Bronx construction projects — which have nothing to do with SEBCO — that still “have to be cleared by Father.”

Gigante declined to be interviewed for his story, stating, “There’s no reason to talk to you. I don’t deem it important to talk to you about SEBCO.” While he has ever denied his personal relationships with Mafia figures — he has attended their birthday parties and conducted their funeral masses — Gigante has said on numerous occasions that he is not “involved” with organized crime. The priest has claimed that his brothers are not Mafia members, that his family has been persecuted by law enforcement offic­ials because of an “Italian stereotype,” and that, in fact, the Mafia does not actually exist. While his three brothers are listed on FBI intelligence reports as Genovese members, Father Gigante is not considered to be a member or an “asso­ciate” of the Genovese organization or, for that matter, of any of the city’s four other crime families.

While the specter of organized crime has hung over Louis Gigante for 30 years, it has never impeded his rise to power in New York. By force of will — and with a little help from his clerical collar — Gi­gante has been able to brush aside ques­tions about his “connections.” He has been a player in city affairs since the late ’60s and probably now has more clout than at any other time in his career. A favorite with city and federal housing of­ficials, the priest currently has about $70 million worth of construction projects in the pipeline for SEBCO. Cardinal John O’Connor refers to him as the Catholic Church’s “master builder,” and city poli­ticians — including Ed Koch and other prominent figures — have sought his ad­vice and support.

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THE PRIEST AND THE HOOD

GROWING UP on the lower West Side, Louis and Vincent Gigante, from early on, took different career tracks.

The Gigante boys’ parents immigrated in 1921. Salvatore worked as a watch­maker and Yolanda sewed garments in a factory, often taking home work at night. The couple, like many other Italian im­migrants in lower Manhattan, had to raise their children in the midst of orga­nized crime. But Salvatore Gigante made it a point to steer clear of the amico nostra. The same, however, could not be said for Vincent and two other sons.

Of the five Gigante boys, Louis, the youngest, was the star. A good student, he first made his mark playing basketball, beginning at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and then at George­town University, which he attended on an athletic scholarship. Though known for his tenacious defense, Louis had a good outside shot and once scored 24 points against George Washington University. After graduation, Gigante entered St. Jo­seph’s Seminary in Yonkers. He was or­dained a priest in 1959 at the age of 27.

While Louis Gigante was excelling on the court, Vincent Gigante was often in one: His arrest record dates back to his teens. Vincent’s sport of choice was box­ing. His manager was Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, a well-known local hoodlum. Though not a bad puncher, Vincent didn’t have his little brother’s defensive prowess — he had a glass jaw, which, the legend goes, earned him the nickname “The Chin.” (Years later, after Eboli was rubbed out on a Brooklyn street in 1972, Chin Gigante immediately took over Eboli’s vast bookmaking operations. Fa­ther Gigante performed the mobster’s fu­neral mass.)

Vincent was best known in the mid-­’50s as the bodyguard and chauffeur for then-rising mafioso Vito Genovese. Chin Gigante first made headlines in 1957, when he was arrested for the shooting of underworld boss Frank Costello. Gigante, then 29, was eventually acquitted of at­tempted murder charges after Costello refused to identify his assailant. (Costello did, however, heed the warning and step aside, allowing Genovese to replace him on the Mafia’s ruling “commission.” Lat­er that year, Genovese consolidated pow­er and became “boss of all bosses” by ordering the barbershop rubout of Albert Anastasia, chief executioner for Murder, Inc.)

In 1960, both Chin Gigante and Geno­vese were sent to prison following their convictions on narcotics conspiracy charges. At this time, police records listed two other Gigante brothers, Mario and Ralph, as Genovese crime family mem­bers who were suspected of involvement in illegal gambling and loan-sharking activities.

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After being ordained, Louis Gigante was assigned to a parish in Puerto Rico, where he lived for two years — and learned to speak Spanish — before moving into St. James Church on the Lower East Side. It was at St. James that Gigante earned the reputation of a “ghetto priest.” A World Telegram headline once exclaimed that his “Good Works Atone for Brother Who Went Wrong.” Father Gigante’s image as a hard-knocks priest — like the film heroes played by Pat O’Brien — began to appear in the papers: the Journal American reported in 1961 that Louis single-handedly prevented a rumble between 200 “wild-eyed youths who seemed eager for combat” outside the Catherine Street projects.

In 1962, Louis Gigante was assigned to St. Athanasius Church in Hunts Point, a crumbling South Bronx neighborhood. It was the deterioration that brought Gi­gante into Bronx politics, primarily through the fight for funding of various antipoverty programs. His main oppo­nent was Ramon Velez, whom he once labeled a “poverty pimp” and “communi­ty eater.”

The priest lost his first bid for elective office in 1970, when Herman Badillo beat him, Velez, and Peter Vallone, for the seat in the 21st Congressional District. Gi­gante’s election-day poll watchers includ­ed the sister and the son of Mafia boss Joe Colombo, whom the priest knew through his involvement with the Italian American Civil Rights League. Minutes after Colombo was shot during a 1971 league rally at Columbus Circle, Gigante calmed the crowd and began leading it in prayer.

In 1973, Father Gigante ran for City Council and scored a 107-vote victory over William Del Toro. But except for his surprising support of the gay rights bill, Gigante’s four years on the council were undistinguished. While the priest never enjoyed the legislative end of politics, he loved the clubhouse aspect of it: patron­age, brokering deals, and making judges. At a Harvard University lecture he once revealed his goal: “I’m in politics to be­come a political boss, and I want to be a boss to get the power.”

Father Gigante closed out his council term in 1977. Not long after, he served a week in the Queens House of Detention for refusing to answer grand jury ques­tions about conversations he had with Genovese soldier James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli back in 1974 while the mobster was imprisoned at Rikers. Prosecutors believed that Gigante was either trying to use his political pull to get the gambling kingpin special privileges or that he may have been carrying messages for Napoli. Gigante cited his “priest’s privilege” not to repeat the private conversations.

Upon his release from jail, Father Gi­gante told supporters that his family was not involved in organized crime and that the Mafia did not exist.

Soon after, Gigante began his new ca­reer as a developer of low-income hous­ing. The priest’s new power base — with its attendant discretionary power over millions of dollars in construction con­tracts — would bring him even closer to the Genovese hierarchy and his brother Vincent, whom he was even then describ­ing as “mentally incompetent.”

1989 Village Voice article by William Bastone on Father Gigante and his brother the mobster Vincent

THE “CHIN”

LIKE HIS BROTHER THE PRIEST, Chin Gigante may now be at the height of his power.

Chin Gigante, 60, goes to work each day at the Triangle Social Club at 208 Sullivan Street. It is from this storefront, and another at 229 Sullivan, that, law enforcement officials say, Gigante directs the operations of the Genovese family.

Gigante became head of the crime syn­dicate, according to police and FBI rec­ords, after Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the previous boss, was convicted in 1986 on federal racketeering charges. Until that time, Gigante was listed as the fam­ily’s “underboss,” though a former Geno­vese soldier has recently testified that Gigante actually became boss in 1981, after Salerno suffered a stroke.

Gigante gives the impression that he is crazy. Two weeks ago, with the tempera­ture at 35 degrees, Gigante, accompanied by two bodyguards, was seen walking on Sullivan Street in a royal blue hooded bathrobe and striped pajama pants. Once, when Gigante was sought for questioning by the FBI, an agent found him hiding in the shower of his mother’s apartment. He was naked and standing under the run­ning water. He was not wet, however: the umbrella he held over his head kept him dry. Intercepted conversations, some in­volving former Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito, also revealed that Genovese as­sociates had a strange code name for Gi­gante. Whenever they wanted to talk about the Genovese boss without using his name, they referred to him as “Aunt Julia.”

While law enforcement sources believe Gigante does have some mental prob­lems — he enters an upstate sanatorium for “annual tune-ups” — they believe he acts nuts to raise doubts about his con­trol of the family. Secret wiretaps have captured a lucid Gigante discussing fam­ily business with his associates. Despite his act, sources say, Gigante is in full control of the Genovese family and, as such, personally gets a cut of all activities of the brugad (see sidebar, “Is ‘Chin’ Sane?” below).

Chin Gigante lives in an $800,000 East Side townhouse with Olympia Esposito, his longtime companion, and three of his children. The Genovese boss, who some law enforcement officials believe is more powerful than John Gotti, does not share the Gambino boss’s flair: Gigante will not be seen wearing white linen raincoats or drinking at P. J. Clarke’s. He does not eat in restaurants, and his principal clothing accessory — besides his bathrobe — is the ratty fisherman’s cap he wears shading a face battered by boxing. He will never be mistaken for the “Dapper Don.”

In fact, there is no love lost between the country’s two most powerful mob­sters: Louis “Bobby” Manna (a/k/a “The Thin Man”), Gigante’s consigliere, is un­der indictment in New Jersey for conspir­ing to murder Gotti and his brother Gene, a Gambino captain. Law enforce­ment sources say that a planned hit on the Gotti brothers could never happen without Gigante’s approval, but prosecu­tors have been unable to develop evidence to link the Genovese boss to the murder conspiracy.

More importantly, what distinguishes Gigante from Gotti and the chiefs of the other three city crime families is that, since becoming a power in the Genovese organization, Gigante has been able to escape any Mafia-connected criminal prosecution.

Gigante usually avoids telephone con­versations — they might be bugged — and carries out business from behind a layer of crime family members. He has success­fully insulated himself from direct in­volvement in the family’s criminal enter­prises, principally by limiting his conversations to only a few associates close to him. These talks never occur inside the Triangle, where a sign warns, “Don’t talk in here. The FBI is listening to you.” Chin Gigante’s important con­versations are saved for walks around the same Greenwich Village streets where he and his brother Louis were raised.

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SEBCO AND THE WISEGUYS

LABOR RACKETEERING has been de­scribed by one law enforcement official as “graduate school” for Mafia members. While most low-level Genovese family members are involved in mob staples like hijacking, loan-sharking, gambling, and prostitution, the control of labor unions and construction companies has usually been the province of the Genovese hierar­chy. This is mainly because of the com­plexity of some deals, as well as the enormous profit potential of these enterprises.

The high-profit stakes were never bet­ter revealed than in testimony and evi­dence introduced during a federal racke­teering trial last year, which showed that Genovese leaders masterminded a scheme to rig bids on every city concrete contract worth more than $2 million. Through kickbacks and hidden interests in concrete companies, family leaders made millions in a scheme that involved the fixing of more than $130 million worth of these contracts. Investigators believe that the crime family has also operated similar “clubs” in various other ends of the construction industry.

Thanks to its control of unions dealing with plasterers, laborers, truckers, car­penters, and other workers, the Genovese gang has often been able to dictate which construction companies will get certain jobs. “Our real power, our real strength, came from the unions,” former Genovese soldier Vincent “Fish” Cafaro testified last year. “With the unions behind us, we could make or break the construction industry … ”

SENATOR SAM NUNN: What about subcontractors?

VINCENT CAFARO: Well, now there’s some contractors is usually around wise­guys, so you get the plumber, he is look­ing fo the job …

NUNN: So the wiseguy helps control the subcontractor?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: In other words they help the con­tractor get the job?

CAFARO: Then there is a subcontractor — ­if you got, let us say a plumber with you, or an electrician, or a carpenter, or the drywalls, you go to the contractor, you tell him, listen, give him this job, whatev­er. And that is how you get him.

NUNN: Do the wiseguys get money back from the subcontractor by helping them get the job?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: So basically they are controlling everything from one end to the other.

CAFARO: Top to bottom.

NUNN: Top to bottom?

CAFARO: Sure.

Cafaro’s testimony before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Senator Sam Nunn, April 29, 1988.

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SEBCO’S SILENT PARTNER

TOP TO BOTTOM, SEBCO developments show the hand of the Genovese crime family. Under Father Gigante’s leader­ship, SEBCO has permitted organized crime onto jobs, from the demolition of rotting tenements to the construction of walls to the installation and maintenance of elevators. At the center of the mob’s decade-long involvement with Father Gi­gante is Vincent DiNapoli, the Genovese family’s construction specialist, who has, for years, directed a network of construc­tion companies and businessmen tied to the mob. DiNapoli, who is now impris­oned, and Steven Crea, his protege and heir apparent, have been pivotal in the syndicate’s relationship with Father Gi­gante and SEBCO since 1979, when it first became deeply involved in low-in­come housing construction.

Vincent DiNapoli, 51, is an accom­plished fixer and a three-time felon. He was sentenced last year to 24 years in jail for his role in the concrete conspiracy. Though a prior conviction should have barred DiNapoli from receiving munici­pal contracts, two drywall companies that state investigators say are controlled by the mobster have secured more than $16 million worth of SEBCO contracts, as well as more than $60-million in munici­pal contracts since 1980.

The two firms — Inner City Drywall and Cambridge Drywall — were both founded by DiNapoli in 1978. Though he had no prior experience in drywall — the construction of interior walls in build­ings — DiNapoli’s companies secured more than $25 million in federally fi­nanced contracts during their first three years in business. Most of these contracts were on projects financed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban De­velopment.

SEBCO has provided Cambridge with more than $6 million in drywall and car­pentry work since 1980, records reviewed by the Voice reveal. The firm has also received contracts worth more than $15 million from other governmental agen­cies — including the New York City Hous­ing Authority and the federally financed Newport City development in New Jer­sey. Investigators believe that DiNapoli’s stature in the Genovese family allowed him to get most of these lucrative con­tracts — including the SEBCO jobs­ — without any competitive bidding. Inner City and Cambridge came onto jobs as subcontractors. Normally devel­opers hire a “general contractor” to man­age the construction site and to hire sub­contractors — the building trade’s specialists — who handle various facets of the construction project, from pouring concrete foundations to planting trees. At the city, state, and federal levels, general contractors doing government work are routinely subjected to nominal back­ground checks, but subcontractors rarely are scrutinized. In fact, many of the gov­ernmental agencies contacted by the Voice have no idea which subcontrac­tors — the companies actually building publicly financed projects — are working, or have worked, for them.

Following DiNapoli’s 1981 indictment, HUD officials placed him and his firms on what the agency calls its “debarment” list (see sidebar, “Federal Fraud”). But Cambridge and Inner City were removed from the list of ineligible contractors only a few months later when DiNapoli pre­sented documents showing that he had apparently sold his shares in the firms. Since their reinstatement, Inner City and Cambridge have each received dozens of federal housing and other municipal con­tracts, including every major SEBCO drywall contract during the last eight years. Drywall work is usually the largest subcontract awarded in rehabilitation projects. A report released by the state Orga­nized Crime Task Force in 1988 conclud­ed that DiNapoli “has long controlled” the two firms. The Voice has also devel­oped information that DiNapoli never di­vested himself of the drywall business.

In the midst of his 18-month racke­teering trial, DiNapoli held meetings in bis Pelham Manor home regarding construction business, according to law en­forcement sources. In fact, one of these meetings was taking place when the Voice visited DiNapoli’s home in November 1987. Automobiles in the driveway were registered to a Manhattan plasterers lo­cal; Bronx union boss and Genovese asso­ciate Louis Moscatiello; and attorney Vincent Velella, the father of State Sena­tor Guy Velella.

Until last summer, Cambridge Drywall operated out of a storefront at 2242 First Avenue, a building owned by Vincent “Fish” Cafaro; FBI surveillance has shown that various members of the Gen­ovese family regularly used Cambridge’s office as a meeting place. The firm has also operated from 2368 Westchester Ave­nue in the Bronx, a building owned by DiNapoli and three associates. In addi­tion, city records reveal that Cambridge has owned a pair of private homes on Kenilworth Place in the Bronx that have been the residences of Cafaro and Car­mine Della Cava, another powerful Geno­vese soldier.

HUD records indicate that DiNapoli’s interest in Cambridge was reportedly bought out by Larry Wecker for $900,000 in May 1981. An affidavit signed by Wecker in June 1981 states DiNapoli “maintains no control and exercises no influence” over the firm. The sale was not an arms-length transaction, however. FBI sources say that Wecker, 48, is considered an “associate” of the Genovese family and that he regularly visited DiNapoli at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecti­cut. The subcontractor and his wife live in an East Side co-op and own a $400,000 home on the edge of a golf course in Plantation, Florida. Wecker did not re­spond to a dozen messages left with his answering service.

SEBCO also gave over $1 million in subcontracts to another company linked to DiNapoli, Three Star Drywall. The company’s owner, Arthur Felcon, who has two criminal convictions, was a defense witness during DiNapoli’s 1982 trial. When pressed by prosecutors about Di­Napoli’s role in the drywall industry, Fel­con clammed up: “I don’t ask anybody who’s associated with anybody.” Felcon could not be reached for comment.

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TRANSFER OF POWER

DINAPOLI’S LEGAL PROBLEMS over the past five years have made a rising star of Steven Crea, 41, a longtime DiNapoli friend and business partner, who is listed in FBI records as a “made” member of the Genovese family. Crea now plays an important role for the syndicate in vari­ous aspects of the construction industry, which, according to law enforcement sources, has gotten Crea closely involved with Father Gigante and the SEBCO developments.

Crea is described by investigators as a “money man.” He grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx surrounded by wise­guys, and now lives in a sprawling home just across the street from DiNapoli. Crea is the godfather of DiNapoli’s daughter Deborah, and he arranged her engage­ment and wedding parties while her fa­ther was in prison.

Following DiNapoli’s jailing in 1983, FBI records reveal, Crea was designated by Chin Gigante to “assume Vincent DiNapoli’s former role” in the construc­tion “rehab” industry. Federal prison re­cords show that Crea visited DiNapoli more than 35 times in the first 16 months of DiNapoli’s incarceration in Danbury, and investigators believe that these meetings concerned the duo’s joint real estate and construction investments.

Crea’s federal tax returns from 1979 to 1983 reveal that he drew salaries each year from both DiNapoli drywall firms: Cambridge — a total of $170,000 from ’79 to ’83 — and Inner City — $86,468 in 1982 and $67,032 in 1983. According to federal prosecutors, Crea is believed to still own stock in both firms, though Cambridge recently went bankrupt, with creditors claiming more than $4.5 million in un­paid debts.

Vincent DiNapoli reported selling his 40 per cent interest in Inner City Drywall in April 1981, according to an affidavit signed by Antonio Rodrigues, the compa­ny’s president. But as with Cambridge Drywall and Larry Wecker, investigators say, DiNapoli’s influence over Inner City and Rodrigues has never really abated. Rodrigues did not return Voice calls to his New Rochelle office.

The ongoing relationship between DiNapoli and Inner City is apparent in some of their real estate transactions and other business dealings. Though Inner City is headquartered in New Rochelle, the firm often conducts business out of a DiNapoli-owned storefront at 1237 Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx. The site is also home to the DiNapoli printing and waste-hauling businesses. In April 1985, Inner City gave a real estate company owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Crea a $450,000 mortgage on a Bronx property that was purchased three years earlier for only $15,000. And last July, Inner City transferred ownership of a 1976 white Cadillac Eldorado to Crea’s 17-year-old son.

Father Gigante too can be counted among Steven Crea’s business associates and personal friends. In 1985, after Crea was convicted of conspiracy in connec­tion with a plot to kill a Bronx man who Crea believed had assaulted his wife, Fa­ther Gigante wrote a personal appeal for leniency to the sentencing judge, calling Crea a “special friend” who once helped him fight the “onslaughts of crime and housing deterioration” in the South Bronx. (Crea’s conviction was overturned in 1987.) A 1982 FBI affidavit stated that Gigante’s crime-fighting friend was sus­pected of “loansharking, gambling, and narcotics activities.”

Inner City has grown over the past 10 years into one of the metropolitan area’s chief drywall contractors, according to an industry source. The company and its subsidiaries have received more than $10 million in SEBCO contracts since 1980, and the firm has secured at least $40 million in other municipal contracts. This total includes a $19 million joint venture with developer Samuel Pompa for the New York City Housing Author­ity, as well as more than $10 million in current work with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. While some of the contracts were award­ed on a low-bid basis, many others are were subcontracts that involved no competitive bidding.

But Steven Crea’s new clout in the Genovese gang and SEBCO-tied con­struction has a downside: he has recently come under intense scrutiny by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

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CLOSE TO HOME

PART OF THE Morgenthau-Goldstock probe, according to investigative sources, is focusing on Crea; Mario Tolisano, Fa­ther Gigante’s right-hand man at SEBCO; and union leader Louis Mosca­tiello, in connection with various labor racketeering offenses. As part of the probe, prosecutors have subpoenaed SEBCO’s financial records for the past three years. A special 11-month grand jury has been empaneled, and indict­ments are expected within the next few months.

Sources have told the Voice that the investigation, which has involved the ex­tensive use of wiretaps, has centered, in part, on Tolisano’s role as the link between a “club” of contractors and Mosca­tiello, in the “covering” of construction jobs. This process, once a Vincent DiNa­poli specialty, results in contractors being allowed to illegally hire cheaper, non­union laborers for projects that are sup­posed to “go union.”

Tolisano is a protege of Father Gigante, and over the last 10 years the 39-year-old has been instrumental in planning and developing every SEBCO housing project. Tolisano last year ran his friend Philip Foglia’s unsuccessful campaign for Bronx district attorney, an effort partially fi­nanced by SEBCO contractors and supported by Father Gigante (see sidebar, “Pols and the Mob”). Foglia’s father, a former police detective, has been head of SEBCO’s security division since 1981.

The Voice spoke briefly with Tolisano last month and gave him an outline of areas to be discussed in an interview. Tolisano said that he would confer with Father Gigante and call back, but never did so. Ten subsequent calls placed to Tolisano’s office also went unreturned.

In addition, investigators are examin­ing Moscatiello’s role as a “broker” be­tween this club of contractors and officials from other unions. As president of Local 530 of the plasterers union, Mosca­tiello, 51, was paid $64,000 in 1987. He is very close to Vincent DiNapoli and Fa­ther Gigante, both of whom supported his unsuccessful 1982 bid for City Coun­cil. Father Gigante has referred to Mosca­tiello as “the most honest man I know.” According to labor investigators, Local 530 was formed with DiNapoli’s assis­tance and has served as a “sweetheart” local for contractors, paying workers less and offering fewer benefits.

[In addition to Gigante and Tolisano, the Voice attempted to question four oth­er SEBCO officials. Father William Smith, SEBCO’s secretary and a 10-year board member, declined to be inter­viewed, claiming, “I stopped giving inter­views in 1971.” Board member Vincent Molinari also refused to talk to the Voice. The other board members, who share a Manhattan apartment, did not respond to messages left at their residence.]

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FOR “THE BOYS”

THE 1982 LABOR RACKETEERING CASE involving Father Gigante’s friend Vincent DiNapoli exposed some of the inner workings of the subcontracting under­world. In this instance, DiNapoli and Theodore Maritas, then president of the District Council of Carpenters, conspired to rig a bid for Petina Associates — a long­time major contractor for SEBCO and the New York City Housing Authority, with more than $35 million in municipal contracts. In addition, one of the firms that prosecutors charged had conspired with DiNapoli and Maritas to submit in­flated bids was controlled by builder Sid­ney Silverstein, who is currently handling more than $22 million in SEBCO jobs and $30 million in other city housing projects.

After his first trial ended in a hung jury in 1982, Vincent DiNapoli pleaded guilty to labor racketeering charges in Brooklyn federal court. One of the specific counts of the indictment for which DiNapoli ad­mitted guilt involved an amazing shake­down of a small building contractor. The outline of the conspiracy was secretly re­corded and videotaped by the FBI in Maritas’s Manhattan office.

On the tape, Maritas and DiNapoli ex­plained to the contractor that he had stumbled into their plan to fix a $5.5 million contract for Petina to perform renovations on a group of Chelsea brown­stones. Maritas told the small business­man that he and DiNapoli had “set up” the owner of the brownstones with inflat­ed bids so that “a certain guy got the job.” Maritas then explained to the con­tractor that “everybody had been in on it, and you come along, innocently, okay, and come in a million less than the low bidder … You’re in the middle of a big ball game, my friend.” Maritas then add­ed, “If you were just some guy we didn’t know … you would have problems. … We’d go for your eyeballs.”

DiNapoli chimed in that various “con­nected” individuals were involved in the scheme and that the job had been “regis­tered.” DiNapoli eventually gave the con­tractor the choice of either taking $100,000 to get off the job or going back to the owner of the brownstones and re­questing an additional $100,000 for “the boys.” But before the contractor returned with an answer, the undercover investiga­tion was terminated, and charges were brought against Maritas, DiNapoli, and five others.

With the exception of Maritas, every defendant in the DiNapoli racketeering case pleaded guilty. Maritas’s first trial ended in a hung jury. But in March 1982, before he could be retried on the federal charges, the labor leader disappeared. Maritas’s wallet was later found floating near the Throgs Neck Bridge. Investiga­tors believe he was the victim of a Geno­vese-sanctioned hit.

Petina Associates, the contractor who would have gotten the rigged bid, is con­trolled by Peter DeGennaro, a neighbor of Crea and DiNapoli in Pelham Manor. Since 1982, the firm has received $19.6 million in contracts from the New York City Housing Authority for the construc­tion and rehabbing of public housing. The company has done more than $6 million worth of work for SEBCO over the past eight years. An additional $8 million has been earned by DeGennaro’s company from city agencies such as the Police Department and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Father Gigante had lined up Petina to do a $7 million small-homes project in 1984, but when SEBCO encountered problems securing bank financing, DeGennaro was forced to back out of the deal.

Petina and Vincent DiNapoli have a real sweetheart association. DiNapoli was once so involved with Petina’s opera­tions, records show, that he would per­sonally pick up bid specifications for the company from general contractors. And up until last year, the DiNapoli family’s carting company shared a Bronx office with Petina Associates at 1821 Mahan Avenue. DeGennaro did not return Voice phone calls.

Deed records reveal that in April 1980 Petina Associates purchased a house at 1446 Roosevelt Place in Pelham Manor for $150,000. Eleven months later, Petina sold the home to DiNapoli’s wife, daugh­ter, and mother-in-law for the bargain price of $126,000, which represents a $24,000 loss — an unusual Westchester County real estate deal. At the time of the sale to the DiNapolis, real estate re­cords show, Petina gave the family a $99,065 mortgage, which carried a 6 per cent annual interest rate. The mortgage was another incredible gift, since prevail­ing rates at the time were 13.91 per cent, according to Federal Home Loan Bank Board records. The house, now occupied by DiNapoli’s daughter, is currently worth $700,000.

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PROBLEM SOLVER

ONE OF THE SEBCO PALS implicated in the DiNapoli-Maritas case is currently Father Gigante’s developer of choice: Sid­ney Silverstein is now serving as general contractor on three current SEBCO proj­ects. These development contracts are worth a total of $22 million, according to city records. Two of the contracts are for the construction of small homes ($10 mil­lion and $4 million), and the other proj­ect is an $8 million, 90-unit senior citizen development, cosponsored by St. Barna­bus Hospital. In addition, Silverstein’s firm may also be in line to build SEBCO’s largest project to date, a $19.1 million small homes project. The project, dubbed St. Mary’s Park, will consist of 113 two­-family homes on 144th and 145th streets, bounded by Willis and Brook avenues, south of SEBCO’s normal hub.

Since 1981, Silverstein has operated under the name Sparrow Construction, of which he is chairman. In addition to his work with HPD and HUD, Silverstein has also gotten contracts from the state Urban Development Corporation and the New York City Housing Authority — in spite of past investigations of his busi­ness dealings, including possible forgery in connection with a federally funded Brooklyn housing project.

Testimony in the DiNapoli-Maritas case revealed that Silverstein submitted an inflated bid of $6.4 million in an attempt to help secure the contract — fixed for Petina Associates. In an outgrowth of the Maritas-DiNapoli case, Silverstein’s company and a host of other construction firms were targeted in 1983 by a joint FBI-IRS-Department of Labor probe in­vestigating allegations of drywall bid-rig­ging. While two companies were eventu­ally convicted of federal crimes, Silverstein and his firm were not charged.

In addition to his ties to DiNapoli, Silverstein also has a close association with Steven Crea, a relationship that investigators working on the Morgenthau-­Goldstock probe are examining.

In a 1985 letter to Crea’s sentencing judge, a Bronx priest wrote about the mobster’s efforts to rehabilitate the Belmont section of the Bronx. “He has been instrumental personally and through the Sparrow Construction in rehabilitating more than 100 units of housing,” wrote Reverend Mario Zicarelli. When the Voice phoned the priest about the Crea letter, he said could not remember any details and hung up.

Asked during a Voice interview to de­scribe his relationship with Crea, Silver­stein initially responded, “Who is he?” But after the Voice told the developer that it had documents that linked Crea to Sparrow Construction, Silverstein admit­ted that he employs Crea as a “labor consultant” who “helps mainly with problems in the various communities and with the church groups. He takes care of whatever problems come up.” Asked what types of problems arose with “church groups,” Silverstein said: “At the moment I can’t really tell you.” When the Voice told Silverstein it had information that Crea was paid more than “six fig­ures,” he responded, “Yes, that’s correct.” At that point, Silverstein said he did not want to answer any more questions and would consult with his attorney. He did not return subsequent calls.

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RISING PROFITS

SEBCO’S “TOP TO BOTTOM” subcon­tracting network once also included Cur­tis Lifts, Ltd., an elevator company that paid Crea $67,500 in 1983 according to his tax return for that year. The firm’s Bronx address — 3743 White Plains Road — also happened to be the offices of Sid Silverstein’s Sparrow Construction, but it is unclear who owned the company. (When asked about Curtis Lifts, Silver­stein said he had “no comment.”) The company was apparently sold sometime in 1985 or 1986.

Curtis Lifts, nonetheless, was a large SEBCO subcontractor, with more than $5 million in contracts. The company, which was incorporated in 1980 by Crea’s attorney Paul Victor, stopped getting SEBCO contracts soon after it was sold to the Flynn-Hill elevator company.

While it may not be clear who was installing SEBCO’s elevators, it is clear what firm services many of them: Al-An Elevator Maintenance, which is owned by Vincent DiNapoli’s brother Anthony, and Allie Salerno, who prosecutors contend is the nephew of Anthony “Fat Tony” Sa­lerno. (Attorneys for the DiNapoli broth­ers have denied this charge, contending at Allie Salerno has never even met “Fat Tony.”) The firm’s contracts with SEBCO have totaled more than $250,000. Taped conversations introduced as evi­dence in DiNapoli’s last federal trial show that Vincent DiNapoli often tried to round up business for his brother’s com­pany. Furthermore, Al-An operates out of a property owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Steven Crea.

BIG HAULS

IF SEBCO WANTS GARBAGE CARTED from a project site, it often turns to yet another DiNapoli family concern Crest­wood Carting, which specializes in haul­ing construction debris. The firm has re­ceived about $1 million in SEBCO contracts — usually for taking away the remains of demolished tenements. Crest­wood is currently doing work for SEBCO at a building project on Fox Street spon­sored by the Archdiocese of New York.

City records show that the sole owner of Crestwood is DiNapoli family relative Joseph Brancaccio. The firm has recently employed both Louis and Vincent DiNa­poli as well as their sister, who is the company’s bookkeeper. Federal prosecu­tors contend that Crestwood Carting was a direct beneficiary of the DiNapoli brothers’ concrete industry scheme, since the firm received carting contracts for many of the construction sites involved in the bid-rigging operation.

The carting industry has long been dominated by the Mafia. Genovese mem­bers like Louis DiNapoli — Vincent’s younger brother — and Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello have held financial interests in a number of carting firms.

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WIRED

RALPH ARRED, THE CHAIRMAN of the Yonkers Democratic Party, can often be seen holding court at a back table in Pagliaccio’s restaurant on Bronx River Road in Yonkers. Arred, a Cuban immi­grant who shortened his name from Arre­dondo, grew up with Steve Crea and re­mains very close to him. And he too has a spot at the SEBCO trough.

Arred owns an electrical contracting company that has received $10 million in SEBCO contracts in addition to $20 mil­lion from governmental agencies. The Yonkers political boss has received nu­merous SEBCO contracts over the past three years despite the fact that his firm declared bankruptcy in early 1986 and is currently “on the verge of collapsing,” according to an attorney representing its creditors.

Arred is “of great interest” says one source on the Morgenthau-Goldstock team, but the pol is not currently a target of the investigation. A state law enforcement source, however, told the Voice that investigators from the United States At­torney’s Office in Manhattan have opened a separate probe of Arred. The Yonkers boss told the Voice that he was not surprised that he was being probed. “I’m a political leader, I expect it. But I don’t give a fuck. It’s not the first time that they’ve investigated me.”

According to state board of elections reports examined by the Voice, a main source of funds for Arred’s Yonkers Dem­ocratic Party has been organized crime. The party has received substantial cam­paign contributions from corporations owned or controlled by Crea and/or Vin­cent DiNapoli.

Arred operates his contracting firm out of a building at 4443 Third Avenue in the Bronx. He shares this warehouse space with other prime SEBCO subcontrac­tors, Nicholas and Anthony Russo. (The brothers Russo are also close friends of Crea.) The Russo companies, which in­clude a large metal contracting company and a painting business, have done a total of $8 million in business with SEBCO and have received additional municipal contracts totaling at least $12 million.

Until he sold it last October, Nicholas Russo was listed in State Liquor Author­ity records as the owner of Pagliaccio’s. According to a 1982 FBI affidavit, Crea had a “financial interest” in the Italian restaurant. The two-story building that houses the restaurant and Crea’s office is owned by a relative of Crea’s employed by him.

Like Arred, Nicholas Russo, 45, wrote to the judge on behalf of Crea in 1985. Stating that he had known him for 25 years, Russo referred to Crea as someone who “does not shy away” from helping his community, particularly senior citi­zens. Arred’s bankruptcy filings show that his firm owes $280,000 to Nicholas Russo, and the electrical contractor said he is negotiating with Russo for an addi­tional $500,000 loan.

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MEADE AND MARIO

WHEN CONTRACTS HAVE BEEN doled out, Father Gigante has not forgotten his friends in politics. Records show that SEBCO has given business to the law firm of Mario Biaggi and the insurance brokerage of Meade Esposito, another pair of felons. The priest is an old friend of Biaggi and Esposito (long tied to a number of Genovese family hoods), and once called the former Brooklyn Demo­cratic boss, “one of the finest leaders in the country.” Federal housing records show that Esposito and Biaggi each pulled down more than $200,000 in fees from SEBCO developments.

Another Gigante crony earning money from SEBCO is Ely Colon, a former member of the not-for-profit’s board of directors. In his spare time, Colon serves as the principal broker for SEBCO’s pur­chase of couches, tables, chairs, and other furnishings. Colon told the Voice that he works full-time for HPD and operates his furniture company from his Bronx apart­ment. Individual SEBCO orders placed through Colon have totaled about $200,000 over the past two years. Colon said that SEBCO uses him to purchase furniture because “I have all the catalogs to order from.” Asked to provide a list of his clients, Colon struggled to come up with the name of one other customer.

NO VOW OF POVERTY

If You Can’t Trust Father Gigante, Who Can You Trust?
— A sign that hung for years on the side of the Bruckner Boulevard business headquarters of Genovese soldier William “Billy the Butcher” Masselli

THE VOICE’S INVESTIGATION showed that not only has “Father G.” been busy steering construction jobs to his mob pals, but he made money himself. As he is quick to point out, he never took a vow of poverty. While many of his parishioners live be­low the poverty line, records show that Gigante definitely does not. He owns two Manhattan co-ops and a home in upstate New York. The priest has also enter­tained friends in a swank San Juan con­dominium that he told them he owned. Gigante owns six automobiles and at least six pieces of Bronx real estate.

The priest once told a friend, “People may think I do this for free, but that’s their problem.” Gigante described himself last year as a “non-order” priest and, as such, says he does not have to adhere to the strict financial limitations of orders such as the Jesuits. SEBCO records re­veal that the company paid the priest $85,576 in 1987, and, in ’88 paid him $44,088 for part-time work. But the Voice has found that Father Gigante was un­doubtedly able to supplement his income thanks to a number of side ventures that are blatant conflicts of interest.

After a federally financed housing proj­ect is constructed, the only remaining source of continuing income comes from the management of the property. Gigante quickly realized this once he got in the business, and formed a management arm for SEBCO in 1979. Gigante, records show, now personally owns the real estate company, SEBCO Management, that provides those services to most of the SEBCO developments. According to financial records, the management compa­ny has a gross income of more than $450,000 annually. The board of directors of SEBCO — the parent company­ — which Gigante chairs, is responsible for picking which realty firms will manage its properties. It should come as no surprise that the priest’s company has gotten ev­ery SEBCO contract.

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In fact, the management of SEBCO properties is so important to Gigante that he broke with his long-time principal developer, Jerome Chatzky, after the builder refused to turn over management of certain projects to the priest, sources said.

A second company, Tiffany Mainte­nance, provides services — from painting hallways to repairing roofs — for about 1000 SEBCO apartments. Tiffany does more than $200,000 a year in business with the SEBCO organization. The firm was incorporated in April 1985 and was listed as a personal asset of Gigante’s on a June 1986 city disclosure report. On subsequent report, filed in May 1987, it appears that the entry for Tiffany Maintenance had been whited out. A Gigante disclosure filed in June 1988 also fails to list Tiffany Maintenance as an asset. Who owns the firm today is unclear, but Tiffany continues to be headquartered in a SEBCO project on Southern Boulevard, and when nobody is in its office, the company’s phones are forwarded to SEBCO Management.

In various filings with city and federal housing agencies, SEBCO and Gigante have not been forthcoming about the priest’s insider trading. In the thousands of documents filed by SEBCO with the federal housing department, the group never discloses that SEBCO Manage­ment is owned by Father Gigante, and that, at the very least, Tiffany Maintene­nce has also been — and may still be­ — an asset of the priest’s. In applications filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1987 and 1988, SEBCO refers to itself as the “par­ent company” of SEBCO Management. SEBCO also refers to Tiffany Mainte­nance as its “affiliate.” Since Gigante did not change the management company’s name, it appears the firm is still owned by the not-for-profit simply because it still carries the “SEBCO” moniker.

Records indicate that SEBCO Manage­ment was sold to Gigante sometime in 1986 for roughly $75,000, with no money down. Since then, it appears, the priest has paid SEBCO $35,000 toward the full purchase price. SEBCO’s records do not explain how the $75,000 sales price was established, if there were other potential buyers, what the company’s market value was, and if the sale had SEBCO board approval. Documents filed with the state Division of Housing and Community Re­newal reveal that after SEBCO sold its management operation to Gigante, the group received a $60,000 state housing preservation contract that was earm­arked, in part, to “market SEBCO Management” by preparing a brochure about the company, compiling a list of “potential clients,” and then sending the brochures out in a “bulk mailing.” This appears to be a misuse of state funds to enhance a private business.

Along with the various SEBCO pro­jects, Gigante’s management company has branched out, securing contracts with three separate federally funded Bronx ousing projects. It is not known whether these contracts were secured as a result of SEBCO’s state-funded “marketing” effort.

An even more intriguing transaction involved a second company that was once owned by SEBCO, but which also found its way into Gigante’s private portfolio.

This firm, the SEBCO Housing Devel­opment Company, Inc., was formed in November 1982 and had its name changed to SEBCO Realty in February 1985. (Like the management firm, most city and federal housing officials continue to believe the company is owned by Gi­gante’s not-for-profit organization.) In a June 1986 city disclosure form, Gigante listed SEBCO Realty as an asset wholly owned by him. Nowhere in any SEBCO tax returns or financial documents is the sale of this asset fully explained with re­gard to market value, purchase price, or approval by SEBCO’s board of directors. This lack of disclosure is critical since the SEBCO Housing Development Company stood to profit from a lucrative 1985 housing development deal.

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City records show that, initially, SEBCO (the parent company) was sched­uled to receive a $593,750 fee for its role as cosponsor of a publicly financed pro­ject on Kelly Street. However, days be­fore “closing” the deal, SEBCO informed city housing officials that it was being replaced as sponsor by the SEBCO Hous­ing Development Corporation, which SEBCO described as a wholly owned sub­sidiary. While city officials were surprised at this last-minute switch, they nonethe­less approved the project. The substitu­tion, in effect, meant that the SEBCO subsidiary — and not the parent compa­ny — was now in line to receive the $593,750 sponsor’s fee.

According to a schedule of payments, the subsidiary was to get its share over five years, beginning with $91,250 in 1984 and followed with payments of $147,500 in 1985, $85,000 in 1986, and $90,000 in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Using this formula, the firm — in its new incarnation as SEBCO Realty — had at least $270,000 in cash receivables when Gigante took it over. It is not known how much — if any — of the previously dis­bursed $323,750 in fees was on hand when Gigante got the company.

The only other assets that can be traced to the SEBCO Housing Develop­ment Company/SESCO Realty are four South Bronx buildings — with a combined total of 177 apartments — that were pur­chased from the city in January 1984 for $50,000 in unpaid bills. It seems that Gigante has been involved in more self­-dealing: this time, he apparently has used city and state funds to spruce up the four buildings he owns.

Part of the $60,000 state housing preservation grant was earmarked for renova­tions to the four rent-stabilized  buildings, though Gigante them himself. In addition, development fees earned by SEBCO itself in connection with the group’s sponsorship of two federal pro­jects have recently been used to pay for new windows and doors, light fixtures, an intercom system, roof repairs, and paint jobs in the four buildings. City records list the work being done on properties ”currently owned and managed by SEBCO.” Department of Housing Preser­vation and Development records show the four rent-stabilized buildings have a total of 657 housing code violations.

Of course, SEBCO — the parent compa­ny — neither owns nor manages any of the four buildings. The “SEBCO” firm that manages the properties as well as the “SEBCO” company that holds title to the buildings are both privately owned by the priest. On a June 1988 city disclosure Gigante listed the four buildings as per­sonal assets, a fact that has escaped city housing officials.

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FATHER G’S HIDEAWAY

WHILE GIGANTE’S BUSINESS DEALINGS may be tainted, his recent action on be­half of a convicted Genovese associate is a true illustration of the priest’s character.

Morris Levy, the president of Roulette Records, has been a long-time source of ready cash for the Genovese family, par­ticularly Chin Gigante and his live-in companion, Olympia Esposito. According to a 1985 FBI affidavit, Levy money was also “funnelled” to Father Gigante in the form of a gift of a piece of upstate prop­erty and a low-interest mortgage.

The property, located on the edge of Levy’s sprawling horse farm in the town of Ghent, was given to Father Gigante in August 1979 with an accompanying $32,000 mortgage at 5 per cent interest. At the time, prevailing rates were be­tween 10 and 11 per cent. In addition to the house loan, records show that Levy also gave the priest a $15,000 “business loan” in 1981.

When the Voice first tried to question Gigante about the 1979 transaction in April 1988 (when the FBI affidavit was made public), he did not return phone calls. He finally told his tale just before Levy was sentenced last year on federal extortion charges.

On September 20, 1988, Gigante wrote to Stanley Brotman, the federal judge sentencing Levy, and termed the FBI’s account of the house deal “a bold lie” Gigante claimed that Levy actually do­nated the land to Gigante so that the pair could build a home for one of the priest’s former secretaries.

In his letter, Gigante explained that he uses a “large part” of his earnings “to take care of my dear friend and loyal assistant” Erma Cava. The priest’s for­mer secretary, 55, who is partially para­lyzed and confined to a wheelchair, has had a SEBCO senior citizens project named after her, Gigante went on to state that since 1980, Cava “has been living full-time at the farm” and that there she is cared for by “another of my secretar­ies,” who Gigante claimed he also sup­ports. The spacious ranch-style home, which sits on about an acre of land, fea­tures a sun room, two-car garage, and a backyard that slopes down to a large pond.

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“Morris and I visit frequently and I often bring children from the parish to visit and spend time in the country. Erma is still paralyzed on her right side, but we see continued improvement. She is even beginning to speak although she is aphasic,” Gigante wrote. He concluded: “I  am not involved with organized crime and it is an insult to mischaracterize Morris’ kindnesses to me and others as the funneling of money to organized crime. I believe Morris’ greatest contribution was the idea to build a home for Erma … an unfortunate pe·rson who might have been forgotten without us.” While appearing heartfelt, Gigante’s letter borders on total fiction.

Not only is the deed, mortgage, and phone at the property in the name of Louis Gigante, when the Voice visited the home last year, two cars registered to the priest were in the driveway, but nobody was home. In addition, Department of Motor Vehicle records show that the priest currently registers his Cadillac from the Ghent address as well as three cars owned by his real estate manage­ment firm. When a neighbor was asked if he knew where the “Gigante house” was, he immediately pointed it out.

In addition, SEBCO records for 1986, 1987, and 1988 list Erma Cava’s home address as 520 Second Avenue in Man­hattan. Cava’s address turns up on the SEBCO records because the woman, who Father Gigante described in his letter as brain-impaired and barely able to talk, sits on SEBCO’s five-person board of directors.

Cava lives with Migdalia Morales, a SEBCO board member and former Gi­gante secretary, in apartment 8-8 in the Phipps Houses development on Second Avenue in Manhattan. A fellow Phipps resident immediately recognized Cava’s name, said “she’s in a wheelchair,” and added that the woman has lived in the building for “at least eight years and maybe more.”

Though the priest claims to support her, Cava had enough pocket change to donate $1000 last March to the campaign of Phil Foglia, a Gigante-backed candi­date for Bronx district attorney, accord­ing to Board of Elections campaign dis­closure statements. These election records also list Cava’s address as 520 Second Avenue. Morales donated $1000 to Foglia on the same day; her address is also listed on election records as 520 Sec­ond Avenue, Apartment 8-B.

AT THE 9:30 A.M. MASS on Sunday, De­cember 4, Father Gigante is at the altar at St. Athanasius talking about sin. The priest explains that if one is to be saved, one must acknowledge and take responsibility for his sins. He then decries the crime and violence in our society and how “we have allowed it to invade all our neighborhoods. We have accepted the violence. We have accepted the crime and the drugs. This violence against our peo­ple happens every day on the streets out­side this very church.”

Since the days he studied at St. Jo­seph’s Seminary, Louis Gigante has also accepted crime and violence-and the men involved in these criminal attacks on the community. The priest’s relationship with the mob is not innuendo: it clearly has been one of long-time cooperation with hoodlums.

Father Louis Gigante is not just a troubling anomaly. More than any prosecutor or parolee in this city, the priest sits at the crossroad of good and evil, happy to live off both sides of the street. ❖

IS CHIN SANE?

FATHER LOUIS GIGANTE recently began legal proceedings to have a conservator appointed to handle the affairs of his brother, Vin­cent “The Chin” Gigante, the Voice has learned. Legal papers state that the Genovese boss is “unable to manage his personal affairs by reason of mental illness.” The FBI, on the other hand, has long contended that Chin Gigante runs the crime family.

On February 16, the priest-repre­sented by attorney Barry Slotnick’s law firm-requested that state su­preme court judge Jacqueline Silber­man name a conservator for his broth­er. Silberman told the Voice that she has appointed attorney Peter Wtlson to represent Chin Gigante lllld said the lawyer is to submit a report to her on March 14 regarding Gigante’s mental state. Silberman said the report­ which will address whether a conser­vator is warranted-will include inter­views with Gigante’s doctor, Eugene D’Adamo.

In most cases, conservators are appointed for individuals-often elderly or mentally infirm-who cannot take care of their business and personal matters. While family members say that Chin Gigante is mentally ·ill, this action will be the first public review of those contentions. Law enforcement officials have previously voiced their concern that Gigante-given his bi­zarre behavior-might be able to easi­ly mount an insanity defense if he were to face any future criminal charges.

Father Gigante’s legal maneuver comes at a time when Gambino boss John Gatti reportedly has put out a contract on Chin Gigante. The Daily News reported Monday that the FBI recently advised the priest and his brother Mario, a Genovese soldier, of the alleged Gambino plot. While secu­rity around Chin Gigante is tight on Sullivan Street, the Genovese boss ap­pears to be guarded only by his chauf­feur Vito Palmieri when he is picked up at his East Side home. — W.B. & EDWARD BORGES

POLS AND THE MOB

LOCAL POLITICIANS have been on the receiving end of campaign contributions from members of the Genovese crime family, campaign records show. Politicians and committees receiving mob money include:

  •  State Senator Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, has gotten tholl88nds of dollars in Genovese-tainted contribu­tions since 1986. Velella’s campaign committee -has received donations from two companies owned by the family of Genovese soldier Vincent DiNapoli ($600); a Genovese-connect­ed bricltlayers local ($200 ); and mob­linked labor leader Louis Moscatiello ($ 100). Larger donations were sent in 1987 to the Velella-chaired Bronx Re­publican committee by firms linked to DiNapoli and fellow Genovese mem­ber Steven Crea: Cambridge Drywall ($750); Inner City Drywall ($750); V.L.J. Construction Corp. ($750); Al­An Elevator Maintenance ($750); and DiNapoli’s wife ($1500).
    Velella told the ¾>ice he was not sure who solicited contnbutions from the DiNapolia, but that one posaibility was Moscatiello-head of plasterers Local 530-who has helped with fundraising.
  • The Genovese hand can al80 be seen in donations to the Yonkers Demo­cratic party, Again, the money comes principally through firms tied to DiNapoli and Crea. The Voice has sin­gled out 19 Genovese-linked contribu­tions, totaling $5150, that chairman Ralph Arred’s committee has received since July 1984. Firms donating in­clude Crea’s road paving and real es­tate development companies and two drywall companies tied to DiNapoli and Crea.
    Arred said he did not know how mob firms ended up donating to the · party. “I have a mailing list with 2200 names. Whoever gives me names, I put them on the list.”
  • Before his election to Congress last fall, Eliot Engel, a former Bronx as­semblyman, got donations from Mos­catiello, Crestwood Carting-the DiNapoli family garbage company­and Molat Homes, a firm that gave its address as the New Rochelle home of Vmcent DiNapoli’s brother Joseph, a convicted heroin trafficker.
  • Last year’s campaign by Philip fog­lia for Bronx district attorney ‘got $1000 from the District Council of Carpenters, which state investigators say is involved in “racketeering.” Vm­cent Tolentino, Local 530’s secretary and a Moscatiello business partner, donated $150; and a real estate part­ner of Crea and Vincent DiNapoli’s gave $500. Foglia al80 received more than a dozen donations-for a total of about $6000-from companies receiv­ing SEBCO contracts. — W.B.

DECEIVING THE FEDS
Vincent DiNapoli’s Two Dirty Deeds

FOLLOWING HIS INDICTMENT on labor racketeering charges in April 1981, Vincent DiNapoli was declared persona non grata by the federal housing department

Officials at the Department of Hous­ing and Urban Development placed the Genovese soldier on their list of ineligi­ble contractors pending the resolution of charges brought against DiNapoli. A letter from the agency dated April 16, 1981, informed DiNapoli that he was “suspended from participation in HUD programs.” Following DiNapoli’s guilty plea in latr 1982, HUD issued a “final determination” barring DiNapoli-for an indefinite period of time-from any partic,pution with the housing agency. DiNapoli still is on HUD’s debarment. list.

This ruling, however, did not deter DiNapoli or Father Gigante.

The Voice has discovered that, in vi­olation of federal regulations, DiNapoli secretly invested $305,000 in two HUD projects, including a $6 million SEBCO renovation. Both DiNapoli investments were in projects financed under “Sec­tion 8,'” a federal program popular with investors because of its lucrative tax shelter benefits.

Unbeknownst to HUD or city hous­ing officials, DiNapoli-with Gigante·s help-secretly invested $110,000 in a real estate limited partnership that. was approved by HUD to renovate two rot­ting buildings on Faile Street in the South Bronx. As part of the HUD package, the federal agency guaranteed a $4.5 million mortgage granted to the limited partnership, Faile Street Associates.

When the housing project. called Al­dus I, was being reviewed by HUD and the city’s Department of Housing Pres­ervation and Development, Father Gi­gante’s organization submitted docu­ments to both agencies listing SEBCO and the Renata Construction Company as 50-50 partners in the deal. Renata is owned by builder Samuel Pompa.

Following HUD and HPD background investigations, which include a check of federal debarment lists, as well as an examination of the project’s cor­porate papers, both housing agencies signed off on the deal. Shortly there­after, the realty partnership received final authorization from HUD to begin renovation on 96 apartments.

It was at this time-with the project safely approved-that Gigante secretly brought Genovese family operatives into the deal, including Vincent and Joseph DiNapoli-two convicted fel­ons-and their brother Louis. Joseph DiNapoli was convicted in 1974 of con­spiracy to distribute heroin and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Other new partners investing $110,000 apiece included Genovese family member Steven Crea, and four executives of Inner City Drywall, a company tied to Crea and Vincent DiNapoli. The amendment effectively transferred control of the partner­ship-and ownership of the housing de­velopment itself-from SEBCO and Pompa to the DiNapoli crew.

Gigante surely knew that if either city or federal housing officials were apprised of the DiNapolis’ role in the Faile Street project, the renovation would never have been approved. And SEBCO would have lost more than $100,000 in sponsorship fees. In fact, while all 10 partnership agreements were signed and notarized in December 1982, Gigante and Pompa didn’t get around to actually filing the corporate amendment with the Bronx county clerk’s office until May 1984-eight months aft.er renovations were com­pleted on the Faile Street properties.

The 1982 agreements with DiNapoli and the other new “limited” partners called for a $5000 payment up front, with the $105,000 balance to be paid over three years (1983, ’84, and ’85). In return, the new investors would each receive 9.9 per cent of the partnership’s profits. This percentage apparently was carefully calculated to avoid an HPD rule that requires sponsors to disclose the names of any individual holding 10 per cent or more of its stock. But dis• closure still should have been made since city rules also require family members holding stock in aggregate of 10 per cent to file disclosure forms. The DiNapoli brothers purchased 29.7 per cent of Faile Street Associates, which holds the deed to the two five-story buildings.

Marylea Byrd, an assistant counsel in HUD’s Washington office, told the Voice that DiNapoli’s debarment pre­cluded, from the day of his suspension in April 1981, his being “involved in any way with a HUD deal. This in­cludes being a subcontractor as well as being the recipient of a HUD-insured mortgage.” Byrd said that debarred in­dividuals “are certainly not supposed to be limited partners in any HUD-in­ sured ventures.”

THE DRY RUN for DiNapoli’s Faile Street gambit apparently was the mob­ster”s July 1981 investment of $195,000 in a limited partnership developing a 50-unit HUD project on Saint Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn. DiNapoli had al­ready been suspended for three months when he purchased a 14.83 per cent interest in the project. As with Faile Street, the Brooklyn limited partner­ship-Rochester Associates-also re­ceived a multimillion mortgage guaran­teed by HUD. And as with Faile Street, city and federal housing officials were never informed of the corporate switch.

Joining DiNapoli in this limited partnership, according to corporate pa­pers, were his daughter Deborah, then only 19 years old ($65,000 for a 4.945 per cent interest), Crea ($130,000/9.89 per cent), Inner City Drywall president Antonio Rodrigues ($130,000/9.89 per cent), and Genovese associate Robert DeFilippis ($130,000/9.89 per cent). DeFilippis is currently facing federal extortion and conspiracy charges in New Jersey.

On a financial disclosure statement filed last year with the U.S. Parole Of­fice, Louis DiNapoli also reported hav­ing a $109,500 stake in Rochester Asso­ciates, but his partnership interest is not reflected on any of the group’s cor­porate papers. — W.B.

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CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Why’s a Nice Man Like David Dinkins Running for Mayor?

Except for a 109-year-old woman and some of her family members, the Most Worshipful Enoch Grand Lodge in Bedford Stuyve­sant was nearly empty on a recent April night. The 17 people in the masonic hall’s main meeting room were waiting for David Dinkins, mayoral candi­date, to arrive to present a proclamation — on the oc­casion of her birthday — honoring Aunt Jannie Glover for living so long. As photo opportunities go, it was not shaping up to be a good one: one local television camera crew, one reporter, and one photographer. An organizer of the birthday party worried about the turnout: “There were a lot of people who were supposed to show up who didn’t. I don’t know what happened to them.”

When he arrived at 6:25, Dinkins ap­proached Aunt Jannie, who was sitting at a folding table, and introduced himself:

“Hello, Aunt Jannie, I’m David Din­kins. I’m the borough president of Manhattan.”

“Who?”

“I’m David Dinkins, the borough presi­dent of Manhattan. I’m here to give you this proclamation.”

“What?”

“I’m going to be the next mayor.”

“What?”

“I’m going to be the next mayor.”

“That’s nice,” a not-too-impressed Aunt Jannie responded.

Dinkins read the framed proclamation announcing April 20, 1989, to be Aunt Jannie Glover Day in Manhattan. That Glover, a Brooklyn resident, has never lived in Manhattan a day out of her 109 years does not really matter. This is, of course, an election year, and 109-year-­olds are not that easy to come by. Espe­cially ones with family members active in the Brooklyn Democratic organization.

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IN POLITICAL CLUBS, synagogues, civic associations, and church basements across New York City over the past few weeks, a familiar scene has been played out nightly. The three Democrats actively running for mayor — Dinkins, Comptrol­ler Harrison (Jay) Goldin, and banker/builder Richard Ravitch — are each given about 15 minutes to explain to crowds numbering as few as 25 people why they should be the one to replace Ed Koch, who has not yet begun to campaign.

Ravitch, hampered by his perennially hoarse voice and plodding monotone, reg­ularly has trouble holding a crowd, though his speech is thoughtful and his resume impressive. Goldin’s presentation, on the other hand, is a high-speed trip through the failures of Ed Koch’s admin­istration, a talk that often includes the recounting of a bicycle ride through Cen­tral Park during which Goldin’s son won­ders, “Daddy, would you like to see the pushers?” The comptroller, with his arms flailing about, sounds like a mix between Lowell Thomas on speed and Eddie Mur­phy’s Gumby character.

As the front-runner in the race — the latest Marist Institute poll shows him with a 12.5 per cent lead over Koch­ — Dinkins is often the most anticipated speaker at these forums.

In his standard address, the borough president focuses on crime and drugs as well as the poor planning and “crisis-to-­crisis management” of what he calls the “current administration,” to which he rarely attaches Koch’s name. But since he has yet to unveil detailed solutions for the major problems he identifies, Dinkins falls back on general, conceptual notions. Speaking last month before the Douglas King Democratic Club in Queens Village, for instance, he said, “We must expand the criminal justice system” to deal with jail over-crowding, and spoke of the need for a “greater police presence” at the lo­cal level. Referring to drug treatment and education, Dinkins said, “We’re not handling it right. We’ve got to find options for young people.” As to other problems, the often says, “I suggest that we can do better. And we must.”

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In his public appearances, Dinkins is careful not to stray too far from his stump speech, careful not to take any unnecessary chances this early in the campaign. While he ticks off various shortcomings in the city’s hospital and health care system, all Dinkins will say about quality of care is that city hospitals “are not doing nearly as well as they might.” Of course, the candidate must realize that the city’s health system is in abominable shape, but he does not choose to say this. When asked at an East Side candidates’ forum about the conditions in Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital, Din­kins appears surprised by the question. All he can offer the questioner is that “I’m distressed,” and that city emergency rooms have become the family doctor for many city families.

Dinkins also often avoids talking about how programs would be implemented, and what they would cost. And with bud­get restraints at the city, state, and feder­al levels-not to mention possible eco­nomic downturns, or even a recession­such a financial component has taken on added importance this election year. Din­kins’s desire to limit high school size to 1500 (some currently have more than 3500 students) and his desire for treat­ment on demand for substance abusers are commendable, but the candidate has yet to explain where the money would come from to pay for these programs.

Since announcing for mayor in Febru­ary, Dinkins has been badmouthed and second-guessed — behind the scenes — on everything from his choice of media ad­visers (the high-profile Washington team of David Doak and Bob Shrum) to his speaking style (“almost as boring as Ra­vitch,” according to one elected official), his lack of concrete proposals, and his supposedly slow-developing campaign apparatus. Although the Dinkins campaign is just beginning, the general wisdom seems to be that it’s already stalled. That the efforts of Ravitch, Goldin, Koch, and Republicans Rudolph Giuliani and Ron­ald Lauder cannot approach the organi­zation, volunteers, or enthusiasm gener­ated so far by the Dinkins campaign is rarely discussed. (Clearly, none of the other three Democrats could come close to mustering the horde of noisy supporters that greeted Dinkins at the overflow opening of his West 43rd Street head­quarters in late March.) These swipes at Dinkins may well come with the title of front-runner, but they are also surely rooted in an ugly mix of racial paternal­ism, jealously, and greed, especially from some of the city’s traditional political “handlers” who have been excluded from Dinkins’s campaign, and therefore left without a paycheck.

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But with polls showing Dinkins with large leads over his three Democratic op­ponents, this backbiting can be fairly eas­ily ignored by the candidate and his cam­paign. Bill Lynch, who served as Dinkins’s chief of staff before leaving to manage his mayoral campaign, says of his campaign apparatus, “We’re damn sure closer than anyone else. As far as I’m concerned, we’re where we should be at this point.”

In fact, campaign supporters — and sometimes Dinkins himself — sound as if the Democratic primary has already been won and that the real battle this fall is with Rudolph Giuliani, who might appear on two lines in November’s general elec­tion. In 15 campaign appearances attend­ed by the Voice over a recent two-week period, Dinkins uttered the word “Koch” only three times, while he often brought up Giuliani. His remarks at a Greenwich Village fund-raiser were typical. “I’m sure Rudy will get around to announcing someday and then it’ll be interesting to see him explain how he can be running as a Liberal and a Republican,” Dinkins said. “It should also be interesting to see him explain whether he’s been pleased with the Reaganism of the last eight years. Homelessness is a problem brought on by the Republicans in Washington. And let’s see him explain why the Justice Department he worked for did so little for civil rights.”

Compared to Goldin’s slashing attacks on Koch, Dinkins has been downright genteel when it comes to the mayor. “It has never been his style to scream at the top of his lungs,” one supporter says. “And I don’t think he’s going to get into a mud-slinging contest. He’s happy to leave that up to Jay [Goldin].” While the comptroller gleefully recounts episodes from the municipal corruption scandal, Dinkins only occasionally mentions “problems with the Talent Bank,” which, he says, “apparently was used for patron­age.” On the stump, Dinkins has not ut­tered the names Donald Manes, Stanley Friedman, or Meade Esposito, or even let on that, under the incumbent’s leader­ship, City Hall had been turned over to the county organizations. Calling Koch on these dangerous liaisons, of course, would be a sticky proposition since Dinkins himself is actively seeking the sup­port of the same three Democratic orga­nizations once headed by the aforementioned crooks.

The David Dinkins that David Dinkins wants voters to see is a man who can bring the city together, who cares about the city’s growing underclass, and who can do something about New York’s out-­of-control drug and crime problems. Dinkins is confident in crowds, patting shoulders, shaking hands, and calling ev­eryone “buddy” or “darling” if he does not already know their name. His facility with crowds serves him well, for the nature of the mayoral race forces Dinkins to put in appearances at some bizarre events. There was, for in­stance, the recent ritual at the Friar’s Club, where the candidate “celebrated” —  in the Milton Berle Room, no less — the release of another vanity book by Toast­master General Joey Adams. Dinkins purchased a copy of Joey’s Guaranteed to Make You Laugh, and chatted and posed for photos with such celebrities as Cindy Adams, Anthony Quinn, Dr. Ruth, How­ard Cosell, Morton Downey Jr., Alan King, and various old Borscht Belt come­dians. The mayoral candidate was one of only three blacks not serving drinks in the Uncle Miltie Room.

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SPEAKING AT THE Gramercy Park Syna­gogue last month, Dinkins recalled being raised in Trenton, New Jersey, by his mother, a manicurist and domestic work­er, and his grandmother. Dinkins’s par­ents were divorced in 1934, when he was six years old. “I remember we moved a lot. Often times, when the rent was due it was prudent to move,” he said. As a young man, Dinkins sold shopping bags on Eighth Avenue and 125th Street and worked washing cars and dishes. “I can’t remember being without a job,” he said. Dinkins served in the Marine Corps, but World War II ended while he was in boot camp. After graduating from Howard University with a mathematics degree, Dinkins entered Brooklyn Law School; he helped pay his tuition by working as the night manager of a Harlem liquor store. Dinkins maintained a private law practice from 1957 until 1975, when he became city clerk. After unsuccessful tries for the Manhattan borough presi­dency in 1977 and 1981 (he lost to Andrew Stein by less than three points), Dinkins was elected beep in 1985 by a two to one margin.

Unlike many, if not most, politicians, Dinkins does not tailor his speech to his audience. Speaking before the mostly white, middle-class John F. Kennedy Democratic Club in the stifling basement of a Jackson Heights Methodist church in April, Dinkins departed from his stump speech and began talking about the plight of the homeless. Dressed in a blue double-breasted suit and sweating profusely (Dinkins could break into a sweat riding the elevator in the Munici­pal Building), the candidate was unusual­ly forceful. “One day an elderly couple could be living in their apartment, the next day they’re out on the street. Some­one gets sick, the bills pile up, they fall behind on the rent and then” — snapping his fingers for emphasis — “just like that, they’re on the street.”

In fact, far from pandering to his audi­ence, Dinkins often does the opposite. In Jackson Heights, after discussing the homeless, Dinkins spoke about his 1984 and 1988 support of Jesse Jackson, not­ing that some Jews were distressed about “Jesse this and Jesse that. If I thought he was anti-Semitic I wouldn’t have sup­ported him.” The candidate then told of his longstanding support for Israel, his trip to the White Rose gravesite in Mu­nich while Ronald Reagan was in Bit­burg, and his courageous 1985 denuncia­tion of Louis Farrakhan.

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Similarly, when speaking to predomi­nantly black crowds, Dinkins often does not even mention Jackson’s name­ — though to do so would draw surefire ap­plause — despite the fact that Dinkins co-­chaired the reverend’s two presidential campaigns. Speaking at the monthly meeting of the predominantly black Fred­erick Douglass Club in Queens, Dinkins told the crowd of “my deep concerns for the safety and security of Israel,” as well his belief that IRA member Joe Doherty be released from prison and granted po­litical asylum.

It is rare for Dinkins to diverge from his controlled public persona. But when he does, his flashes of passion — like the ones he showed in the Jackson Heights church basement — can strongly affect crowds who view him simply as a quiet, reserved politician. On the other hand, Dinkins can also turn off crowds when his testy side appears. When pressed in public about an issue. Dinkins can be quick to snap back at a questioner.

At an endorsement meeting of the Cen­tral Brooklyn Independent Democrats, for instance, former liberal assemblyman Joe Ferris calmly asked Dinkins to ex­plain his vote in favor of the Atlantic Terminal development, an urban renewal project that, Ferris contended, would hurt poor people. “I can’t give you specifics on that, Joe. I really can’t remember,” Din­kins replied. Ferris pushed again for an explanation, pointing out that he believed the project would create more homeless families. “Now hold it,” Dinkins bel­lowed. “Look, if I asked you to remember the last time you ate egg for breakfast, you probably wouldn’t remember either.” An indignant Ferris was set to try a third time for an explanation, but he backed off. “That was a bullshit answer he gave to a serious question,” Ferris said. “We deserve better than that,” He added later. “Based on my experience with the man, in my gut, I’m troubled by him.” The former state legislator sat out CBID’s endorsement vote later that evening. Din­kins, as it turned out, did not need Ferris: the candidate won the club’s endorse­ment by a landslide.

But Dinkins has also been able to han­dle touchy subjects well. At a meeting last week of Manhattan’s Lexington Democratic Club, the second question directed at Dinkins seemed to be a plant: “Is it fair that you live in a large Mitchell-­Lama apartment when the city is in the midst of a major housing crisis?” a man asked. “Yes,” Dinkins replied, trying to dispose of the question. When the man then asked, “Is that a proper response for a public official?”, the candidate ex­plained that he, his wife, and his two children needed the space of a three-bed­room apartment when they moved into their Riverside Drive home years ago. “Nobody told us back then that someday we would be forced to move. My 430 neighbors feel the same way,” Dinkins said. He added, “I trust that you’ll ask Mayor Koch the same question about his rent-controlled apartment.”

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The question of Dinkins’s large, subsi­dized apartment is not considered a cam­paign negative since the man most likely to raise it — Ed Koch — is himself ware­housing a one-bedroom apartment on Washington Place in the Village. Koch has said he believes that Mitchell-Lama residents without families who live in large apartments should move into small­er ones to help ease the city’s housing shortage. Dinkins says that these tenants would undergo “extreme hardship” if forced to relocate.

There are, however, two “negatives” Dinkins will have to face in the upcoming campaign: the “tax question,” and the issue of race in an increasingly polarized city.

From 1969 to 1972, Dinkins did not file tax returns. Doak and Shrum are cur­rently “massaging” that issue, according to Lynch, since it is expected that some opponent (read: Koch) will use this 17-year-old episode against Dinkins. The borough president, who deftly handled the question at his February announce­ment, recently said. “I don’t think it’s unfair to be asked about it. I have never ever avoided making a full explanation.” Dinkins, who was forced to pay $15,000 in back taxes, says he believed some of his taxes were paid and that “it was one of those things that I was always going to take care of but sometimes I did not have all the funds or I did not have all the documents.”

One city campaign consultant says that Dinkins’s old tax problems will “definite­ly be used against him. It’s going to be a real item in the campaign. It doesn’t mat­ter that it’s ages old. The approach will be something like, ‘How can he handle billion-dollar budgets when he can’t even file his own taxes?'” “It only loses him votes, that’s for sure,” a party official agrees.

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A second, and perhaps a more serious “negative,” is race. Within his campaign, Dinkins’s ability to find support in the predominantly white neighborhoods of the outer boroughs is widely considered to be the key to a primary victory and the avoidance of a runoff election. Harlem congressman Charles Rangel says that while “a lot of New Yorkers might feel uncomfortable with a black mayor,” a number of white congressmen in the city delegation are close to defecting from Koch to Dinkins. Though he would not discuss individual names, Rangel says that some of these representatives “have not yet found ways to tell their constitu­ents that they want to leave Koch.” Ac­cording to Rangel, the only two congress­men who would find it “difficult to walk away from Koch” are Queens’s Gary Ack­erman and James Scheuer.

Brooklyn’s Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, a member of the conservative Lubavitcher Hasidim community, says that “Ed Koch would have you believe that anyone who talks to Jesse Jackson is an anti-Semite. Don’t think that everyone out here agrees with that. The stereotype is that we are crazies out here, but that’s not the case. People understand that, politically, Din­kins needs to have Jesse near him.” Gold­stein, who is chairman of Community Board 9 in Crown Heights, adds, “The Jewish community outside of Manhattan has not seen much of David Dinkins. When he gets out into the communities, people will see that he doesn’t have horns on his head.”

As he addressed audiences about last month’s gang attack in Central Park, Dinkins referred to the arrested teen­agers as a band of “urban terrorists” who could have “attacked my wife, my daugh­ter.” While his proposals to combat at­tacks like these are thin — he has suggest­ed that unarmed park rangers (“Y’know, the guys with the hat”) become more involved in crime prevention — Dinkins has spoken out forcefully about the at­tack, though his words have been over­shadowed in the daily papers and the electronic media by the reactions of Ed Koch and Donald Tump.

In an interview last week, Dinkins said, “You’ve got to have a sister or daughter to feel this. It has shit to do with race. But it’s got everything to do with a real brutal fucking act. They not only raped her … but they beat the shit out of her. Now in that climate, I cannot get exercised about whether someone calls them a ‘wolfpack.'”

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Though Lynch and Dinkins dismiss the possibility that the Central Park attack will have a negative impact on the Din­kins campaign, five city politicians inter­viewed by the Voice said the event would probably hurt the Manhattan borough president. One city councilman said, “Strictly on racial terms, this does noth­ing to enhance [black] empowerment ar­guments.” Herman Badillo, a Dinkins foe, says that the park attack “has got to hurt him. It’s an unspoken disaster.” Lynch rejects this argument, contending that anyone who would be turned off to Din­kins because of the attack “probably wasn’t voting for him anyway.”

Lynch also dismisses the suggestion that the announcement last week of At­torney General Robert Abrams’s endorse­ment of Dinkins was intended to counter any white hostility stemming from the Central Park attack. Lynch confirms, however, that the campaign had had the Abrams endorsement lined up for more than a month. But he says Dinkins decid­ed to announce the endorsement now ­rather than late in the summer and closer to the primary-to “give us some mo­mentum.” This reasoning seems suspect, however, since momentum — in the form of recent major union endorsements — is not in short supply in the Dinkins campaign.

The role that Jesse Jackson will play in the campaign is also being discussed. Last month, Dinkins said that his cam­paign “will surely draw people from all over the country. I’m sure he’ll [Jackson] be here.” Dinkins declined to discuss whether the question of Jackson’s in­volvement was a concern to his campaign strategists, though this is another issue Doak/Shrum are examining. “We want everybody to remember that this is David’s campaign,” Lynch says. “We don’t want him overshadowed by anyone.” A Brooklyn Jewish leader who supports Dinkins says, “If Jesse is here one or two weekends, that’ll be fine. I don’t think anybody in this community will have a problem with that. But if he’s here all the time, well, that’s another story.”

The Marist poll released in April gave Dinkins a favorable rating of 59.4 per cent, far ahead of Goldin (41.4) and Koch (40.5). His unfavorable rating was 9.1 per cent (Koch’s was a whopping 54 per cent), while 31.3 per cent of those polled said they were unsure or had never heard of Dinkins. The only major candidate in either party with a higher favorable rat­ing was Giuliani (74.3 per cent), who also had as low an unfavorable rating as Din­kins (9.0). A New York Newsday poll re­leased last Sunday showed that if the primary were held today, Dinkins would receive 38 per cent of the vote, compared with Koch’s 28 per cent. However, it’s worth noting that neither of these polls (nor any other surveys released to date) have asked voters about any of Dinkins’s potential “negatives,” including race and taxes. One Dinkins supporter says, “Be­cause David is a new face to many people, you don’t know what the downside, if there is one, might be.” On the other hand, as David Garth recently made clear, Ed Koch’s negatives are all well-­known.

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WITH THE GLARING exception of his steadfast support for the Board of Esti­mate (and then for weighted voting), Dinkins has been the most progressive — ­while still pragmatic — voice on the Board of Estimate in his three-plus years a borough president. He has opposed the berthing of a nuclear homeport in Staten Island, beat the mayor in a showdown over the construction of heavily subsi­dized luxury housing in Clinton, and fought for community interests in con­nection with proposed commercial and residential developments at Lincoln Cen­ter and the New York Coliseum. He has been the strongest voice on the board calling for additional funding for AIDS prevention programs and the most pas­sionate spokesman for the city’s growing homeless population. His staff — which West Side council-woman Ruth Messinger calls “the most extraordinarily skilled and racially integrated staff in my memo­ry” — features some of the city’s best housing, community service, and health advocates.

But despite his record as borough pres­ident and his inspired hiring decisions, many politicians and community leaders still have reservations about Dinkins. Al­though he has proven his independence on the board, Dinkins’s organization background (he was a district leader for 20 years and is a charter member — along with Basil Paterson, Percy Sutton, and Charles Rangel — of what is derisively re­ferred to as the “Harlem Gang”) still wor­ries some.

Oliver Koppell, a Bronx assemblyman who heads that county’s “reform” move­ment, says that he believes Dinkins is untested as an “administrative manager” and that the candidate has not been an “antiorganization politician. He comes out of a regular background. Jay [Gol­din], despite some of the ethical ques­tions, does come out of a reform background.”

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Herman Badillo is more critical, con­tending that Dinkins does not have “im­pressive credentials.” Badillo adds, “The mistake that he is making is that because Jesse got 45 per cent, that he too can get 45 per cent. In reality, Dinkins is closer to Denny Farrell than he is Bo Jackson. Dinkins doesn’t stir up the passion that’s needed.” Badillo’s comments are no sur­prise, since he holds Dinkins responsible for the Coalition for a Just New York’s last-minute support for Manhattan as­semblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell over Badillo in the 1985 mayoral race. (Far­rell’s entry into the race and his non-cam­paign helped Koch easily gain reelection.)

Dinkins dismisses Badillo as “not a factor” in this year’s election. (The Latin vote may be the key bloc in this year’s primary, and, according to both New York Newsday and a recent poll conduct­ed by Local 1199 — which supports Dinkins — the Manhattan borough president already holds a wide lead over the other Democratic candidates in the Latin com­munity.) “As for the betrayal he speaks of, I was never for him [Badillo],” Din­kins says. “I was supporting Carol Bella­my.” He adds that he has been unfairly slammed on the Farrell debacle: “The vote was 28 to 14 … including such peo­ple as Herb Daughtry and Roger Green voting for Denny. Will you tell me how, in that climate, this gets to be my fault? That’s the dumbest shit I ever heard of. It’s just plain asinine. And I have been carrying the weight for that from that day right down to now, right now, with The City Sun and certain others. So they can all take a running jump.”

However, even some of Dinkins’s sup­porters are worried about the lack of “passion” that Badillo cites. A Brooklyn community activist who supports Din­kins says, “I’m concerned that David start turning up the heat a bit. I think Lynch should be feeding him raw onions­in the morning.” Charles Rangel, howev­er, insists that Dinkins “has the ability to govern. I’ve heard this stuff about him being a wimp, being quiet. But I’ve known him too long. He is a former Ma­rine. And I have seen that former Marine take charge.”

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SOME OF THE BEST receptions Dinkins has received to date have been on Staten Island, which is not usually a hotbed of liberalism. It will be in white areas of the city like this where the Dinkins campaign must make that crucial crossover, accord­ing to Lynch.

On a recent Friday night, in a Knights of Columbus hall, Dinkins spoke to about 100 men gathered for the monthly meet­ing of the Amalgamated Transit Union. The ATU has been fighting against the explosion of private bus lines on the is­land and the city’s granting of franchises to out-of-state, non-union bus companies. Many of the bus drivers and mechanics in the crowd were dressed in their MTA uniforms, having come directly from work.

After being introduced by former city council president Paul O’Dwyer and Shir­ley Quill, the widow of former Transport Workers Union boss Mike Quill, Dinkins got a standing ovation as he walked to the podium. Wearing an ATU cap and baseball jacket, the Manhattan borough president looked very much like a Little League coach. Speaking below portraits of Christopher Columbus and Fulton Sheen, Dinkins drew sustained cheers when he told the predominantly white unionists that he opposed the city’s poli­cy of granting franchises to the out-of-­state firms. As he left the hall, Dinkins proudly displayed the jacket the union had given him, with the inscription, “Da­vid Dinkins, Mayor.”

At another Staten Island meeting — ­this time, a public hearing of Community Board 3 — Dinkins reiterated his support for the transit workers. After Dinkins had departed the auditorium, Ron Bell, the business manager for a longshoremen’s local at Howland Hook, told the crowd, “We have to change the city gov­ernment come November. And I person­ally feel that David Dinkins is the man.” Bell, who is white, received a large ova­tion from the audience. People like the union leader, with his gray hair and brown flannel shirt, were once Ed Koch’s core voters.

In less than a month, the Dinkins cam­paign will begin gathering nominating pe­tition signatures for the September primary. Though the bulk of these signatures — 10,000 are needed to qualify for the ballot — will surely be collected in minority neighborhoods like Harlem and Fort Greene, it will be in such areas as Riverdale, Stapleton, and Forest Hills that Dinkins’s campaign must take root. It is in these neighborhoods that Ed Koch’s base has eroded from under him. And it is in these neighborhoods that David Dinkins must prove he is the best alternative, something he has yet to accomplish. ❖

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CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES

David Dinkins for Mayor

NEXT TUESDAY’S ELECTION will end an ugly but momentous race. It is a paradox that the contest’s very emptiness, and its persistent distortion by vicious and irrele­vant attacks, have rendered the outcome on November 7 all the more significant. New Yorkers now no longer face an ordinary choice between candidates and parties, but rather a profound decision­ — even more so than in the primary  —about what kind of people we are, what kind of city we want, and what kind of politics we endorse. That decision will also affect the political climate of the nation, because national issues such as abortion have been debated in this campaign, because national politicians, including the presi­dent, have intervened — and most of all because New York City is the nation’s urban bellwether.

For all these reasons, as well as for his own personal qualities, his experience, and his progressive stance on such issues as housing, health care, crime, and educa­tion, we strongly urge our readers to vote for David Dinkins.

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AT THE AGE OF 62, Dinkins has been underestimated during much of his long political life, and has lived to see the skeptics humbled more than once. When, after three attempts, he finally won the Manhattan borough presidency in 1985, there were many who doubted he would serve with much distinction, as­suming that he would be a timeserver satisfied with the perquisites and courte­sies of office. They were wrong. He as­sembled a capable, motivated, multiracial staff whose members could truly be called public servants, and thus became the only reliable voice for progressive policies at the highest level of local government.

And when Dinkins finally declared his candidacy for mayor, after a period of indecision earlier this year, there were many who predicted that he would be unable to field a competent campaign or attract support outside his own African-­American constituency. Again his critics were mistaken. Dinkins unswervingly pursued a strategy of coalition politics, founded upon a message of hope, and won the Democratic nomination with substantial support from Jews and white Catholics in addition to Latinos, Asians, blacks, and gays.

This was a remarkable achievement for New York City as well as for Dinkins and his supporters. Almost overnight, the city moved perceptibly away from the rancor and division of the past decade, and to­ward unity against the problems that confront us. The most important promise offered so far this year is Dinkins’s com­mitment to racial and ethnic peace, with­out which no other progress can occur; the most troubling possibility is that the city will move abruptly backward by re­jecting his candidacy.

Such a rejection would be tragic, be­cause it would mean that even an unas­sailable record on human rights for all people is not sufficient to bring us together. It would be most hurtful to race rela­tions, and especially to the strained com­munications between African-Americans and Jews. The reflexive reaction by some Jewish voters to Dinkins’s friendship with Jesse Jackson is both unfair and foolish: unfair in ignoring the many occa­sions when Dinkins has supported Jewish causes, even at great peril to himself; foolish in discarding a proven ally. In­deed, all New Yorkers will benefit when a principled, honorable mayor occupies the black leadership role that has recently been usurped by frauds and demagogues like Al Sharpton.

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UNFORTUNATELY those searching for excuses to vote against the hope that Dinkins represents have not had far to look. We dismiss the attacks against individuals in and around his campaign as ridiculous diversions: For every peripheral figure like Sonny Carson, there are literally a hundred, perhaps a thou­sand, community and political leaders standing with Dinkins who are Carson’s opposites. And if we are to measure a candidate by his choice of hired political thugs, then who has made a choice that’s worse than Roger Ailes?

Yet there are also substantive ques­tions about David Dinkins’s judgment. Although Dinkins has plausibly answered the issue of his tax liability for the cable television stock transferred to his son, he has acknowledged that he responded to questions about Inner City Broadcasting too slowly and grudgingly. And while the Manhattan borough president — in con­trast to some of his white colleagues who receive far less scrutiny — has generally been prudent and ethical in his conduct, his Board of Estimate votes in favor of Inner City were ethical lapses of a kind that should never have occurred.

We believe that Dinkins, his son, or his friend Percy Sutton, Inner City’s chair­man, ought to provide documentation of the stock sale so that any lingering doubts about its authenticity can be erased. Under the circumstances this is scarcely an onerous demand, and we hope that Dinkins will be forthcoming.

But a certain hypocrisy has also been apparent in the public’s reaction to the Inner City affair. It is important to remember that this matter was only a sin­gle episode in a long career of public service, and that the normally scrupulous Dinkins deserves to be contrasted with other clubhouse politicians who have sold their Board of Estimate votes to corpo­rate and development interests with sick­ening regularity. These same officials­who happen to belong to other ethnic groups-rarely suffer the loss of either newspaper endorsements or white votes.

Concern over personal ethics, however legitimate, should not eclipse the broader political and social significance of this election. New York has known David Dinkins for many years, and his role as a defender of the poor, civil rights, the en­vironment, and individual liberties is firmly established. He knows who he is, and so do we. We are certain, for in­stance, that David Dinkins will not read an opinion survey one day and change his mind the next about every woman’s right to choose an abortion. We are confident, too, that if budgetary constraints require sacrifice, a Dinkins administration will not punish the poor while the wealthy prosper.

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THERE CAN BE NO SUCH CERTAINTY about Rudolph Giuliani, the Republi­can candidate, whose political life has been a rudderless journey from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. The former prosecutor seems quite comfortable praising unions one day and bashing them on another. He is perfectly capable of excoriating Ed Koch’s polariz­ing, pandering tactics and then, when convenient, adopting them. Giuliani cur­rently identifies himself rather vaguely as a “moderate fusion candidate,” and at­tempts to wrap himself in the mantle of Fiorello La Guardia without realizing that it is several sizes too large. Far from dividing one community from another, as the Republican candidate now seems so eager to do, the Little Flower was a leg­endary unifier.

Giuliani’s behavior since the primary has been deeply disappointing to the many New Yorkers who admired his crusades against corruption and organized crime as U.S. attorney. When he first declared that he would run for mayor, it was reasonable to hope that Giuliani would raise real issues of moral decay in government and set forth a program with broad appeal to Democrats and indepen­dents. And Giuliani, like Dinkins, has tried to discuss at least an outline of what he would do as mayor.

But Giuliani’s positive message has been drowned in the sewage of one of the dirtiest campaigns in New York’s modern history. With its emphasis on the old police records or supposed radicalism of Dinkins activists, and its racial scare tac­tics, the Republican negative barrage emits the odor of the old Nixon plumbers operation. The smell will almost certainly grow worse before Election Day, because Ailes and the other Giuliani strategists evidently consider any attack appropri­ate, no matter how vile.

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When Giuliani is questioned about the tenor of his campaign, he invariably ac­cuses Dinkins of attacking him first — by calling him a “reactionary Reagan Re­publican.” Though this epithet is not nearly as nasty as the accusations he has hurled at Dinkins, it does invoke a sub­ject Giuliani would prefer not to discuss. He likes to say that his administration would include “Republicans, Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives,” and to gloss over his own identification with the GOP (except when he is raising money).

But the hard truth is that in American politics there is no such thing as a “fu­sion” victory. To vote for Rudolph Giu­liani is to enhance the prestige of the Bush administration, the Republican Na­tional Committee, and Lee Atwater. It is to endorse the degradation of democracy by the likes of Roger Ailes. And it is to promote the ideology of a party that has been telling New York City to drop dead for two decades.

We hope New Yorkers seize the oppor­tunity to repudiate the politics of the Republican campaign and to prove that this city is still the stronghold of toler­ance, decency, and hope. There will be conflicts ahead over bias and budgets. But we can begin to resolve them by electing David Dinkins. ❖

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CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Untold Story of the Tompkins Square Murder

Blood Simple

Daniel Rakowitz moved in with Sylvia and Shawn on July 7, bringing his scrawny brown rooster and three cats with him. “The rooster’s name was Rooster,” remembers Sylvia, a pale 27-year-­old nursing assistant with long brown hair and a striking red-and-­blue tattoo on her right arm. “All night it would cackle and crow. I told Daniel one night, ‘Daniel, I can’t listen to this rooster anymore.’ So he took a sock, and he put it over the roost­er’s bead. And the rooster would lie on its back with its legs up. And after 10 hours I said, ‘Daniel, the rooster — it looks like he’s dead.’ And he says, ‘No, he’s in a trance.’ He’d take the sock off — the rooster was fine. But you put the sock on, and the rooster just lay on its back with its legs up in the air.”

Sylvia and her boyfriend Shawn, both from Morris Plains, New Jersey, had been living together in a cramped two­-bedroom apartment at 700 East 9th Street for a couple months. “When I first met Daniel a year and half ago, he sold me pot in Washington Square Park,” says Sylvia. ”I didn’t really get to know him until be moved into the apartment.” Rakowitz, a 28-year-old part-time cook and marijuana dealer who was sleeping in Tompkins Square Park at the time, agreed to cover half of the apartment’s $500-a-month rent. “I saw a change in Daniel: he felt like he was a normal per­son,” explains Sylvia. “He had a home, he could take a shower, he had a big TV.” In fact, Rakowitz developed a fixation for television. He’d watch until dawn, saying “C’mon Sylvia, watch TV — just one more show, there’s something good coming on!”

Despite a gaping hole in the wall oppo­site the stove, the kitchen was another plus: Rakowitz would often wake up in the morning and head for Key Food on Fourth and B. Hanging out by the front door, he asked people for donations. Strangers shopping at the store would buy him just what he asked for: chicken, potatoes, butter, bread, vegetables. He would return to the apartment with 30 or 40 pounds of food, cook it all up, bring it to Tompkins Square, and feed the home­less there. “He prepared a lot of chicken mainly,” says Jerry the Peddler, a local squatter and community leader. “He’d feed people a couple or three times a week.”

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Sometimes he showed up with break­fast. “He’d make stacks of pancakes for everyone,” says Shawn, a dark, muscular, 25-year-old electrician. “And he even used to get the syrup from the people in the street — he never paid for any of this. We cooked up everything. It was fun. And it was good. He had consideration for other people. He knew what it was like because he had been homeless.”

But life with Rakowitz was not a con­stant picnic: his incessant babbling would have driven almost any roommate mad. “When he used to go off on his trips,” recalls Sylvia, “I’d say ‘Daniel, you have your beliefs, and I have mine. I don’t impose them on you, so please don’t im­pose yours on me.’ And he’d respect that. And he’d stop saying, ‘I am the Lord of the Lords,’ and ‘By 1996, I’m gonna be president,’ and ‘By 1992, my followers are gonna take over,’ and ‘If they think Hit­ler was something, they haven’t seen any­thing yet.’ ”

“He was a classic nut,” says the Ped­dler. “He had all the symptoms: he had sudden fits of rage, he had delusions of grandeur, he didn’t like touching people, he had fantasy followers. Once, we were walking down Avenue B and we found a couple of pages of pornography on the street. He takes a handkerchief out of his pocket, and he lays it across the paper and then picks it up by the edges. And he looks at the women’s pictures for a min­ute and he finally folds it up very neat­ly — never touches it — and puts it in his back pocket.” The Peddler also saw Rakowitz try to pick up the real thing: “He was constantly going up to women — ­constantly. He’d stop right in the middle of a conversation and run over to talk to a single woman alone in the street or in the park. I saw him do that all the time. He never seemed to pick up that many.”

Soon after Rakowitz moved in, Sylvia and Shawn experienced problems in their three-year relationship; around July 20, they broke up and Shawn moved out. Sylvia, fed up with the city, decided to move shortly afterwards, leaving the apartment to Rakowitz. But he couldn’t support the place himself; when the lease changed hands, the rent would rise to $605. And Rakowitz — a skinny, bearded, long-haired drifter — was not exactly what the average landlord considers an ideal tenant. So the search began for a new roommate. “Daniel needed someone to share the rent,” says Shawn, “but he also felt threatened that we were going to kick him out — that I was going to kick him out — so he wanted the lease put in his new friend’s name. Daniel, I guess, didn’t want his name on anything.”

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About two weeks later, according to the police, Rakowitz met Monika Beerle, a 26-year-old modern dancer, in Tompkins Square Park. Beerle, a slender, dirty blond-haired girl from St. Gallen, Swit­zerland, had earned a teaching and chore­ography certificate from the Sigurd Leeder School and had recently studied at the Martha Graham School. Though she had a reputation for dating adventur­ously, one friend says, “She was a pretty smart girl. She seemed pretty profession­al, had a good head on her shoulders. The girl wasn’t stupid and she wasn’t crazy.”

In late April, Monika had moved from 93 Orchard Street to 171 Avenue B but was already looking for another place to live when she met Rakowitz. He took her home and made his pitch. When she ac­cepted, the two of them toasted their future with a couple of joints from Rakowitz’s stash.

Sylvia first met Monika before the lease had changed hands. That night, Rakowitz had been slow to answer her knock, and when the door swung open, he was zipping up his fly. “He never had women up there,” says Sylvia. “I’d never even seen him with a woman. So I’m saying to myself, ‘All right, Daniel, I know that you’re just trying to goof on me and make me think that you just went with this woman. So I went in there and he introduced me to her, and he says, ‘Yeah, she’s gonna move in and she’s gonna take over the lease.’ ”

Monika and her belongings arrived in the first week of August. “Daniel had cleaned up this place so immaculate be­fore she moved in, just for her,” Sylvia says. “I asked her the next day-because I thought Daniel was playing a joke-I said, ‘Daniel told me that he went with you.’ And she goes, ‘He did,’ point-blank in answer to me.”

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Something about the arrangement bothered Sylvia. “I told Daniel ‘This girl wants just the apartment.'” she recalls. “He kept saying, ‘No, but she cares about me, and she wants to live with me, and she wants to be my roommate.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, she wants the apartment. And she’s gonna take the apartment right from underneath you. She’s gonna have the lease in her name, and once it’s in her name she’s gonna throw you out. And I ain’t gonna be here anymore, and there’s nothing I can say when the lease is changed over. So if she throws you out, you’re out — and you’re homeless again.'”

But Rakowitz wouldn’t listen. “He’d say ‘I love her, I love her.’ I’d never seen him go out with a girl, much less say that,” Sylvia recalls. “But it was ‘Oh Monika, do you want this?’ Or ‘Monika, you want me to make you something to eat.’ I mean, he was just ‘Monika’ everything.”

“She treated him like shit,” adds Shawn.

Lynn, a vivacious 18-year-old girl who often sold Rakowitz sheets of blotter acid, tells an entirely different story: “I remember when the girl first moved into his apartment. It was early one morning, and Daniel was saying, ‘Oh yeah, there’s this girl.’ He said she’d moved in, and she was really stupid, and she had paid off his back rent so he wouldn’t get thrown out of his apartment. He was just using her; that was the whole thing.”

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Monika broke off the romance almost immediately, and she began bringing oth­er men to the apartment. One evening, she invited a Rastafarian to stay the night and Rakowitz inadvertently sur­prised them. Later, he confided in Sylvia: “He said to me, ‘Sylvia, she has a black man in there.’ And he looked hurt, and he looked mad, because that’s one of the people he hated — gays and blacks — to him, that was the worst insult you could give him. I said, ‘Daniel, what do you want me to do about it?'”

Monika’s friends, alarmed by Rakowitz’s ravings, urged her to throw him out. In mid-August, about a week after moving in, she took their advice, telling Rakowitz that she wanted him out in two weeks. Rakowitz pleaded, “Please, Sylvia, don’t let her throw me out. I have nowhere to go.”

“I said, ‘Daniel, I told you this was gonna happen, ‘ ” remembers Sylvia. “And it kinda freaked him out, you know? He was pleading every way he could to make some type of arrangement.” But Moni­ka’s mind was made up.

“She was stupid to fuck with him,” says Lynn. “He told her he was gonna kill her. She said that he had told her that.”

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“Daniel would go through this all day long,” remembers Sylvia. “He’d say ‘I’m gonna kill her.’ And five minutes later, he’d say, ‘No, I love her, I’m not gonna kill her.” This continued for three days. Neither Shawn nor Sylvia took him seri­ously — partly because of all the wild things he’d said in the past, partly be­cause neither of them had ever seen Dan­iel become violent. He talked a crazy streak, but he behaved himself. “Around August 12, I told Monika that ‘Daniel said he’s gonna kill you,’ ” says Sylvia. “And she just, kind of, laughed. And she went up to Daniel in front of me and said to Daniel, ‘I’ll kill you first.'”

On the evening of Thursday, August 17, Rakowitz walked Sylvia to the PATH train. As they shared a joint, he told Sylvia that he couldn’t take Monika any­more, he’d had enough. He said be planned to kill her the next day, and he asked Sylvia to come back and help him get rid of the body. “I said ‘Daniel, what are you, crazy? I ain’t gonna help you with anything.’ ” recalls Sylvia. “And he was really nervous. He was terrified. He was so terrified of being homeless.”

“I didn’t go there Friday,” she contin­ues. “I didn’t think about: ‘It’s Friday — is Daniel killing Monika?’ On Saturday night, I could see from the street that the apartment was dark, and I knew some­thing was wrong. But I went up there anyway. I was coming up the stairs and I heard Daniel’s TV, and it was really loud. And I opened the door, and his TV was in the kitchen, and it was very dim. I went back to my room to make sure my stuff was okay, ’cause I told him I was leaving it there for awhile till I got it all out. And Monika’s door was closed, and I went and knocked on Monika’s door, and nobody answered. So I went to the kitchen. And on the stove there was a pot. And in the pot was Monika’s head. She was all burnt-up, and her eyes were closed.”

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“I was born on Christmas Eve 12/24/60, which equals 96,” Daniel Rakowitz said to me in an interview this June. “And I have 18 letters to my name. I was born in the 21st Hour, which is 9:02 p.m., which they say signifies the coming of the Lord Jesus, according to what the Bible says.”

Rakowitz’s father, Tony, was a deputy in the small South Texas town of Rock­port. Tony’s boss, Sheriff Robert Hewes, told Newsday that Rakowitz’s father “was a straight-laced fellow, a real disci­plinarian.” According to Fred, who knew Rakowitz in New York for about two years, Rakowitz’s mother “died of a heart attack right in front of him. It happened when he was a kid, and when that hap­pens, people feel very very helpless.”

Rakowitz became aware of his divinity in 1966, when he was five years old. “Three Lords looking like Jesus floated out of the wall one at a time, one wearing a purple, one wearing a yellow, and one wearing a blue robe.” Rakowitz told Syl­via and Shawn that his parents had re­peatedly put him in psychiatric wards (when phoned, Tony Rakowitz refused to answer any questions about his son). “From the age of nine to 11 they forced me to take Ritalin [a drug prescribed for hyperactive children],” Rakowitz said in his June interview. “The other students decided to hit on me and spit on me. And if I defended myself, I got paddled. And I was the slowest runner in the school, too.”

“He told me they gave him shock treat­ments when he was 14,” says Sylvia. “I think he was the way he was from what had happened to him in the past — what people had done, the drugs they had giv­en him, his family committing him to psychiatric hospitals. He was committed. And he was very bitter about that.”

The tension between Rakowitz and his father peaked when the deputy found marijuana in his teenage son’s room. Rakowitz’s father took him to the Rock­port station and booked him for possession.

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At 19, Rakowitz enlisted in the army. He became an expert rifleman and spent 14 weeks in army law-enforcement school. After his discharge, he applied for a job as deputy alongside his father. He was turned down. (Rakowitz later spoke of taking over Texas: “I want to do every­thing as a Texas sheriff and I’m going to have many counties where a lot of people that smoke marijuana can come.”)

“On April 3, 1983, I made a prayer that I would have a dream to learn future events,” Rakowitz said. “Six days later, I did indeed have the dream and it told me I would come into total possession of a 14-year-old girl who two weeks later be­came my wife. And before we got mar­ried, I said, ‘According to the dream, you’re gonna leave me and I will go to New York and find a blond-haired woman and get married. Some day I come back and, according to the dream, you come back to me but you have another man’s child.'”

Police confirm that Rakowitz was mar­ried in Texas. “He told me his wife was Mexican,” says Martha, who befriended Rakowitz in New York. “She was really young. He was very upset when they split up and, I think he hoped at first — when I met him in 1985 — that they would get back together.”

No one is sure when Rakowitz first came to New York but police say he had not been back to his home state since 1981. “He was living at the Palace Hotel on the Bowery when I met him,” remem­bers Martha, who sold him quarter-­pounds of pot for resale. “He was always paranoid about visitors. And the police had questioned him before, you know. He told me how he had to sit down and tell them about his constituents, you know, how he had a constituency, how he had, you know, followers in his church, and how he had land in Colorado. He told me he had land in Colorado where he was gonna build his church and grow marijua­na there. I can’t remember the name of the man that he bought his land from but he would make payments on his land. I kept telling him, ‘Danny, it’s a sham, the man just took your money.’ ”

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Almost everyone on the Lower East Side knew Rakowitz:

“He’s a whacko,” says Clayton Patterson, a hat-store owner and the famed videotaper of last year’s riot in Tompkin’s Square. “All he ever talked about was killing; it amazed me that he talked about killing as much as he did. Daniel wasn’t a great marijuana salesman. Daniel was, you know, a slow learner. He was kind of a jovial-looking guy, but he was isolated, lonely; Danny-boy was always standing around by himself.”

“The man had charisma,” claims Jerry the Peddler. “It took people a couple of minutes to realize he was a kook, but he always managed to get them to stop and listen to him. Most people didn’t think of the guy as really being a nut. I used to talk to people about him. And they’d go, ‘Oh, no, he’s harmless.’ I used to tell them ‘Someday he’d gonna kill somebody.’ I swear I did.”

Jerry had reason to make his prediction: “Daniel liked to kill animals,” he remembers. “He killed his pets constant­ly. I saw him go through a lot of cats — a lot of cats. He had, like, three dogs that he’s killed. Everybody knew the white English terrier he had. He didn’t kill it, although he did kind of starve it quite a bit. He finally sold it.”

Dana Beal, Yipster-in-residence at 9 Bleecker Street, disagrees with the Ped­dler on at least one count: “He would have had a cult, and would have had a cult following, if he’d had charisma. You have to realize, it wasn’t that this guy didn’t go out and proselytize every day to win converts. It was that nobody would convert. It was a cult of one, you under­stand what I’m saying?”

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“I was gonna squat with him once,” says Lynn. “We opened a building on Suffolk Street one night, a whole group of us. He had some really cool ideas for what he wanted to do with the building: he wanted to make the first two floors housing for handicapped people. And it just didn’t go off. We thought he was pretty crazy for wanting to do that. He used to say that he wanted to, like, mur­der the cops and give their money to the poor. And he was gonna start this cult and have five children with each of 25 women, so that he could create his ‘mas­ter race.’

“Daniel used to burn incredible amounts of pot,” she continues. “That’s why I hung out with Daniel. That’s why everyone hung out with Daniel. And when you get stoned, and you listen to him ranting and raving, and it gets really hysterical. I mean, he was just amazing to listen to when you were stoned. So there was one day, and he had the grass on a table, and his rooster jumped up and scattered the pot. So he starts, like, beat­ing the shit out of this rooster. Someone jumps on Daniel and pulls him off, and everyone’s grabbing the rooster. Every­body was always, like, ‘Liberate the rooster!’ ‘Liberate the rooster!’ because Daniel used to carry it around in this bag, and it never saw the light of day.

“Some people said he had some kind of charisma,” Lynn concludes. “I never thought so, but a lot of girls thought he had some kind of weird charisma. I never thought there was anything interesting about him at all.”

Fred has a different perspective: “He hated women. He used to speak about how he was going to control women.”

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On November 9, 1988, WCBS-TV re­porter Mike Taibbi went looking for the Devil on the Lower East Side, found his man, and failed to recognize him. “I think we spent, probably, a total of four hours with Daniel,” says Taibbi, who was intent on proving that the noise band Missing Foundation had inspired the Tompkins Square Park riot. “We inter­viewed him for probably 30 minutes. Well, if you’ve heard his rap, you probably know all about this. We shot the whole thing, when he was going through his rap. We reviewed the logs, and one of the things he said was that — I don’t have the logs in front of me — but he did say that he was going to dismember his girl­friends. If they got pregnant and had an abortion, he was going to dismember them.”

“He asked Daniel all kinds of ques­tions,” says the Peddler, who sat next to Rakowitz on a Tompkins Square Park bench during the interview. “Basically, Taibbi just kept playing on Daniel’s weird rap about 966. He was mainly interested in making the Missing Foundation link; Missing Foundation was the whole point of the interview.” Amazingly, Rakowitz bought Taibbi’s premise that Missing Foundation was a Satanic cult rather than a band with a devoted following of anarchists. For some time afterwards, Rakowitz paced the park, telling people, “You think Missing Foundation are big Satanists? I’m going to be the biggest Satanist of all, wait and see.”

“We used just a bit of it,” says Taibbi, “as it related to a story we were doing.” Asked if he is now upset at having thrown away the rest of the footage, Taibbi answers sharply: “Not necessarily.”

While interviewing Rakowitz, Taibbi questioned him about the Temple of the True Inner Light, a storefront on East Ninth Street that houses five young men and women who worship psychedelics. At that point, Rakowitz was barely aware of the place. Within weeks, however, he was knocking at tbe temple’s door.

“I believe we were the only people that briefly — and I’m talking about real brief — got Dan in touch with his conscience,” says temple member Mary, a woman with spectacular red hair. “Dan was not hopeless. He had a lot of prob­lems — a lot of spiritual, mental prob­lems — and anyone that talked to Dan for five minutes could see this. Dan had started telling me that he felt guilty about all the animals he’d killed. He started telling me, ‘Oh, I had this many chickens, this many dogs, this many cats, this many rabbits,’ — he named a whole bunch of animals.”

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The temple members were so spooked by Rakowitz, they actually took him out­side to search him for weapons — the first such incident in over five years. “He was telling us he couldn’t leave this bag that he had,” says Mary. “And I started thinking that he had weapons in it, but then be pulled out Hitler’s book. He definitely had severe, severe problems.”

Rakowitz’s obsession with Adolf Hitler alienated everyone, especially those who hung around the Square, not a place where right-wing, fascist ideology is fash­ionable: “About a year ago,” says Aron Kay, the infamous pieman of the late ’70s and a fixture on the Lower East Side. “I found out that Daniel was into admiring Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And I asked him why doesn’t he give it up or burn it, but he kept defending it. He said that he loved and literally worshipped the book. My parents are Holocaust survivors. I couldn’t take it anymore. That pushed my buttons. I literally floored him on Avenue A.”

Rakowitz was infatuated with his German edition of Mein Kampf because he believed the book to contain “evidence of the supernatural,” facing page 696. The evidence had nothing to do with the text itself; rather, it was in a simple diagram rendered by a blue felt-tip pen on a small piece of paper slipped between the book’s pages: a blotch of ink in the center, a ‘9’ to the left of it, a ‘6’ to the right. Rakowitz believed this diagram signified that he was the Second Coming of Christ.

As Daniel explained in June, when he looked at the diagram he saw a cow’s head with two horns rising toward him through the ink. Rotating the diagram 90 degrees, “it turns into my entire image­ — my face, my hair, my beard, my shirt, my coat, my pants.” The Daniel in the pic­ture has dog’s paws instead of feet. (He later told Sylvia he could evade arrest for Monika’s murder because he was able to turn into a dog at will.) Off to one side, he saw “a blond-haired woman looking at me coming toward her.”

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Shawn reaches out to hold Sylvia’s hand as she continues recounting her nightmarish walk through the darkened apartment. After the shock of seeing Monika’s blackened head in a pot on the stove, Sylvia walked toward the bath­ room. “I walked to the very tip of the bathroom — I didn’t go in. And I saw in the bathtub what was, like, a ribcage, with everything off — just the bones, just the ribs. And it was full of blood. And there was, like, guts. So I left, and I couldn’t even lock the door I was shaking so bad. But I locked the door ’cause I thought, ‘Jesus, if anybody sees this … ‘

“I went to a phone booth on Avenue A and I called up Daniel’s beeper number. And I said, ‘Daniel, you did it?’ And he said, ‘You saw it, Sylvia?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry you had to see it, but I had to do it.’ And he said, ‘Come up to the apartment and smoke a joint with me.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, meet me in Tompkins Square. I’m not going to the apartment.’ So he met me in the park. And he was apologizing. ‘Sylvia, I’m sorry, I had to do it, I had to do it.’ And he started telling me what happened.”

Rakowitz told her he was not alone when it happened — he said he was with a friend from a Satanic church in Brook­lyn. That evening, according to Rakowitz, Monika told him, “You have to leave by tomorrow, and if you don’t get out, my friend with a pit bull is gonna come and get you out.” Then she went into her bedroom. His friend said, “What, you haven’t killed her yet?” Monika came out and started yelling at his friend. His friend said, “Why are you yelling at me? You don’t know me.” “But I know Dan­iel,” she replied, “and you’re his friend.”

“So I guess maybe that had set Daniel off, I don’t know,” says Sylvia. “But he told me that he had an extension cord and he went up, she was walking away, heading toward the two bedrooms, and he put the extension cord around her neck. She said, ‘What are you doing, Daniel?’ And then he strangled her with his hands,” Sylvia says. “He told me, ‘When I strangled her, she scratched me.’ And he pulled his sleeve up, and he had long scratch marks down his arm.

“He had choked her to death. And when she was dead, he said he stomped on her head 10 times and stabbed her over 30. He told me that he used her chest as a carving board.”

“He cut off her head,” Shawn inter­jects. “He took her arms and legs off her, and he used her chest to cut the bones, and everything, off. And he cut all this up and did this all in the bathtub.”

“He told me he had eaten the brains and that his friend had eaten a part of her too,” says Sylvia. “I told all this to the detectives and the D.A., too.”

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Rakowitz said he had spent over $80 in a hardware store on tools with which to kill Monika, cut her up, and clean the apartment. “Less than two weeks before he killed this girl he was in a store and he was trying on these work gloves,” remem­bers Lynn, “and I asked him why he had the work gloves. He was like, ‘I’m gonna make some fertilizer and I need these.‘ He really freaked me out, I was really scared of him at that point.”

“He had a 13-inch carving knife,” reports Shawn. “And he used a metal pole — a solid-steel pole — to break her bones.” Sylvia continues: “And be boiled her. And he was still cutting her up — he hadn’t finished yet. He was cutting her up into little pieces, he told me — over a thousand — and he flushed it down the toilet. And he was afraid. But he looked to me like, in a way, that he was free, and that this was gone, this fear.

“And I told him to stop, because I couldn’t hear it; I didn’t want to hear it. It just totally blew me away. I didn’t believe it till he got locked up, until I saw him on the news. Then it hit me.”

A few days later, Sylvia saw Rakowitz in Tompkins Square Park, and Daniel said to her, “Sylvia, it’s starting to smell up there.” She said “Daniel, they’re gonna find out, and they’re gonna lock you up, and they’re gonna put you in a psychiatric hospital, and I don’t want to see that happen to you. I think you’ve had enough.”

“Oh, I’m gonna clean it,” he replied. “I’m gonna clean it all up so that you can come up there.” Sylvia said, “Well, when it’s clean … let me know.”

A day or two later, Rakowitz told her it was okay to drop by. Monika’s skull was still in the apartment. “He boiled it and peeled the skin off it,” says Shawn.

“He bad it to where it was all just bones and a skull,” continues Sylvia. “And he’d get angry at Monika, he told me. And he’d say, ‘I spit on Monika’s skull.’ He told her, ‘Well, hey, bitch, at least you’ll always have a home.’ And he told me that ‘she looks more beautiful now than she ever did.’ ”

“This was her skull,” notes Shawn.

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Rakowitz had thoroughly cleaned the apartment and had taken a bucket con­taining the skull and bones to a storage facility at 43rd Street and 11th Avenue, later moving the bucket to the baggage check facility at Port Authority.

“I still understood Daniel,” insists Syl­via. “And I really wasn’t … I was a little frightened of him, but I wasn’t that frightened. I was more concerned of what was gonna happen to him. I told Daniel that I would never tell on him, and I never went forward and said anything, and a lot of people are gonna think that’s a very shitty thing for me to do. Maybe if they understand anything that I have said — and really take it to heart — and maybe if they realize what kind of person Daniel was and what he wasn’t, because of what was done to him, they might understand why I didn’t want to say any­thing. Because I didn’t want him hurt anymore.

“People say, well, he could go out and do it again, but I stayed up there a few times. I slept in that apartment with Daniel. He was in the other room. After he’d killed her. And the detectives know this. Everything I’m telling you is what they know, and I told them exactly what I’m telling you. And the reason why is that Daniel has been in a prison most of his life — in his own mind. And you’re not trying to help him by locking, him behind bars. If you want to help this man, you get him some real psychiatric and psy­chological help.”

On Tuesday, August 22, Shawn stopped by the apartment to buy some reefer from Rakowitz. He told Shawn that he and Monika had fought Friday night and that he had broken her nose. During his visit Shawn saw meat in the frying pan and in the freezer. “He ate this woman,” Shawn believes. “He didn’t eat the whole thing, but he ate human meat.”

“He told me be had,” remembers Syl­via. “I believe it.”

“He also said that he was gonna feed Monika to the homeless people in the park,” says Shawn.

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Shawn returned to the apartment on Saturday, August 26 — after Sylvia had finally told him of Monika’s murder. “Daniel had cleaned up everything al­ready,” says Shawn, “but there was a smell in the apartment. I told him that I could smell death, and he’s going, ‘Real­ly? Can you smell it? Can you tell?’ And I go, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t lying.”

Meanwhile, Rakowitz was bragging about the murder to anyone who would listen. “Daniel told everyone before he did it; he told everyone when he did it; he told everyone after he did it,” says Lynn. “He told all my friends. Everyone who he saw, he told them. He chopped her up in little pieces, and then he asked my fiance if he would help him get rid of the arms. He felt bad about killing her, apparently. He was scared, and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to turn himself in, but he was scared — that’s what he told my fiancé.”

The rumors around Tompkins Square grew increasingly bizarre. “It’s the kind of joke that people would make: ‘Oh yeah, he fed her to the homeless,’ ” says Hank, who lives on East 5th Street. “A few days after it happened, before it hit the pa­pers, while the rumors started spreading around the Village, the homeless in the park were going, ‘Yeah, Dan did give us soup yesterday.’ They were goofing on it but they were pretty much grossed out. They were goofing in a way that acknowl­edged they had definitely gotten soup from this guy in the period directly after the incident happened.”

Rakowitz lived in the apartment alone for a week or two following the murder. But Sylvia urged him to move, warning him that sooner or later the cops would be coming by. Daniel finally took her advice. “He left the apartment to move in with another girl, uptown,” says Shawn. “And after I heard that, I thought that he killed her for nothing — that Monika just died for no reason at all. I mean, she died for a reason in the beginning — and there’s no right reason for anyone to die. But then he moved out, and everything was gone out of the apartment, and all we saw was Monika’s stuff laying all over.”

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So Shawn spilled the story to the build­ing superintendant who told the detec­tives. They came up to the apartment to question Shawn and to search for evi­dence. On the door of the apartment, they saw grafitti written in black magic marker: “IS IT SOUP YET?” and “WELCOME TO CHARLIE GEIN’S SPAUN RANCH EAST.” (Charlie Gein is a conflation of Charles Manson and Ed Gein, the serial killer on whom Psycho‘s Norman Bates was based; the Spahn Ranch — misspelled on the door — was the home of the Manson family.) On a steam pipe in the bathroom was scribbled “Broken [hearted] about you.” (The “hearted” was actually a heart with a jagged line running through it). Yet they found no evidence of a murder.

Initially, neither the super nor the de­tectives believed a word of Shawn’s story. But they paged Rakowitz on his beeper and he came to the 9th Precinct to an­swer their questions. He didn’t admit that he had killed Monika Beerle, but be didn’t deny it either. In fact, he said something along the lines of, “If I’d have killed her, I would have cut her up into lots of pieces and flushed her down the toilet.”

“After he made that statement,” Sylvia says, “that Sunday [September 17] they ripped the toilet apart. But they didn’t find anything. They told me the only good thing I had in the apartment was the plumbing.” Shawn told the police that Rakowitz kept a storage bin near the Port Authority bus station.

On Monday, the detectives came back to the apartment and found Sylvia there. They told her they had written state­ments implicating Rakowitz from both Shawn and Laurie Arnold, a woman who lived across the hall. But this was untrue. “I was tricked into it,” says Sylvia sadly. “I was told that they were gonna lock him up anyway and that they already knew what had happened. And I believed it. So I told them. And five hours later, they picked up Daniel. He confessed. He had no choice.

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“He asked for help when they arrested him. He said it to a detective, and the detective told me that he said, ‘I need some help.’ So it must have really dawned on Daniel that he did wrong, because when I talked to him after that, he was, like, he was free. His soul was free.” After his arrest, Rakowitz led the de­tectives to the Port Authority baggage storage room where he produced a claim check for an Army duffel bag. Inside the bag was a white plastic bucket, and inside the bucket were a skull and bones.

One expects the police to be extremely interested to find Daniel’s friend from the Satanic church in Brooklyn. While interrogating Shawn and Sylvia, the cops mentioned several Satanic churches by name, but none of them were familiar to the couple. As far as Shawn and Sylvia know, they never met any of Daniel’s Satanic friends, but they believe the church exists: “This is a for-real church,” says Shawn, and Sylvia agrees.

Just as likely, the police believe, is that Daniel’s Satanic friend was imaginary, egging bim on from the inside. When told there was a report that another man was present at the murder, an officer familiar with the case replied, “I don’t believe that for a second.”

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Although the police say the skull in the bucket has been positively identified as belonging to Monika Beerle, Sylvia’s testimony will certainly be crucial to the prosecution’s case. She has been wres­tling with this for well over a month now. She’s pale and somewhat faded, well aware that her behavior during the course of these events seems bizarre by any­body’s standards. “People are gonna think I’m crazy,” she says softly. “You know what? To me it doesn’t matter, be­cause I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. But I’m a person who has a lot of feeling, and I feel for Daniel. I feel for Monika’s parents, but I feel for Daniel cause I knew him. And I knew what he was going through, and I feel very, very bad.

“See, people are gonna read this and they’re gonna say the same thing that you just said: ‘Wow.’ You know what I hope they’re saying ‘wow’ about? ‘Wow, this guy had a rough childhood and never really had a chance.’ Daniel did what Daniel did because of what society had done to Daniel. And that is my opinion, and people may think I’m crazy. But I lived with this person, and this person did not kill me. If he was the crazy luna­tic murderer of Tompkins Square, he would have killed me. Daniel moved into the apartment because he was homeless and he killed Monika because he felt threatened.

“If anything comes out of this story, I hope it opens people’s eyes, for one thing, to homelessness — for another thing, to realize and understand the kind of person he was and what really happened and the fear that people have of being homeless, especially when they do have some type of mental illness. I still don’t blame Dan­iel for that, and as far as I’m concerned Daniel will always be my friend.” ■

Some names in this story — although not those of the principal characters, Syluia and Shawn — have been changed. 

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Race, Gender & Rudy Giuliani

Rudy’s Record Could Be Better

RUDOLPH GIULIANI has yet to name the time and place, but he cer­tainly has made his in­tentions clear. And late last month, the wan­nabe-candidate signaled the tenor of his campaign by picking a fight with Ed Koch over race relations in New York. Giuliani charged that blacks and Hispanics had been excluded from positions of power in city government. It was as much a pitch to liberals as a punch to the gut, and Koch cried foul. “How many blacks or Hispanics did Rudy Giuliani appoint to leadership positions in the Reagan Justice Department and as U.S. attor­ney?” the mayor shot back.

So how good is Giuliani’s hiring rec­ord? A Voice investigation shows that, during his five-and-a-half year tenure, the U.S. attorney hired proportionally fewer black and Hispanic lawyers than other prosecutors. Figures made public by the U.S. attorney’s office show that, be­tween June 1983, when Giuliani was ap­pointed, and January 1989, when he re­signed, racial minorities represented 10.9 per cent of the attorneys hired. Women represented 34 per cent. Both figures compare unfavorably with hiring by Manhattan district attorney Robert Mor­genthau, Brooklyn D.A. Elizabeth Holtzman, and state attorney general Robert Abrams.

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How does Giuliani account for the dis­parity? He did not return phone calls from the Voice, but several associates of­fered explanations. Unlike the other agencies surveyed, the U.S. attorney’s of­fice rarely hires lawyers fresh out of school. “Our general rule is two years of experience,” says Federico E. Virella Jr., executive assistant U.S. attorney, whose responsibilities include hiring lawyers. “Sometimes, we waive that rule,” he adds, but not because of an applicant’s race or gender. About a quarter of the law students in a summer intern program are nonwhite. “We’ve offered positions to quite a few of those people,” Virella says. “When they graduate, it’s up to them to apply after they get one or two years’ experience.”

Apparently, not many do. Of 600 appli­cants interviewed by Giuliani’s office between 1985 and the present, only 38 were ­nonwhite. Of those, 11 were retained. Why the low numbers? “To be honest, the U.S. attorney’s outreach hasn’t been as widespread as other agencies,” says Londell McMillan, northeast regional di­rector of the Black Law Students Association. “They’ve attended our job fair for the past few years, but that’s certainly not enough. We receive large amounts of mail from various legal institutions, but not from them.” McMillan says black lawyers are less likely than whites to take a job and then leave it in two years to work for the U.S. attorney. “Black law students have a difficult time making their mark. They have to start at a place where they see a future and work dili­gently to secure a permanent position.” The two-year rule at Giuliani’s office, McMillan believes, works as “a deter­rent” to minority applicants.

Still, David Denton, chief of the U.S. attorney’s criminal division, maintains that, of the minority attorneys who do apply, “it’s my impression that we hire proportionally more, and certainly a lot more than private law firms.” That’s true: While blacks make up 5 per cent of the country’s law students, they represent only about 1.4 per cent of all lawyers in the state’s 52 largest firms, according to a report in the New York Law Journal. (Hispanics represent just under 1 per cent.) The U.S. attorney’s office draws its hiring pool mostly from private firms, prompting Giuliani spokesman Dennison Young to remark that “the number of minorities hired during Giuliani’s tenure was two or three times their proportion in the available labor pool. I think when you look at those numbers, you can say that the U.S. attorney’s office was very successful.”

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In addition, Young says it was Giuliani who recommended his successor, Benito Romano — the first Hispanic U.S. attor­ney in the Southern District. (Giuliani lured Romano — who, in 1987, he had ap­pointed to the number three spot — back from private practice.) But Giuliani made that move on the brink of his decision to run for mayor of New York, with its large Hispanic swing vote. The Justice Depart­ment would not say, and Young could not recall, how many minorities became U.S. attorneys while Giuliani was associate at­torney general, a position that included oversight of such appointments.

If the labor pool is so small, why have Morgenthau, Abrams, and Holtzman been able to lure more minority lawyers to their offices? On the record, Giuliani associates say their cases are more com­plex than other agencies’, requiring more experience and exposure to the practice of law. But when they retreat from the record, a blunter explanation emerges. Giuliani’s colleagues regard the U.S. attorney’s office as the city’s premier prose­cutorial agency, and they imply that, if fewer women and minority attorneys qualify for employment there, it must be because Giuliani set higher standards than other prosecutors. “I know all kinds of attorneys, regardless of race or gender, who shy away from applying to this office because of its reputation of demanding excellence,” says one Giuliani associate. “The perception might be that it’s easier to get into one of the city offices, and you know what? It probably is.”

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Morgenthau, Abrams, and Holtzman have formal affirmative action programs run by specially designated officers (in keeping with state policy), but federal law does not require that of U.S. attorneys. Still, Young and Denton mention infor­mal mechanisms, including a group of minority attorneys who attend job fairs and work on outreach efforts. “Before Giuliani, you probably could have count­ed the number of minority attorneys on one hand, and still had a few fingers left over,” says Virella, who is Hispanic. But criminal court judge Patricia Williams, who served in the U.S. attorney’s office from 1977 to 1986, remembers it differ­ently. She says the real increase in wom­en and minorities occurred under Giu­liani’s predecessors, John Martin Jr. and Robert Fiske. Williams, who was the third black assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District, and the first woman in its criminal division, sat on the office’s hiring committee. “I don’t believe Giu­liani made any effort to attract minor­ities, or even to continue the policy of attempting to increase minority applica­tions,” she says. “I did not have the per­ception that that was a priority.”

Williams has the same perception about civil rights cases initiated by Giu­liani: “His priorities were organized crime, corruption cases, and dealing with street level narcotics. I am not aware of any priority laid to civil rights.” Ronald Stroman, an aide to Congressman John Conyers, spent a good deal of time in New York City last year, investigating charges of police brutality. “In preparing for a possible hearing, we began to look at civil rights cases in the city,” Stroman says. “All the local officials and commu­nity groups we spoke to indicated that Giuliani hadn’t done anything.”

The U.S. attorney’s office has a differ­ent view. “Our marching orders by the Department of Justice are to investigate, but once the local authorities are taking action, not to prosecute,” says Harriet Goldberg, chief of the Civil Rights Unit. Goldberg maintains the office did investi­gate both the Michael Stewart and Elea­nor Bumpurs cases, and, after the police were cleared, “determined there was no reason to proceed with federal action.”

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On another front, Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union says Giu­liani’s office turned a deaf ear to com­plaints of police brutality in Tompkins Square. “One would have thought that Mr. Law-and-Order would have had his office do something affirmative in regard to civil rights violations,” Siegel says. “But they’ve done zip.” Goldberg, Giu­liani’s civil rights chief, insists her unit worked behind the scenes to get local authorities to act. “Our investigation is not yet closed,” she adds.

There are a few civil rights cases Giuliani prosecuted aggressively. His office won fair housing case against J. I. Sopher, the city’s largest rental realtor, and successfully pressed a discrimination claim against the Yonkers Police Department. But both these cases were initiated under Giuliani’s predecessor. More re­cently, Giuliani’s office won a conviction against two transit officers who had falsely arrested minority passengers. But Giuliani did not celebrate these victories with the panache with which he publi­cized his coups against crime and corrup­tion. No wonder the perception among many civil rights activists is that their issues took a back seat during Giuliani’s tenure. Civil rights are simply not part of this crimebuster’s image.

But how much could Giuliani have ac­complished against a profoundly conservative Justice Department? The answer is that, when this prosecutor chooses to, he bucks his superiors. For instance, ac­cording to Goldberg, when the Reagan administration instructed U.S. attorneys to refrain from filing class action suits against the Social Security Administra­tion, “Giuliani established a policy where we refused to represent that position.” Why didn’t Giuliani put more steam into issues of concern to minorities? Why didn’t he beef up his civil rights unit? Precisely because the Justice Department was unlikely to require him to take such actions, Giuliani’s record on civil rights and affirmative action is a fair measure of the man.

And what does the Liberal Party think about that record? Party chairman Raymond Harding told the Voice: “No comment.” ■

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

How Rudy Giuliani Took the Media for a Ride

SUNDAY’S PRETAPED in­terview with Gabe Press­man on WNBC-TV’s Newsforum was Rudolph Giuliani’s first little-­screen appearance since the candidate placed himself under the tute­lage of Roger Ailes. You remember him: the sleaze-master who ter­rorized America into vot­ing Republican last year when his propaganda turned the presidential election into a referendum on street crime and the death penalty by playing fast and loose with the truth. Almost every Ailesian campaign has fa­vored media-bashing as a technique to distract the electorate’s attention from any weaknessess in his candidate’s record (and, in the process, intimidate the press); recall when The Des Moines Reg­ister and Dan Rather were attacked for their too-pointed Contragate questions by George Bush, who thus succeeded in burying the scandal as a campaign issue? Well, Rudy certainly proved himself an apt pupil on Sunday, snarling through his rented smile that a hostile press was making mountains out of prosecutorial molehills as he tried to pooh-pooh away the reams of reputation-puncturing copy heaped on his head by the tabloids last week over the failed Kidder, Peabody prosecution and his office’s alleged “Nazi” tactics.

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It’s a strange complaint, considering the source, for until he started shooting himself in the foot with great regularity, Giuliani benefited from an elegiac media reception of a kind not seen in this town since the salad days of an equally arro­gant prosecutor, Thomas E. Dewey (when the Republicans who owned nine of the city’s then 11 newspapers touted Dewey for president although he was not yet 40). Even before he had formally an­nounced his candidacy, Rudy’s sweet­heart relationship with the press spawned a wet-kiss orgy of free publicity the likes of which even Ron Lauder’s mother’s millions couldn’t buy.

Examples: There was City for Sale, an almost entirely uncritical celebration of Giuliani’s prosecutions of municipal cor­ruption by Daily News editor-columnist Jack Newfield and Voice political writer Wayne Barrett that owed much of its insiderish tone to the avid cooperation of Giuliani and his longtime prosecutorial sidekick and press manager, Dennison Young Jr. (who, as Jacob Javits’s former legislative counsel, could scarcely be considered a political novice). The book, published at the beginning of the year, has served as something of a campaign biography for Giuliani. Gail Sheehy weighed in with an embarrassing act of journalistic fellatio in the August 1987 issue of Vanity Fair, “Heaven’s Hit Man” (“As passionate as he is about making crooks pay, he cannot sleep for seeing the faces of their suffering families” — I won­der how they fact-checked that one). Life produced a worshipful January 1988 pro­file called “Let’s Hear It for the Good Guys.” And, in a January 1989 Newsday column, Jimmy Breslin, who has made a career out of puffing up candidates on whom he also presses his services as a closet adviser, proclaimed that “the elec­tion [is] past history … Giuliani has won the 1989 New York City mayorality race. He does not beat Koch because Koch does not run.”

Pride of place in the front ranks of those pimping for Rudy belongs to New York magazine. In May of 1987, there was a cover touting Giuliani-as-crimebuster, but its headline, “GOTCHA!”(familiar to recent New York Post readers) was inept for this oh-so-promotional transcript of a Q and A with Rudy (one of the few politi­cians in recent memory accorded such a nonthreatening platform by the mag). His self-aggrandizing White Knightery was left untouched in the spread’s 13 pages by the nerf-ball questions of a criminally unsophisticated Nancy Col­lins. But the worst was to come: in anoth­er eight-page cover story this March, Joe Klein — New York‘s condohead purveyor of middle-class race paranoia — per­formed contortions worthy of the Kama Sutra in order to let Rudy off the hook. Indeed, Klein seemed to have fantasies of himself as Rudy’s Eddie Futch: “Giuliani agreed to explore his views on urban is­sues with the understanding that this would be a spring-training sort of inter­view — he hadn’t yet announced his candidacy and was still formulating his posi­tions on a number of important issues. I agreed to keep the gloves on.”

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Can you imagine any other pol being annointed with such deferential treatment? When a journalist agrees in advance not to ask tough questions — in ef­fect, to simulate a real interview in order to help the candidate decide what he thinks (or thinks is palatable) — he be­comes half-courtier, half-catamite. How­ever, the shameless Klein is far from the only opinion-monger in town to have served as willing accessory to the careful cultivation of Rudy’s image. The Voice ran a highly flattering cover story in Jan­uary by Joe Conason in which the only major incident from Rudy’s government service recounted in detail was a lauda­tory one. The article was based not on any independent investigations, but on a long interview in which, as Conason admitted, “Giuliani declined to answer spe­cific questions about running for mayor, the deficiencies of the current mayor, or what he would do if he became mayor.” The only subjects the filibustering Giu­liani wanted to discuss were those putting him in a good light, and the Voice went along with the charade.

More parlor games: Remember last September’s articles alleging state comptroller Ned Regan traded on his position as trustee of New York’s pension fund to obtain campaign contributions from Wall Street (a story broken in the Daily News by Jack Newfield and Tom Robbins and in the Voice by Rick Hornung)? Giuliani, no doubt envisioning another easy notch on his prosecutorial gun, couldn’t wait to open an investigation. Neither could Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau. What happened next is related by Connie Bruck in her March 1989 American Law­yer profile of Giuliani (the best-reported I’ve come across): “According to a lawyer in Morgenthau’s office, ‘Rudy jumped right into it early on. They subpoenaed records. They said, ‘It’s our case.’ Then, on December 28, Newfield wrote in the News that Morgenthau had decided to impanel a grand jury to investigate Re­gan’s fundraising practices. About mid­way through the article, Newfield added that Giuliani was withdrawing from the case and turning his evidence over to Morgenthau.

“This was news to Morgenthau’s office. Giuliani’s office had given no indication that they ‘wanted out,’ says a lawyer in the D.A.’s office. Regan is, of course, a Republican, and many of the contributors who are being investigated are doubtless those Giuliani would be soliciting should he run … Having already made a mortal enemy of [Al] D’Amato, Giuliani could ill afford to alienate any more of the Repub­lican state network. Newfield, a long-time Giuliani booster, gave Giuliani a graceful exit.”

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The press’s bounty to Rudy was, of course, entirely self-serving. In his five-and-a-half-year free ride with the media as U.S. attorney, press conferences and press releases­ — the exception under Robert Fiske Jr., Giuliani’s straight-arrow predecessor — ­became mandatory rituals, while motions calling for investigations of leaks from his office have rained on the Southern Dis­trict in the cases that have collared a lot of media attention. Leaks jeopardize a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and the deontology of the federal judicial system requires a U.S. attorney to set standards for his subordinates which demonstrate that such trampling on our constitutional guarantees is intolerable.

That ain’t our Rudy: as Philip Weiss noted in a sharp-tongued November 1988 Spy profile, “Gerald Stern, the director of the State Commission on Judicial con­duct, says Giuliani has often violated eth­ical standards on pretrial publicity at his ‘circus-like’ press conferences. When ho­teliers Harry and Leona Helmsley were indicted for tax evasion last spring, the news of the grand jury’s decision was leaked to the New York Post a day early. The Helmsleys complained, and at his press conference announcing the charges, Giuliani vowed to investigate the ‘alleged grand jury leaks.’ (Minutes earlier, though, he had lavished praise on the Post reporter covering the Helmsleys for scoops that had expedited the case). Nothing came of the promised investigation.”

A report on the rise in leaks by the city bar association’s committee on criminal law last year whitewashed Giuliani, say­ing there were too many investigative agencies involved to finger any one. Dennison Young, Rudy’s longtime press handler in the U.S. attorney’s office, was a member of the committee that wrote the report (although he says he fastidi­ously abstained from voting on the final version).

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Collusion between prosecutors and the press can not only pollute a jury trial but lead to the maligning of the innocent, as was demonstrated by last week’s drop­ping of the insider-trading charges filed two and a half years ago against those three executives in the Kidder, Peabody case whom Rudy had dragged out of their offices in handcuffs. It was one of his most notorious cases, and, at the time of the arrest, the paparazzi had been tipped off, with the result that photos of the unlucky arbitrageurs in their mana­cles were Page One stuff across the coun­try. (One of the three, Robert Freeman, has now pled guilty to a charge wholly unrelated to the original.) As Robert Reno, one of Giuliani’s few acerbic critics in the city dailies, noted in his Friday Newsday column, this feverishly pre­pared case was part of Giuliani’s “suc­cessful race with Pope Gregory IX for the title of most effective inquisitor in histo­ry, a contest that turned out to be the preliminary round of his mayoral cam­paign … [But] lightning arrests and handcuffing of nonviolent citizens is as repulsive a way to run for mayor as using the actions of a homicidal rapist is a shameful way to get to be president.” (No wonder Ailes and Rudy get along).

There’s a line much used by Giuliani in his campaign stump speech: “Don’t let them tell you what they’re going to do, ask them to tell you what they’ve already done.” But what the dropping of the Kid­der, Peabody case demonstrates is that the press went AWOL when it came to looking at Rudy’s record. Connie Bruck is one of the few reporters who did: she interviewed 55 lawyers and federal judges. What did she find? A consensus that Rudy has “an ambition so raw and consuming that that which sustains it is embraced willy-nilly, that which does not directly feed it is neglected, and that which runs counter to it is earmarked for destruction.” (That could also serve as a fairly accurate description of Ed Koch.)

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Rudy’s lust for power explains the inor­dinate amount of time he devoted to stroking journalists. Bruck harvested in­numerable complaints from former Giu­liani staffers: “‘There was an untoward concern for how our prosecutorial judg­ments would play in the press … the more newsworthy our cases were, the more attention they got from Rudy.’ … ‘[Under Rudy’s predecessors, press releases were] no big deal. When Rudy came, he brought in Young, and Denny would review press releases as though they were indictments. He’d cross out as­sistants’ names and put Rudy’s in. Denny had a phenomenal devotion to press re­leases.’ … ‘[Rudy] spent more time with reporters than with [his] assistants.’ ”

By running his office as if it were a subsidiary of Hill and Knowlton, Giuliani was able to reward the flatterers while slighting the too-critical, thus maintain­ing the reporters who covered him in a carefully controlled client relationship. Steve Brill, the editor of The American Lawyer, says: “At each one of his press conferences there was just one script­ — Rudy’s —with one good guy — Rudy — and a bad guy, the one whose name was on the indictment. It was a setup, especially for TV. I’ve made my living off the reality that general, typical reporting about the criminal justice system is nonsense, ridic­ulous, too accepting of these very easy definitions of who the good and bad guys are. Take the guy who covered Rudy for years for the Times, Arnold Lubasch: what a slug. The Voice, the Times, every­body rolled over for Giuliani at every press conference. This can give you a swelled head: at least six friends of mine who are actively working in the campaign say Rudy has told them he expects to be president one day.”

The average reporter is a cop-junkie at heart anyway, but Rudy’s PR style (orchestrated by Young, Giuliani’s Michael Deaver) meant that the prosecutor had a lot of chits to call in when he declared for mayor. There isn’t a paper in town that isn’t in some way indebted to Giuliani for filling its columns with sexy stories. As for Rudy’s bleatings about how Ron Lau­der bought himself $6 million worth of airtime, there squeaks a man who’s used to as many soundbites on the nightly news as he wants, all for free, and all on his own terms.

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It’s because he’s so unused to media criticism that Rudy has turned angry at the scribes who used to collect his toenail clippings. No paper in town has given Giuliani more ink than the New York Post. But editor Jerry Nachman has transformed himself from just a little-friend-to-all-the-world columnist of piffle into a circulation-building Wyatt Earp who sees his city room as the OK Corral (and who knows how to curtsey to his publisher’s Board of Estimate moral­ity that dotes on Koch, the landlord’s pathic).

The result could only be last Friday’s screaming headlines: “Auschwitz survivor charges: RUDY’S MEN ACTED LIKE NA­ZIS.” The story — written by Nachman with recently rehired Post investigations editor Fred Dicker — involved the com­plaint of one Simon Berger, a sexagenar­ian purveyor of locks. He’d been indicted by Giuliani for having allegedly forked over backsheesh to win a lock contract with the city’s Housing Authority — if true, a peccadillo for a small merchant made cynical by too much familiarity with the world’s cruelty, but hardly one to excite the masses. Berger, in Nach­man’s tear-drenched account, was seated by Giuliani’s minions in front of a scribble-covered blackboard on which one could read the words, Arbeit macht frei. In the end, the lock-vendor happily found himself on the outside looking in: Berger was acquitted.

In terms of the future governance of this city, Newsday put the more mean­ingful story on its front page that day: the dismissal of the Kidder, Peabody in­dictments. (Despite the Post‘s touting of its blackboard story as an “exclusive,” Newsday had court papers that provided all the relevant facts; what the Post had — live and weeping on South Street­ — was Berger. Newsday ran its story at the bottom of page three with the sedate head, “Holocaust ‘Reminder’ Claimed”). Even Post columnist Pete Hamill admits to being disturbed by his paper’s Fleet Street-style flagellation of Giuliani: “When you’re going to use that word Nazi, you’d better be very careful. At least it should have been in quotes — that would have taken a little of the sting out of it. After all, to be arrested at 7:00 in the morning is not exactly to get a whiff of Zyklon-B.”

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Rudy, who has already dropped at least 17 points with Jewish voters, according to one poll, hardly needed a week like this. But is he being “set up,” as he claimed to Gabe Pressman on Sunday’s Newsforum? Jimmy Breslin, who with­drew from Giuliani’s advisory circle when Rudy expressed his desire to import Ailes and extradite Joe Doherty, doesn’t think so. “If he’s afraid of the Post, how’s he going to be mayor?” barks Breslin. “Who did this? Some federal agent? Is the guy still on the job scaring Jews? Who the fuck would know German like that? I’ll betcha some kid prosecutor. I don’t even know the goddamn German. If they didn’t make a real investigation, then they’re part of it. Rudy’s getting his comeuppance.”

The print players are lining up: every sentient reader knows that the Times and the Post are for the mayor; that Newsday is trying to figure out if it has the guts to endorse a black candidate; that the Voice —  too late to do any real good — will stumble toward Dinkins; and that the News, confused, will write its editorial with one eye on the circulation figures. But the whole race is on television­ — where Giuliani has a large residual Q fac­tor from the white-hat days when he fed defendants to the cameras. If Rudy final­ly does get his real comeuppance in November, we can only pray that it isn’t delivered by Ed Koch. ■

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Wanted for Attitude: The FBI Hates This Band

The Right-Wing Attack on Rock

HOW’S THIS FOR GOVERNMENT intimidation? In early August, a letter arrived on the desk of Priority Records president Brian Turner. Written on Department of Justice stationery, it was just three paragraphs long:

A song recorded by the rap group N.W.A. on their album entitled “Straight Outta Compton” encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer and has been brought to my attention. I understand your company recorded and distributed this album, and I am writing to share my thoughts and concerns with you.

Advocating violence and assault is wrong, and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action. Violent crime, a major problem in our country, reached an unprecedented high in 1988. Seventy-eight law enforcement officers were feloniously slain in the line of duty during 1988, four more than in 1987. Law enforcement officers dedicate their lives to the protection of our citizens, and recordings such as the one from N.W.A. are both discouraging and degrading to these brave, dedicated officers.

Music plays a significant role in society, and I wanted you to be aware of the FBI’s position relative to this song and its message. I believe my views reflect the opinion of the entire law enforcement community.

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THE LETTER WAS SIGNED by Milt Ahlerich, an FBI assistant director, who describes himself as the bureau’s chief spokesman and who says he reports directly to Director William Sessions. Ahlerich says his letter represents the FBI’s “official position” on the record by N.W.A. (Niggers With Attitude), hip-hop’s most streetwise and politically complex group. But he also says he hasn’t heard the song. Neither he nor the bureau owns a copy. Ahlerich didn’t ask N.W.A. or Priority for the oft-unintelligible lyrics; he got them — or something purporting to be them — from unnamed “concerned officers.” Ahlerich says the FBI has never adopted an official position on a record, book, film, or other artwork in the four years he’s worked there nor, so far as be knows, in its entire history.

Ahlerich claims writing the letter was justified because N.W.A.’s song, “**** Tha Police,” allegedly advocates violence against the police, (The group sings “Fuck the police,” but the album just uses blanks.) “I read those lyrics and those lyrics spoke of violence and murder of police officers. That to me did not seem to be in the public domain at all,” he said, strenuously objecting to implications that the letter was censorious or intimidating,

Ahlerich isn’t the only cop incensed by “**** Tha Police.” An informal police net­work faxes messages to police stations nationwide, urging cops to help cancel concerts by N.W.A., a group based in Compton, California. Since late spring, their shows have been jeopardized or aborted in Detroit (where the group was briefly detained by cops), Washington, D.C., Chattanooga, Milwaukee, and Ty­ler, Texas. N.W.A. played Cincinnati only after Bengal linebacker and City Council­man Reggie Williams and several of his teammates spoke up for them. During the summer’s tour, N.W.A. prudently chose not to perform “**** Tha Police” (its best song), and just singing a few lines of it at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena caused the Mo­tor City police to rush the stage. While the cops scuffled with the security staff, N.W.A. escaped to their hotel. Dozens of policemen were waiting for them there, and they detained the group for 15 min­utes, “We just wanted to show the kids,” an officer told The Hollywood Reporter, “that you can’t say ‘fuck the police’ in Detroit … ”

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In Toledo, N.W.A. performed only af­ter Reverend Floyd E. Rose complained publicly about police pressuring local black clergymen, “Rightly or wrongly, the perception in our community is that the ‘police think they have the authority to kill a minority,’ ” he wrote the police chief, quoting the song, “and that [police] think that every black teenager who is wearing a gold bracelet and driving a nice car is ‘selling narcotics.’ … I must say that while I do not like the music and abhor the vulgar language, I will not be used to stifle legitimate anger and understandable resentment.”

Anger and resentment are at the center of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, a two-million seller that slices current r&b fashion to ribbons, then goes on to pretty up the latest in gang-culture bad-mouth­ing. It rocks harder than any other album released this year; if the abusive, profane language didn’t keep N.W.A. off the ra­dio, the sheer assaultive sound probably would, N.W.A. is, above (or below) any­thing else, not nice. But the profanity exists not for shock effect or as a bohemi­an art stance, but as an organic expres­sion of south-central L.A.’s half-hidden gang world. The group wouldn’t be half so politically important, or half so exciting, if they were just rap’s answer to Andrew “Dice” Clay. Much if not most of what the group has to say — especially about women, but also about drugs, guns, and the sanctity of private property — will make any civilized soul squirm. They don’t just épater les bourgeois, they rub its face into its own merde. This is music to make the blood run cold, and if only a dimwit would salute its values, only a fool would completely disrespect them.

As Reverend Rose and most everyone who has heard the song realizes, “**** ­Tha Police” isn’t about shooting cops. It’s about being bullied and tormented by them. A hip-hop barrage, the song tells of a young black man who loses his temper over brutal police sweeps based on appearance, not actions, like the ones fre­quently performed by the LAPD. In the end, the young man threatens to “smoke” the next flatfoot who fucks with him. The same point is made even more clearly in the “Straight Outta Compton” video, which presents docudrama footage of a gang sweep in which the L.A. police vio­lently round up street kids (played by N.W.A.) just for wearing dookie ropes and beepers. Finally, the kids retaliate — ­or to put it another way, defend them­selves. (Ahlerich isn’t so eager to mention that 339 Americans were gunned down by peace officers last year in “justifiable ho­micides.” Or as Brooklyn rapper KRS­-One puts it, “Who Protects Us From You?”) N.W.A.’s Ice Cube calls his songs “revenge fantasies.”

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

ADVOCACY? “The song does not consti­tute advocacy of violence as that has been interpreted by the courts,” says Barry Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It doesn’t come close.” As for saying “fuck the police,” attorney Charles Rembar, an obscenity expert, remarks, “It’s far more clearly protected than burning the flag.”

To Lynn, what is legally questionable is Ahlerich’s letter. He cites several court decisions that hold that government com­munications can have an unconstitution­al chilling effect “even if they don’t threaten direct action.” And Ahlerich says that his letter was not personal but an official FBI policy statement, albeit adopted “on my authority” without con­sulting his superior, Sessions.

Lynn says, “It would not violate the First Amendment for an individual working for the FBI to personally write such a letter. But it’s incredible for the FBI to send this kind of official letter to any person in the creative community.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they were buying our records, too!” Ice Cube told his publi­cist when she first told him of the Ahler­ich letter. “People overreact,” he told us. “Getting a letter from the FBI seemed kind of funny to me.” Does he feel threat­ened by what might come next? “No. Money conquers all. There’s a lot of peo­ple that’s making a lot of money off N.W.A. as far as record companies, dis­tributors, and concert promoters.” But by the end of the conversation, he was saying, slightly more seriously, “Maybe they’ll send the CIA after me, arrest me for treason.”

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INTERESTING AS IT is that Milt Ahlerich chose to have the FBI take an official position on a record nobody in the bureau has bothered to buy, it’s even more inter­esting that he can’t explain how word of that record’s existence reached him. Pressed he said only that he received a copy of the purported lyrics from “re­sponsible fellow officers.” He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, name them.

Police officials in Toledo and Kansas City say officers in Cincinnati faxed them the information about N.W.A. and “**** Tha Police,” according to Gregory San­dow the Herald Examiner rock critic who tracked the informal anti-N.W.A. cop network. Cops began receiving the anti-N.W.A. warnings in late spring, about the same time an article about the group appeared in the June issue of Rev­erend James C. Dobson’s Focus on the Family Citizen under the headline “Rap Group N.W.A. Says ‘Kill Police.’ ” Its readers are urged: “Alert local police to the dangers they may face in the wake of this record release.”

The article was written by Bob De­Moss, Focus on the Family’s “youth cul­ture specialist.” DeMoss formerly headed Pennsylvania-based Teen Vision, which produced Rising to the Challenge, the Parents’ Music Resource Center’s video. This video was recently withdrawn from circulation and re-edited after revelations that it ended with a phony endorsement attributed to Bruce Springsteen. The PMRC contends that they were not aware when the video was made that the Springsteen quote was false.

The Dobson/DeMoss/PMRC connec­tion is instructive and important because, while the Washington wives like to boast of their respectable affiliates (the PTA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the political board members), they don’t like to admit their role in stirring up the Christian right. In fact, the PMRC’s offi­cial position is that it has no relationship with any group except the PTA and the pediatricians. It does everything it can to deny other ties.

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Since October 1985, when the PMRC coerced the Senate Commerce Commit­tee, composed largely of PMRC’s direc­tors’ husbands, into holding antirock hearings, rock has been attacked from city halls, statehouses, fundamentalist pulpits, and the executive echelons of the FBI. The PMRC has become a key link connecting right-wing Christian groups like Reverend Dobson’s with such theo­retically respectable entities as the PTA, the pediatricians, and PMRC advisory board members like Atlanta mayor An­drew Young.

Tipper Gore has been every rocker’s favorite basher, but the most powerful of the PMRC’s founders is Susan Baker, whose husband, the secretary of State, is now four heart attacks away from the White House. Susan Baker, who incar­nates the stiff-necked, antisexual Born Again, sits on the Focus on the Family board of directors. (Several members of the board come from the investment and banking business that James Baker, as secretary of the Treasury, “regulated.” Secretary and Mrs. Baker refused to comment on their ties to Dobson and his organization.)

Although the PMRC’s ties to the Christian right are numerous, the most crucial of them is Focus on the Family and Dobson. The ACLU’s Lynn says that with the breakup of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Focus on the Family makes Dobson “the most powerful fundamentalist in the country.” Perhaps the flakiest of all the Meese Pornography commissioners, Dobson came to prominence as Ted Bundy’s final confessor, claiming that the mass murderer/con man’s crimes were the result of addiction to pornogra­phy. Dobson campaigns stridently against abortion, and his Citizen maga­zine is a forum for activists like abortion­-center terrorist Randall Terry and Nixon administration felon Charles Colson. His plan for American education calls for get­ting evolution out of the classroom and putting prayer back in. Susan Baker, as a director of this 500-employee, $57-mil­lion-a-year organization, presumably shares those goals. We know that Dobson shares her views on rock ‘n’ roll, because Citizen’s July 1988 issue ran an article on her complaint that record labels were dragging their feet on warning label compliance.

The rest of the PMRC’s ties with Dob­son aren’t so casual, either. In the June 1989 issue of Citizen, which contains DeMoss’s anti-N.W.A. article, PMRC exec­utive director Jennifer Norwood says. “We want music critics and organizations like Focus on the Family to disseminate this information to their constituencies. This is something that needs to be done.” Norwood insists that this call to Chris­tians to crusade against rock is the same as dispensing “consumer information” to moms and dads at the PTA.

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If Dobson is the most important of the PMRC’s Christian cronies, he’s far from the most dubious. None of the groups listed below is an official PMRC affiliate. But all of them use the quasigovernmen­tal clout and the credibility of the PMRC to legitimize their endeavors, and the PMRC shares many of their goals. Whether it also shares money, no one knows. The PMRC refuses to reveal the sources of its funding.

• The Back in Control Center, the Ful­lerton, California, “de-metaling/de-punk­ing” center, is endorsed by Tipper Gore in her book, Raising PG Kids in an X-­Rated Society. Its de-metaling handbook lists a variety of satanic/occult symbols, including the “six-pointed star represent­ing the Jewish Star of David.” Director Greg Bodenhamer, a former probation of­ficer, accused the rock group Kiss of us­ing the Jewish star to worship the devil; on more than one occasion, Bodenhamer has flashed a picture of Kiss members wearing such stars as “proof.”

Back in Control also produced Punk Rock & Heavy Metal: The Problem/One Solution, a 20-page training manual used by several California police departments. Printed over the name Sergeant M. Shel­ton, of the Union City PD’s now-defunct Youth Services Board, the manual likens rock ‘n’ roll to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party and makes sure to point out that music can be used as a very effective medium of rebellion against the government. Besides the usual heavy metal targets, it also attacks “Huskerdo,” Rush, and Van Halen, and rock magazines like Circus, Hit Parader, and Creem. (Through the press office of her husband, Senator Albert Gore, Mrs. Gore said that Bodenhamer’s misrepresenta­tion of the Jewish star was a “mistake.”)

• Truth About Rock, the St. Paul, Minnesota, ministry of Dan and Steve Peters, pastors of Zion Church. The Peters brothers and their antirock writings have been repeatedly touted in PMRC litera­ture. The brothers specialize in record album burnings; they also condemn Tina Turner, among others, for non-Christian beliefs. (She’s a Buddhist.) The Peters also claim, “The Jewish star is the uni­versal symbol for Satan.” (Jennifer Nor­wood says the Peters brothers book Why Knock Rock? — recommended by the PMRC — doesn’t endorse record burn­ings. However, the book has a photo of the brothers at an LP bonfire.)

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• Missouri Project Rock, which was founded by Shirley Marvin, a lobbyist for Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. Marvin cites an Eagle Forum meeting with Tip­per Gore as her inspiration, and an MPR brochure claims that it works in coopera­tion with the PMRC. A Memphis rock-­monitoring group called the Community Aware of Music and Entertainment Co­alition, praised in Gore’s Raising PG Kids, is also listed as an ally in MPR literature. (Norwood denies any PMRC ties with MPR and says she asked Marvin to delete its claim of one in the brochure.) MPR’s “musical director,” Reverend Shane Westhoelter, calls Catholics “cannibals, because they eat wafers which are the body of Christ.” Project Rock’s literature says that Bruce Springsteen has a satanic backwards message in “Dancing in the Dark,” and their infor­mation kit includes tapes from Victory Christian Church in St. Charles, Missou­ri, asserting that Hollywood promotes race-mixing, that the Holocaust never happened, and that Hitler didn’t write Mein Kampf. The tapes also refer to “Martin Lucifer King.”

• The American Family Association, best known for Reverend Donald Wildmon’s campaigns against Madonna’s Pepsi com­mercial, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flower petals. Wildmon’s anti-Semitism finally led to disavowals by such erstwhile supporters as Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, and the leaders of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and the Mennonite Church.

Wildmon’s National Federation for De­cency magazine reprinted 14 pages of Raising PG Kids with permission, accord­ing to the book’s publisher. Mrs. Gore, through Norwood and her husband’s of­fice, claimed that she never learned of the reprint until we asked about it.

On September 14, Gore’s office said the Gores “have never and would never coop­erate with any effort in any way connect­ed to anti-Semitism … Mrs. Gore had no knowledge whatsoever and did not au­thorize in any way the excerpting of her book in the magazine of the National Federation for Decency. She does not know and has never met Donald Wild­mon.” Does this constitute a repudiation of Wildmon? Gore press officer Narla Romash said, “Yes.” Asked for a com­ment, a Wildmon official hung up.

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AS EVEN THE NEW YORK TIMES recog­nizes, bigotry is rock’s fastest-growing problem. Jennifer Norwood told us the PMRC has taken a firm stand on this topic, corresponding with the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. Tipper Gore made similar claims on Entertainment Tonight September 22. Norwood says that the PMRC has been vociferous in its condemnation of Guns N’ Roses’ racist, homophobic “One in a Million,” though only after the song became na­tionally notorious did the PMRC attack it (for instance, on the ET broadcast). The PMRC didn’t mention the tune in its summer 1989 newsletter, a peculiar omission in that GNR’s “I Used to Love Her” from the same album was included in a list of objectionable “Top 40 Lyrics.” That song was placed under the heading Murder. The only other headings are Vio­lence, Sadomasochistic and Sexually Explicit.

Meanwhile, the record industry silently but effectively participates in the repression. Contacted about the FBI letter threatening N.W.A., neither the Record­ing Industry Association of America, the record lobbying group that numbers N.W.A.’s Priority label among its mem­bers, nor the National Association of Record Merchandisers, the lobbying group for record sellers, had any com­ment. Nor did Russ Bach, president of CEMA, the Capitol/EMI-owned compa­ny that distributes Priority. Billboard, the industry’s leading trade publication, has rarely taken an editorial stand against censorship. On the odd occasion when it has published anticensorship guest editorials, it has immediately fol­lowed up with articles by the PMRC spreading the same old half-truths.

At the National Record Mart chain’s July convention, a not-so-silent Russ Bach said that he has recommended to the labels CEMA distributes — which in­clude not only Priority, but Southern California Civil Liberties Union chief Danny Goldberg’s Gold Castle and Frank Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin — that they should more carefully scrutinize and sticker their albums. “It’s obvious that there is a wave of conservatism in this country,” Bach said. “If anything, we should err toward the conservative.”

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With a few exceptions (Zappa, Don Henley), rock stars have been equally si­lent. Most prefer to treat censorship as an issue that affects only the music’s vul­gar fringe: rap and heavy metal. Many still believe that the notoriety of a stickered album is good for business.

The PMRC would like to wipe the smirk from their faces. Its recent quarter­ly newsletters carry Red Channels-style lists of “Releases Without Consumer In­formation” (that is, warning labels) and “Releases With Consumer Information.” Norwood says this is legitimate consumer information; she was unable to specify either where her group draws the line in deciding which unlabelled albums to re­port, or why it does not report on records that don’t need labels. The PMRC doesn’t just provide consumers with neu­tral information. On September 22 Nor­wood told radio station KSD-FM in St. Louis that the PMRC “endorses” the Rolling Stones tour.

Aside from proving that even pleading guilty-by-implication with a sticker won’t keep the censors off you, this particular package of “consumer information” has other revealing implications. On the most recent “Releases With Consumer Information” report, every stickered act is black — including N.W.A., Prince (hon­ored for Batman), and L.L. Cool J. According to Norwood, this indicates that rappers are among the most compliant rockers; in reality, it tells you who the record industry most easily pushes around.

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Harsher days are coming, even for art­-rockers, college radio favorites, and main­stream stars. On the “Without Consumer Information” chart are a number of rap and metal records, but also Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow and XTC’s Or­anges and Lemons. The spring edition of the PMRC blacklist includes Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, the Cure’s Standing on a Beach, the The’s Infected, Big Audio Dynamite’s No. 10 Upping Street, Simply Red’s Men and Women, and the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack.

Although the PMRC has failed to get the record companies to comply with its deepest stickering desires, it has had far less trouble with retailers, who are much more vulnerable to picketing and boy­cotts. The 130-store Hastings chain now is refusing to sell certain rap and heavy metal records to minors; Camelot Music told Billboard that it would pull records from stores rather than be picketed. The PMRC says it doesn’t want government legislation against rock, and no wonder — ­look how effectively the marketplace does the job. But as the FBI has shown, legis­lation isn’t the only way for the the gov­ernment to become involved.

The record industry is testing the civil liberties idea that, for every inch the cen­sors are given, they’ll demand a kilome­ter. The major labels and distributors’ November 1985 concession to the PMRC, which created the warning labels, is an implicit guilty plea that gave Susan Bak­er and Tipper Gore the credentials to write a Newsweek column conflating the tabloid connection between rap and the Central Park rape and the need to control what our children hear. (You can be sure that they won’t be contributing a piece on the connections between bel canto and Bensonhurst.)

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Not everyone is so cowardly. In Rapid City, South Dakota, the local PMRC af­filiate tried to get city officials to block a June 16 Metallica/Cult show. Opposed by citizens connected with Music in Action, the music industry’s anticensorship group (the authors of this piece are mem­bers), they lost. The concert produced the most integrated white/Indian audience ever seen in the Black Hills. In Kansas City, where N.W.A. played after the city’s acting mayor, Emanuel Cleaver, tried to stop the show (saying “Take your trash back to L.A.”), Ice Cube concluded the performance by saying, “We just showed your City Council that blacks, whites, Mexicans, and Orientals can get together for a concert without killing each other.”

Nevertheless, rock world opposition to the censors remains small and unfocused. The $6.2 billion record industry has no defense budget at all. The record business has nothing to say about the FBI’s abuse of artistic liberty — maybe because it pro­tects its investment with the FBI’s Special Task Force against record piracy. Li­beled by bullies, liars, reactionaries, and bigger weirdos than rock ever knew in its psychedelic heyday, corporate rock ‘n’ roll can’t even find the strength to whimper. ■

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COPS ‘N’ ROCKERS

Police pressure forced the cancellation of a June 17, 1987, Run-D.M.C./Beastie Boys show at the Seattle Center Coliseum, beginning a new cycle of such abuses that trace back to the heyday of Alan Freed. Last May, Ouachita County, Arkansas, sheriff Jack Dews seized rap and heavy metal tapes from a Wal-Mart and from the Heart of the Blues record store in Camden, claiming the music was obscene under state law and couldn’t legally be sold to anyone under 17. In August, the 203,000-member Fraternal Order of Police declared a boycott of any musical group that advocates assaults on police officers, a significant stand since off-duty cops staff most security teams.

Billboard‘s September 9 front page detailed nationwide efforts to repress acts “that swear, engage in erotic posturing, and sing lyrics touting violence.” It reported curtailment or cancellation of shows by Skid Row, Too Short, GWAR, and N.W.A., as well as arrests of Bobby Brown in Columbus, and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Among other towns where local officials censor rock are Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Poughkeepsie and Syracuse, New York. GWAR manager Bill Levine says that in Toledo, “We couldn’t say fuck or shit, but it was OK if we cut the heads off people.” (The decapitation of mannequins and pseudo-dismemberment of each other is a focus of GWAR’s oeuvre.)

The New York area is not immune to governmental shenanigans against rock. Some months ago, Middlesex, New Jersey, district attorney Alan Rockoff formed JUST (Joint Unit To Stop Terrorism), alleging the task force is necessary to stop cemetery vandalism caused by kids listening to rock. “There’s a healthy way to be Big Brother,” says Rockoff, whose unit tracks heavy metal bands and their fans with a computer.

N.W.A has not yet played New York. According to Ice Cube, nobody’s made the multiplatinum hip-hoppers a worthwhile offer.

— D.M.

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RETURN TO SENDERS

In July, I obtained the suspiciously uniform batch of letters that Priority Records received protesting N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. To find out why the letters were so often alike, I called their authors, who came from all over the country. I checked more that 100 letters.

Most of the letters claimed that the authors would “never buy an album from your label again,” but my interviews with their writers indicated that none of them had ever bought any LP, cassette, or CD in the last 18 months excepts two who said they’d purchased a “Christian record.” (How can you boycott product you never buy?) None were aware of a wide range of rap acts, including Run-D.M.C.; several said they’d never heard of N.W.A. Those who were aware of the group said they’d learned about them from Reverend James Dobson’s Citizen magazine. Not one of these anti-N.W.A. letter-writers had listened to their record, although many were quick to respond to questions about the group by saying that “**** Tha Police,” as one put it, “calls on blacks to kill police officers.”

Only a single letter-writer acknowledged living in a household with anyone who buys “rock ‘n’ roll records.” And that respondent was the one who asked for advice on how to organize a rock-bashing group. She said she’d already started working on it.

— P.P.

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

Categories
ART ARCHIVES BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Banal Retentive: Andy Warhol’s Romance of the Pose

THE ANDY WARHOL DIARIES
Edited by Pat Hackett
Warner Books, $29.95

Like his best art, Andy Warhol’s diaries are full of surface information and tough to figure. They dare you to find them deep. After a life spent hustling for the spotlight with close personal friends like Liza and Liz and Halston and Mick, Warhol thoughtful­ly remembered them all from Beyond. The artist’s bequest to his boldface buddies is a record of his innermost thoughts and theirs. The result is a thick, newsy volume that’s either celebrity wallpaper or a Pop Goncourt Journals. Maybe both. Who else, as Suzy says, would have thought to record the man-keeping secrets of our major thinkers? “If you only have two minutes, drop everything and give him a blow job,” Jerry Hall told Andy. “Keep a diary,” Mae West once advised, “and someday it might keep you.”

Without question The Andy Warhol Dia­ries is this summer’s heavy reading. I weighed the book myself and it’s over four pounds. In fact, the diary is a two-writer effort. Edited (or “redacted,” to use an old Interview term) by Warhol’s phone confi­dante Pat Hackett, it’s a monument to the Blavatsky style — part dictation, part re­creation. Hackett was Warhol’s secretary/stylus, skittering over the board while he telephonically gave her the words. As every People reader knows, the diaries were be­gun as a daily telephone account of the artist’s activities, made to satisfy the IRS. With their constant notations of taxi fares and dinner tabs, they also satisfy Harold Nicolson’s advice to the thorough diarist to remember what everything cost. Warhol re­members it all. The diaries started out as accountings and evolved into reckonings, but nobody expected that at the start.

Hackett met Warhol when she drifted down to the Factory from Barnard looking for part-time work. He hired her, sort of, by pointing to a desk. Warhol employees couldn’t always count on remuneration: “volunteers” was the office word for trust-fund menials with no pressing need for a paycheck. Hackett stumbled into a relation­ship with Warhol the way most of his em­ployees, stars, and friends did. Warhol seemed to have some powerful gravitational pull, a personal force field. One of the many unwholesome delights of The Andy Warhol Diaries is watching cosmic detritus get sucked into his strange orbit.

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Early ads for the book have suggested that behind Warhol’s platinum-wigged va­cancy lay a knuckle-whacking moralist: he only looked as if no one was home. The artist is portrayed as a churchgoing Big Brother, always watching. The creepy im­plication is that the Pop jester never took his world seriously. While his companions snorted and screwed themselves to oblivion, he sneaked off to light votive candles and annihilate everyone on paper. If the mar­keting’s too patly convenient — suggesting that what we secretly desire is a repudiation of the sex-drugs-and-disco decades — it’s also pitched right for the times. The tease on The Andy Warhol Diaries is that the book offers the sin and the penance in one stop. It’s a trendy notion, but Warhol’s Weltanschauung makes things a trifle more complex.

In a nice, and possibly random, touch the photo section of the book opens with a picture of the Zavackys, the Czechoslova­kian family of Julia Warhola, Andy’s mom. Posed in their kerchiefs, mustaches, and rube finery, the Zavackys appear ready to set off on the great adventure: “Up from Steerage.” They remind the reader what Warhol came from, more accurately than the usual inventions about his “coal miner” father (actually a construction worker) from McKeesport (actually Pittsburgh). In the whopping 807-page volume Warhol cites the Zavackys just once, and not by name, reminded of them by the onion dome churches in The Deer Hunter. But he doesn’t need to dwell on his forebears since they hover like shades, embodied in the moralizing, shrewd, and unforgiving peas­ant who lopped the final vowel from his surname and hit it big.

Warhol’s hardworking, penny-wise (and generous by turns) nature had deep Old Country roots. Even when he became the most famous artist in the world, he re­mained the child of immigrants and a first-­generation working-class American. This helps explain his infatuation with surface and his success in Society: he lent himself as a kooky ornament to people who valued his tactful understanding that he’d never belong.

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One of the enduring Warhol fictions casts him as a mooch. And it’s true he loved a freebie. Like a crazed conventioneer, the diary Warhol swipes silver from the Con­corde — working toward a complete set — ac­cepts ludicrous invitations, even attends the opening of an escalator. With his tape recorder or Polaroid he brings back souve­nirs. But Warhol paid his own way. Even in the druggy days of Max’s Kansas City (not covered by the diary), it was Andy who picked up the check. Which doesn’t mean he expected less than full value. He was a big tipper who got a kick out of handing employees pink slips. He had a solid prole sense of quid pro quo.

The ’60s Warhol recorded in his earlier books — among the most accurate records of the time — starred the gargantuan, drugged personalities of his superstar friends: Viva, Brigid Berlin, Ondine, Jackie Curtis. His novel a and The Philosophy of Andy War­hol (From A to B and Back Again) are all slick finish or amphetamine rant. He left the tape running on a cast of talking heads who played themselves with manic, dam­aged brilliance. But by the time The Andy Warhol Diaries begin, the superstars have faded (most aren’t dead yet), his films are in a vault, and the cast has changed.

From 1976 until his death, Warhol pre­ferred to surround himself with consorts and gold diggers. There are really two dia­ries. One is thronged with celebrities. But beneath that glittering text lies a subsidiary world, populated by Warhol’s steadies, a passel of attractive and ambitious vagrants without portfolio or evident talent — “art­ists” like Victor Hugo, the window dresser who kept Halston company; “models” like Barbara Allen, a beauty whose staggering romantic successes were accomplished de­spite mental limitations impossible to overstate. And Bianca Jagger, of course.

Jagger is one of the few characters who survives all the Diary years: she’s a tena­cious scenemaker. Over time, Jagger devel­ops as something more than a cartoon ce­lebrity in a marathon name-drop. There’s a strange quality about her, pouting with Halston, pouting with Mick, pouting for the cameras, pneumatic mouth on labial cruise control. She’s no Lily Bart, but somehow Bianca seems … better than her fate as a groupie/girlfriend/wife-of-fading-rockstar.

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Warhol has no taste for the pathos of Jagger’s trajectory from Nicaraguan nobody to celebrity nobody. He has no taste for pathos at all. He gets off on showing his friends with their pants around their ankles. He prefers that their embarrassments take place in public, as in this entry from December of 1978: “Marisa [Berenson] looked beautiful in silver, and Paul Jasmin was with her. She’s finally leaving town. She’s mad at Barbara Allen because Barbara was seeing her husband, Jim Randall, out in California, so Barbara wasn’t invited. Steve [Rubell] told us that Warren [Beatty] had fucked Jackie O., that he talked about it. Bianca said that Warren had probably just made it up, that he made it up that he slept with her, Bianca, and that when she saw him in the Beverly Wilshire she screamed, ‘Warren, I hear you say you’re fucking me. How can you say that when it’s not true?’ ”

There’s an anecdote a minute in the dia­ries. They’re thick on the ground. And if they don’t render whole, authentic-sound­ing people, it’s worth remembering that Warhol’s friends were not entirely real. The famous “stars” he cultivated have egos so strained and distended they’re like special-­effects contraptions lurching from page to page. Baryshnikov as the Little Engine That Could. Attack of the Fifty Foot Liza.

Anyway, diaries aren’t under obligation to render whole people. It’s a miniaturist’s skill, made for the slash, the wicked aside, the unflattering silhouette. Warhol becomes seductive the way Pepys or Henry (Chips) Channon or Cecil Beaton do, on the strength of his own greedy curiosity and sanguine optimism. Not to mention his gaga syntax, which becomes a form of ad­dictive baby talk. “Oh, I read a great col­umn in the Times!” he tells the diary in December of 1978. “It was something like ‘Funky, Punky, and Junky,’ and they had been talking about it at Tom Armstrong’s — ­it was about ‘silly people’ and it (laughs) had me in it a lot. No mention of Steve Rubell, no Halston — just me, Marisa, Bianca, Truman, Lorna Luft — the silly peo­ple and the silly places. And later, at Hal­ston’s, Halston said he’s glad he wasn’t mentioned because he said (imitates) ‘I’m! Not! Silly!’ And then everyone started call­ing Bianca ‘silly pussy, silly pussy.’ And Marisa came over and when she heard about the ‘silly’ column she was upset to be ‘silly.’ ” Maybe you had to be there.

Pat Hackett tells us that Warhol “mel­lowed” over the years. He outgrew “a cruel maddening way he had of provoking people to near hysteria.” Still, he kept all the barbed conversational quirks of a ’50s queen. In Warhol’s “camp” lexicon gay men were “fairies,” any “loud” woman could be a dyke, and hyperbole was the rule (especially when describing the male organ: Warhol’s diary is the Home of the Whopper). In the early days of his fame, he trained himself to talk in unintellectual monosyllables because it made for a more “butch” presentation. When he slipped with a five-dollar word (never in public), he inevitably used the occasion to mock himself.

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It was in Warhol’s Pop nature to fetishize movie stars and objects and puppies, then exploit his woozy compulsion in art. He kept a tight rein on sentimentality, or ex­posed it to gamma rays that made it larger than life. Warhol’s modus operandi, his “philosophy” was a stew of aesthetics and Czechoslovakian home truths. He disguised his politics (actively Democratic, although he only voted once in his life) and real opinions as credulous blather. He acted dumb. “Victor [Hugo] came by with his brother who’s so good looking,” he remarks one August Monday in 1983. “And Victor says his brother’s cock is so big he used to hit the table with it at breakfast. I guess they were naked at breakfast, you know these South Americans. It takes years to get nervous and live in an uptight situation like civilization.” How did people ever swallow the supposition that the real Warhol was a white-wigged idiot standing around saying, “Great”?

One of Warhols’s better card tricks was to make it all look easy: he was careful to maintain his cool. And that wasn’t always for the public’s benefit. He worked hard to conceal creepy feelings like hurt and long­ing from himself. “[Producer] Jon [Gould] told me the other night that he liked Pop­ism, but to Chris he said he didn’t think Paramount could do it,” Warhol writes in March of 1981. “But maybe eventually something will happen with it. Maybe it’s too soon. Oh, and Jon said to me that he thought it was ‘badly edited’ so I don’t know if he’s good at reading.”

This unexciting entry captures an essen­tial Warhol. It replays one of his ancient ambitions, to be taken seriously (in Holly­wood, of all places). And it displays his ego at work. Warhol knew the value of his tal­ents, and could spot his own ephemeral gar­bage faster than anyone. Just as surely he knew what would last. Although he was a literary dunce (Joan Crawford’s bio was a heavy tome), Warhol was “good at read­ing.” And writing. With the exception of a, which was written and should be read on amphetamines, his books are skillful, com­posed in his own reedy ruthless voice. By the time he came to write them, his persona had achieved fictional proportions. Having invented Andy, there was little need to manufacture stories about him. Andy could follow Andy around and record Andy’s ad­ventures and Andy’s nutty thoughts.

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One problem with the diaries is their postmortem polish. (Another is the casual proofreading: names are misspelled, luggage comes down a “shoot.”) As the reader slogs through the years with Warhol, it becomes tougher to sustain belief in the method of straight dictation. Hackett has said the book was distilled from 20,000 pages and that she used a light editing hand. But an­ecdotes drift toward the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as sentences start, “This was the day of … ” Dialogue tags (“she groaned”) stand out from the page. Hackett intrudes.

Still the book is great social history, with its lip-smacking tales of loveless, sexless marriages, its gimlet-eyed view of other people’s success, and its rampant uncloset­ings (when he mentions how Tony Perkins once hired hustlers to come through his window and pretend to rob him, you can see the libel lawyers twist and squirm). And it’s studded with gems of pure Warhol: “She was the nurse and he was Kaiser alumi­num,” he remarks. Or, “It was a Paloma Picasso day. Went to breakfast at Tiffany’s for her.” Or: “Ran into Rene Ricard who’s the George Sanders of the Lower East Side, the Rex Reed of the art world — he was with some Puerto Rican boyfriend with a name like a cigarette.”

The mellow Warhol was, if anything, even sharper in his ability to skewer with few words. “Decided to go to Peter Beard’s party at Heartbreak,” he writes of the so­cialite cocksman/photographer. “Peter was at the door showing slides. The usual. Afri­ca. Cheryl [Tiegs] on a turkey. Barbara Al­len on a turkey. Bloodstains. (Laughs.) You know.”

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By the mid-’80s, the diary Warhol has absorbed many of his rich friends’ daffy eccentricities. He becomes an unwitting caricature, extravagant and yet convinced he’s being taken (often true), obsessed with his pets, with unreturned favors, social gaffes and horrors. (When his wig is snatched during a book-signing at Rizzoli, he can’t even say the words; his editor does it for him.) He’s increasingly snookered by crystal healers, acupuncturists, and pimple experts. And, as always, he pines for affec­tion and sex — even after Jon Gould has moved into his 66th Street townhouse. New art stars have begun to upstage him, and Pop colleagues are selling higher at auction, a fact that obsesses a man whose lifelong fear was “going broke.” Scarier still, he oc­casionally goes unrecognized on the street.

The drug scene dries up as his adventur­ess friends revert to type and scramble for the altar. And the “fairies” mysteriously begin to die off. Betrayal, disappointment, and the banality of aging erode the fun quotient. Always phobic about hospitals and illness, Warhol is nastily remote when friends contract “the gay cancer.” These entries — almost any entry involving the physical difficulties of a friend — have a bald, ugly texture. Warhol was more sympa­thetic to animal distress than human. In one early entry he rails against his assistant Ronnie Cutrone for assassinating an ex­-girlfriend’s cats. Yet, later, when friends contract AIDS, Warhol refuses to sit near them at parties or share seats in a car. He begins to avoid restaurants where “fairies” prepare the food.

After 1983, the peppy atmosphere of Warhol World darkens. His long relation­ship with the decorator Jed Johnson fizzles out and his emotional shortcomings begin to redound nastily on himself. Johnson’s desertion begins a string of “divorces.” Bob Colacello (né Colaciello, as Warhol né War­hola likes to point out) quits the editorship of Interview to pursue moneyed Republi­cans. Halston sells his name to J.C. Penney. Steve Rubell is imprisoned for tax evasion. And with each cast change Warhol’s life and the book become more banal. His schedule is still frenetic but the diary rhythm flattens. There’s more time to kill.

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Part of the problem is Warhol’s new com­panions. Where he used to attract the most outlandish and beautiful people, he now settled for salaried companions and Social Register dregs like Cornelia Guest. These (sometimes titled) dullards had none of the crackling edge of his old drag queens or even his high-level hustlers. Warhol’s “stu­pid” pose was no help with this crowd, who couldn’t tell the difference. And the diary is forced to work harder on their behalf. Ca­pering from party to party with the newly anointed “celebutantes” and “millionettes,” Warhol found himself mentally slumming. It’s in these sections that you begin to notice what’s left out.

There are few entries about shopping or collecting, two of his major obsessions. And scant mention of work. Throughout the 11 years the book covers, Warhol was con­stantly turning out portraits, portfolios, new projects. But when “inspiration” crops up, the word seems like a sop tossed to the tax man, a joke.

The aging Warhol was still in demand, but he was less fun, more inward and cranky. “Cabbed up to 63rd Street ($8) … And Halston handed me a piece of pa­per in the shape of a boat and I was so thrilled. I knew it was the rent check for $40,000 [for Warhol’s Montauk house]. So that made my evening. And since it was so rainy I didn’t have any gifts with me so I wrote an I.O.U. to Halston and Victor and the niece: ‘I.O.U. One Art.’ … So anyway I went home and I opened up the paper boat and instead of a check, it was just noth­ing — like ‘Happy Birthday’ or something. It wasn’t a check and it should have been a check. All done up like a boat. It should have been a check.” The reader cringes.

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Like most people’s, Warhol’s holidays were anything but celebrations. For years, he celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas at Halston’s East 63rd Street house. The attempts at recreating family are land­marks amid seasonless loops of fun. They arrest the narrative in a way that few other events seem to do. Perhaps it’s because the touching gifts (often a dress for Andy), the Christmas trees, the roast turkey are the last thing you’d expect from a group of drugged publicity junkies. And somehow this makes them dear. The book doesn’t end until Warhol’s death in February of 1987, and the giddy pace never slackens. But for this reader, the diary hit an inad­vertent conclusion when Halston called off all tomorrow’s parties, leaving Andy with­out his little band. “Got up and it was Sun­day,” Warhol tells the diary on December 25, 1983. “Tried to dye my eyebrows and hair. I wasn’t in the mood. Went to church. Got not too many phone calls. Actually none, I guess.” ■

Categories
COMEDY ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Tears of a Clown: Charlie Barnett Cracks Up

ON THE THIRD STAIR of the sidewalk entrance to the Palace Hotel on the Bowery I catch an unmistakable whiff of aging vomit; halfway up the steep concrete stairs I step on a purple jumbo vial and shatter it, then tiptoe through a small, multicolored minefield of empty vi­als up to the front door, which is decorated with a wreath of plas­tic holly and black magic marker graffiti reading, “Don’t Smoke Cwack.” The tiny lobby looks like a cage: straight ahead is a fenced-in reception desk papered with admonitions for transients and “ticket men,” nonpaying émigrés from the men’s shelter next door. A steel-gate door to the left leads to a long narrow hallway of rooms, a steel-gate door to the right opens onto the “dayroom,” a huge holding pen of a rec room, smelling of Lysol and hissing with the static of a TV tuned to an empty station. Five or six desperate-looking men are sleeping as far away from the TV as possible. I ask the stubby-bearded desk clerk if he’s seen Charlie Barnett. “Never heard of him,” he says, suspicious. Turning to go, I ask how much the rooms are. “Six dollars, 50 cents tax,” he answers. “But you don’t want to stay here.”

It’s been a long morning already, mak­ing the rounds of comedy clubs like Catch a Rising Star and the Improv for news of Charlie, hearing one How the Mighty Have Fallen comment after another. “You know about his films, all those TV shows?” Sylvia, the day manager at the Comedy Cellar, asked. “God, Charlie had it made.” There was a time Charlie en­joyed carte blanche in these places, drop­ping in at midnight after a day of street shows, stealing the prime spots from the scheduled acts; moving on to another club for more. Nobody was surprised when he Made It, a little over four years ago, and abandoned the clubs for the West Coast and stardom, and there’s a polite but noticeable relish of his hubris and low profile since coming back. “Two years ago,” said Sylvia, “he was in Holly­wood. La dolce vita. Now he’s back out on the street — 3rd and Avenue A, maybe the Palace Hotel. Poor Charlie.”

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Out on the street is where Charlie al­ways was, performing on Bleecker and Thompson, behind the newspaper kiosk on Sixth Avenue and 3rd, Washington Square Park, any semi-enclosed spot where he could set up shop, start yelling, and get a crowd. His half-hour shows, wired with the racial and sexual humor of early Richard Pryor, were revved up by pyrotechnical, viciously funny exchanges with his audience: winos, druggies, tour­ists, local professionals, professional loi­terers. Greg Mullins, a William Morris agent who lives in the Village, “discov­ered” Charlie one afternoon in 1980, per­forming for about 300 hysterical people in Washington Square Park and signed him up for bookings in “some of the better clubs across the country.”

He also got Charlie an audition for Saturday Night Live during the crossover from the original cast to the next genera­tion, which Charlie made good on, being called back a number of times for further tests. Jean Doumanian, the show’s pro­ducer at the time, remembers Charlie and his talent affectionately, but not the de­tails, and nobody at the current SNL goes back far enough to comment. The “inside story,” sworn to by someone close to the show, is that he lasted through final auditions on the strength of his own material, only to lose the spot to Eddie Murphy when it was learned Charlie wasn’t literate enough to read cue cards.

Charlie’s “break” came in 1984, when the casting agent of D.C. Cab saw him passing the hat in Washington Square Park, then filmed a performance in the Comedy Cellar and sent director Joel Schumacher a tape. Schumacher, looking for performers with a “raw, spontaneous edge,” says he “fell in love with Charlie at first sight,” and cast him opposite Gary Busey, Mr. T, and Adam Baldwin. Within weeks after the shoot, Charlie went bi­coastal, shuttling between New York and a new condo on Sunset Boulevard, with week- and nightlong stopovers at clubs in Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas.

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He aced his next shot at the Big Time, a spot on an early episode of Miami Vice, playing a police snitch called the Noogie, a character that proved popular enough for 10 more episodes over the next three years and which served as a springboard for three low-budget films, more than 10 HBO comedy specials, and an episode of T.J. Hooker. Every two or three months, he’d be back in Washington Square Park, talking about how different blacks are who’ve made it big (“Out in L.A. they got big-lipped, blue-black Alabama porch­monkey Negroes lying in the sun trying to tan their asses white”), how Abe Lin­coln nodded out on his monument while waiting for Mr. T to deliver his one line of the evening without fucking it up, and how rewarding it is to work your ass off and finally get what you always wanted: Enough Cocaine To Last the Night.

Though he was funnier than ever, over the next few years it became increasingly apparant something wasn’t right with Charlie: longer and longer pauses began to crop up in his formerly seamless shows, Charlie staring at his audiences like they were made of ether, coming down to the park looking like he’d just fallen out of bed, performing for 15 min­utes, then taking off. Mullins remembers this period with fond exasperation. “You’d get to the office and your first problem was a Charlie Barnett problem: Charlie’s cancelled a date, Charlie’s missed the plane, Charlie’s in the office for a check that’s not due for another few weeks. On Miami Vice they loved his character, his performances. But Charlie could bring confusion to any set he walked onto. And then there were the drugs. Finally, a year and a half ago, I had to cut it off with Charlie. He just got to be too much to deal with.”

A little over a year ago Charlie dropped out of sight: no more movies, TV, or street shows. A few months back a friend saw him performing in Washington Square Park, badly, and said Charlie looked completely cracked out.

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A BLACK ECONOLINE VAN with Jersey plates is backing up to the curb in front of the Palace. Four mid-thirties leather boys step out, rough and ready, wearing mascara, eyeliner. I watch them unload a stack of well-traveled Marshalls into CBGB next door, grateful for their hard­core, harmless presence, only gradually becoming aware of a finger poking gently into my arm from above. A heavily beard­ed man in a beat-up, pea green corduroy jacket is standing on the first step of the Palace stairs, smiling warmly as he tells me in a rapid-fire Negril patois not to worry, he’s got what I want, we’ll go for a walk, just call him Bigger, everyone does. Does he know Charlie? Of course he knows Charlie, Charlie’s a funny man, personal friend. As we turn onto 3rd Street, stopping at the men’s shelter so Bigger can talk shop with three guys named Stretch, Frenchie, and One-Eyed Shorty (everyone here seems to go by monikers), I understand he’s trying to sell me something, but I can’t figure out what it is. Bigger sounds more like an advance man for the Palace than any card-carrying crack dealer.

“Some very respectables come here,” he says as we complete our first lap around the block, never losing his sales­man’s smile. “The suit, the tie, the stock­broker, the chemical engineer, people, like yourself. Journalists. But they cannot compete with the people who live here. In the dayroom, when we past the drug, having lunch, watching TV, you see our quality of people — singers, entertainers, civil engineers, people like yourself. Jour­nalists. Those people who come to the Palace in their limousines, go to the Prince Town University, they cannot compete with men like I, who spend 75, 80 per cent of his life on the street. You learn too much on the street. Is the big­gest college there is.”

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As we turn onto Second Avenue again I lean against the fence penning in a va­cant lot to catch my breath, while Bigger says hello to a few of his colleagues speeding around the block. All are selling crack, Bigger tells me, except for a short, sweet-looking old-timer named Hook, selling $75 “Perry Ellis” shirts for $3 apiece, and a good-looking kid in stonewashed jacket and jeans, 16, 17 years old, who looks like he’s just begun the training program. “Now I feel secure for the first time today,” the kid says, appraising a new K57 switchblade he holds opened in his hands.

As he watches the knife go by, Bigger’s face is absent its smile for the first time. “Everything good and bad must come to an end,” he says, turning professorial. “Thirty, 40 per cent of them get out from under the crack, the rehab program. The John Belushi, the entertainer, Charlie, 90 per cent need something to hype them onto the stage, keep them going after the stage is finished. They come to see me, they know it is an event, something’s going to happen.”

Bigger watches two huge gray rats scavenge by the fence; he smiles, musing, “Charlie once must have had a lot of money. On a personal note though,” he says, turning around, “I have been com­pletely honest with you. How come you no give me two, three dollar?” I give him some money, asking where I might find Charlie. “You just miss him by an hour,” he says. I ask Bigger why he thinks some­one like Charlie would throw it all away. “The same reason as we all,” Bigger says. “Because he is addicted.”

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A TWILIGHT CONGREGATION of 50 or so stands under an elm tree near the arch in Washington Square Park, blowing into hands for warmth, laughing and scream­ing. In the center of their circle sits Char­lie, his little butt crammed into the top of a wire wastebasket, talking about how hard it is trying to fuck a prostitute in your room at the Palace Hotel when you’re cracked out of your mind. He’s picked up a few decibels since I last saw him, and has added some of the staccato cadence and gestures of a Southern Bap­tist preacher: he sounds like a man testi­fying, but proud, unrepentant, with an “I alone have survived to tell the tale” deliv­ery. After an afternoon’s rafting through the stream of hyperkinetic zombies on 3rd Street, I recognize the sentiment.

“I had me a fine room there,” he’s yelling. “Finest room $6.50 can buy. And a stack o’ rubbers” — he raises the imagi­nary stack in his left palm, Exhibit A. “I was prepared … to meet the virus. And I had me a stem,” he lifts his right hand, ” — and $50 of what goes in it. And I had me a beautiful black woman. And she was willing, brothers and sisters. She was fuckin’ desperate.”

Charlie lowers his right fist and inhales for a long time, closing his eyes. He looks like he’s seeing something horrible when he opens them again. “When you smok­ing crack,” he says with a lowering voice, “you get paranoid. Like a motherfucker . I’d be checking out the woman, the rub­bers, then back at the bitch. And she be saying, ‘C’mon Charlie, I wanna get down.’ And I get mad. Furious. ‘Soon’s I finish,’ ” he inhales, glowering, his eyes growing wide until he looks furious, dan­gerous. ” ‘Soon’s I finish,’ ” he inhales again, “‘I am gonna fuck the shit out of your black ass. Just as soon as I finish.’ ” He inhales once more, then looks at his left hand. “I’m so paranoid now I put on all the rubbers. Sixteen of ’em.”

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Everyone starts howling as Charlie mimes it, each one more difficult to force on. “Even my rubbers was paranoid!” he screams. “By the time the last one’s on, they’re yelling, ‘No Charlie! Please! Don’t make us go in there! Let’s go in that bathroom and massss-tuhbate.’ ”

Two elegant kids with matching dou­ble-breasted suits, gold wire-rims, and Grace Jones coifs fall to their knees on this last joke, pleading, “Oh shit, oh shit.” Charlie checks them out, rising from his garbage can. “Jesus!” he screams. “There’s two of you mother­fuckers. The rhinestone asshole twins. But I like my man’s hair,” he points to one, strutting the width of his circle like a five-foot-four Jake LaMotta, making eye contact with anyone who’ll dare. “Looks like a fuckin’ shoebrush.”

As he settles back into the garbage can to do his imitation of a crackhead vet pirouetting paranoically down the Bow­ery in his wheelchair, a six-foot-six, 250- pound wino spills out of the crowd to join the fun, coughing up ugly fluids, roaring like a hippo. He gets an ovation from the crowd — seemingly the only response he’s had in months — and decides to stay. Charlie, who’s been dealing with occupa­tional hazards like this on a daily basis for over a decade, borrows a dollar from someone, then, like a matador, holds it up to the man, saying, “Here, Papa,” till the man sees the bill and goes for it, repeatedly, as Charlie leads him safely out of the circle.

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“How many you people like my show?” he asks, returning the dollar; he gets a huge round. “Good. Because now I collect for real. I want you to pay me! I don’t drink, I don’t steal, and I haven’t had any drugs in … excuse me, what time is it?”

The last time I saw Charlie, I realize as he passes by with his monogrammed leather baseball cap in his hand, was in this spot, but that was over a year ago. I’ve forgotten how small and fragile he is, how childlike his features are, how lean and adolescent his body looks. All his clothes seem outsized, like he’s still a few months shy of growing into them: his cap (worn backward), plain blue T-shirt, un­laced Avias, cuffed Levis, always clean and ironed. He looks more like a well­scrubbed Little Leaguer heading for a full day at the playground than a 34-year-old man who’s spent the night in an SRO.

“SURE, I’ll TALK TO YOU,” Charlie says while he’s signing autographs, con­firming an amorous Columbia Grammar student’s suspicions that it was him she saw on all those episodes of Miami Vice. Once the fans are gone, he counts the coins and bills in his hat. He isn’t pleased. “I had me a lot of money once,” he commiserates with himself. “So you want to talk about drugs, right?”

Struck a little dumb by his directness, I ask after his resume, and Charlie reels off a list of performances: his movies, a ton of cable specials, a film he wrote and starred in called Terms of Enrollment: Charlie Barnett’s Guide to Higher Educa­tion, a role in Nobody’s Fool, the list goes on. I ask if he made a lot of money for his biggest movie, D.C. Cab. “Yep, and a $1.2 million contract for three movies. Plus points and all that bullshit. Fucked that up good. Plus 10 Miami Vice episodes — ”

“What was it like working with … ?”

“Don’t like him. Don Johnson? Don’t like me either. Had a fistfight with him, right on the set, first few days. ‘Cause I stole the episode. It was called ‘Cool Run­nin’.’ I stole it. They were talking about how this black guy’s great, and the man just started fuckin’ with me, saying ‘You been on this show for a week and you think it’s yours.’ And so I said, ‘Fuck you,’ and we got into it.”

“Did you get in any good shots?”

“Nah, it turned into a wrassle. The teamsters grabbed us and dragged us off. He called me and apologized. I just did another Vice, a year ago.”

I tell him I can’t connect all that with doing street shows for chump change. He shakes his head, telling me that isn’t the problem. “I made $200 one show last Saturday and I woke up on a bench in Tompkins Square Park next morning. I did even better that night, and I was standing in the food line Monday morn­ing. I’m trying to handle these drugs.”

A woman who looks faintly familiar to Charlie comes up to talk. A friend of a friend, she tells him about the rough time she’s had since coming to New York, and Charlie reaches into his hat for a $5 bill, a substantial fraction of what’s in there. “Listen,” he tells me, “I gotta walk. Let’s do this tomorrow or something.” “Fine,” I say, then watch him walk her to the corner and say goodbye, patting her shoulder warmly, making a couple of jokes before he turns round and heads east, toward the Bowery, walking faster and faster till he’s out of sight.

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THE NEXT DAY COMES but Charlie doesn’t, nor the next or the day after. Saturday, a gorgeous day, brings a mob to the park, and an almost medieval array of performers sets up shop in the center of the fountain: Joey Joey, a unicyclist/ sword-swallower; mimes; a martial arts juggler; a six-five transsexual in green body paint imitating the Statue of Liber­ty; the Calypso Tumblers, flipping and flying over each other and making a ton of money. Everyone but the prince of fools.

By Wednesday it’s cold and rainy. The main attraction in the park is a squad of bearded men in yellow T-shirts talking in relay about the Power of Darkness With­in You, arguing with a homeless Hispanic woman who refutes all of their points with the simple reductio, “I’d marry a pit bull before any of you godless excuses for men.”

Late in the afternoon, I witness some­thing nasty: a black man in his thirties, leaning awkwardly over a chess table in the corner of the park, an intense, vacant look on his face as a patrolman with a size-18 neck frisks his torso, arms, and legs from behind. Finding nothing, the cop snarls some unacknowledged words to the wise and takes off, and the man sits down at the empty table to gather his wits. I recognize him suddenly: Alex, a weak but iron-willed chess player who used to be here constantly, falling into lost positions all over the board, then finding one saving move after another till his opponent finally dropped. It’s been some time since I’ve see Alex, and the change is frightening. Six months ago he was a gentle, solvent professional who didn’t seem a day over 25.

A few tables over, a friend of mine named Eddie has stopped his chess clock to watch the proceedings. “Damn,” he says, starting his clock as Alex takes off across the park at breakneck speed, “Alex is gone.” I ask where he’s gone to and Eddie, flashing his opponent a how-stu­pid-can-this-white-man-be grin, says, “East. See? The man’s gone east on im­portant business. What I hear,” he con­cludes, sacrificing a rook with an angry flourish, “business is booming.”

AT TWILIGHT I FIND CHARLIE sitting by the fountain, wrapped up in a polyester-­filled ski coat, watching a comic named Albert try to perform while a THC-­crazed kid standing nearby aims karate kicks at his head. Charlie greets me warmly, putting his arm around my shoulder, and together we watch Albert’s show disintegrate. “It’s getting cold,” he says. “People gotta go to work tomorrow. I hate to do this, but — ”

Charlie walks 20 yards away, drops his coat on the ground, and starts screaming, “Showtime. Showtime, motherfuckers.” Minutes later, he has every cogent person in the park in his corner and the show begins, Charlie down on his knees, pounding the bricks, screaming, “I hate that bitch. I hate that bitch. Robin, Bitch, Ass, Fuckin’ Givens wants $20 mil­lion for eight months of marriage and I know for a fact the Champ didn’t get to fuck her ass but four times. That’s $5 million a fuck. I know a woman on 3rd Street for $20. Yo, Mike,” he whispers, “spend the extra buck on the rubber — it’s worth it. And I knew,” he raises a fist in solidarity, “I knew she married my man for his money. Think about it. Would a bitch that fine fuck a gorilla for free?”

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And on he goes, one racist, sexist, ho­mophobic joke after another, each laced with some rage or foolery so extreme he can get away with all of them. Charlie is always acting something out, something childish and familiar; whether he’s mak­ing fools of the audience or of himself, he’s making you an accomplice, his witness; if the joke doesn’t get you, the anger or panic on his face will, getting Japanese tourists to laugh about their big cameras and tiny dicks, black men to laugh about how they’ve never seen a subway token in their lives, Puerto Ricans to laugh about how they’re born with knives in their hands and live 4000 to a room, women about how they sound like a small rodeo when they’re coming, jokes about every­one and everything.

Thirty minutes later, Charlie’s feeling good, with a hat full of money and a gaggle of admirers around him, easing the bridge from showtime to reality. His girl­friend, Marcie, a 27-year-old cellist with two masters degrees, has returned from visiting relatives in Germany, and he’s living happily, and — this week, at least — ­drug-free out in some obscure part of Jersey with her again. He’s been offered a movie about sea monsters that will film in Florida over the winter, and is booking himself into the New York clubs for the month ahead, the weather dropping too rapidly for him to be able to count on street shows for a living anymore.

I go over to watch Marcie sing soprano with Zeus, Chicken George, and Jodi in an a cappella quartet called The Village All Stars. It’ been a while since I’ve heard good four-part harmony, and I’ve forgotten how beautiful it can be, how much meaning it’ll lend even the most insidious tripe:

In the words of a broken heart,
It’s just Emotion,
Breaking me over … 

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A few feet away, Charlie is settling accounts with some neighborhood credi­tors — the shish kebab man, the hot dog man, a guy who lent him $5 last week­ — everyone who asks, seemingly, but for one grinning, desperate-looking charac­ter, who seems completely unfazed by Charlie yelling at him to go fuck himself, to go fuck his mama. “You just remember that next time you come to me,” the man says with a smile.

“I hate those motherfuckers,” Charlie tells me, leading us to a bench nearby. Realizing this is my formal interview, I get the tape running and ask my first question: What motherfuckers?

“Motherfucking drug dealers. They want me to kill myself,” Charlie answers. “They always smiling, saying, ‘Hey, Charlie, how many? You got my money?’ Nah, I can’t do it. It’s a fuckin’ nightmare. Heroin, you get to nod out of reali­ty. Cocaine, you hear the least little sound. Lots of guys you see are doing speedball, they say it’ll slow you down, you won’t go back and buy coke right away. And I say, ‘Wait a minute, me and you both go running back to the drug spot, you buy the speedball, all I’m buying’s cocaine, how much is it slowing you down?’ It’s just, I’m the one making the money, and they figuring, they get me into heroin, I buy 10 bags a day.”

So on a day you’re smoking crack, a typical day …

“In the life of Charlie as Crackhead. Let’s see, I do a show. I walk that way [points east]. Toward 3rd Street. When I disappear, just like that, then I’m going to get high. Over by the Palace, the men’s shelter. Tons of fuckin’ crack. Five-dollar vials. Get a stem, light it up, suck it in, blow it out. ‘Come on. Poh’lice. ‘Sgetouttahere. Try to keep the stem on.’ ”

So how much will you do at a time?

“The whole thing.”

Which whole thing?

“Whichever whole thing there is.”

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Somebody I don’t get a good look at passes by, telling Charlie he shot his girl; from the look on Charlie’s face, I get the feeling the guy isn’t joking. When Marcie comes over in between songs and nestles into Charlie’s shoulder, I ask if he’s funny at home. No way, she says, the lazy fuck just sleeps all day, then she slaps his face and goes back to her quartet. On cue, a six-foot, 85-pound Morticia Addams look-alike drifts over to say she loved Charlie’s show, smiling at him like he’s the Charlie Manson she’s been waiting for. Charlie says he’s being interviewed, explaining, “That’s an old-fashioned junkie,” as she wanders off. Then he identifies what some of our neighbors are on; half are drugs I’ve never heard of. I ask what the crack high’s like.

“Paranoia,” he says. “I was high now, I couldn’t sit here, I’d be looking around, thinking everyone’s trying to get in my pocket.”

When ‘s the last time you smoked?

“Seven days ago. I still haven’t recov­ered. It got to a point, recently, where I couldn’t even — not that I wasn’t funny, but I’d only do $10 shows. Soon as I could get $10 in the hat I’d end it.”

So why do you do it?

“I don’t know. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a high I cannot stand. Drugs make me work my ass off. I got good at being funny ’cause I needed the money to get high.”

Do you think you ‘re punishing yourself for something?

“Probably. ‘You got a low self-esteem/if you like to beam/and it ain’t what it seem/’cause you’re chasing a dream/down 3rd Street, the Devil’s beat.’ ”

Sounds like a rap song.

“Me and Marcie wrote it together. It’s called ‘Third Street.'” He takes out a dog-eared, typewritten copy of the lyrics and starts reading:

… This drug is a drug
that will kill your ambition
but ya jus’ won’t listen
coz ya can’t stop dissin’
and you’re always in position
for goin’ on a mission
it’s an everyday tradition
on Third Street.

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I get the feeling Charlie’s self-conscious about reading, and I look down, nodding to his faltering beat, surprised at how lame his rapping is, how little snap is in his bravado. Charlie’s a consummate clown, capable of becoming anyone in­stantly, and this would seem a simple enough persona. By the last page his voice is almost inaudible, incredibly plaintive, and I look up. His eyes are closed and I realize he’s no longer recit­ing, that he never really was:

I jus’ gotta get high and I don’t know why
I wanna take away the pain but then it’s back again
I’m just sick and tired a bein’ sick and tired
a bein’ sick and tired a bein’ sick and tired
a bein’ greedy and needy and seedy.
I’m finished with the filth and the crime
crack crack crackin’ it up all the time
crawling through the gutter and slowly dyin’
cryin’
sighin’
Jus’ can’t stop buyin’
on Third Street, the Devil’s beat. * 

I wait out a long moment before re­sponding: Sounds pretty dreadful.

“It is. Right from the start. I want to stop. I’ve been running good and bad with it, going to NA [Narcotics Anony­mous] meetings. One day I’ll smoke, then I’ll stop for a week, then I’ll do it for a month. Pure paranoia. If your hand was here, I’d watch my bag. I don’t trust nobody.”

I look at his hands, which are enor­mous: huge, spatulate fingers, each fin­gernail as wide as two of mine. “I’ve got these E.T. fingers,” he shrugs. “I was born with an enlarged heart, then I got rheumatic fever when I was a year old.”

Where were you living then?

“Well, I was born in Boston; when I got that they said I was in North Carolina.”

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Charlie talks a little of his past, sketch­ily, and with a tenderness that belies the content of what he’s saying. His mother, he says, “was fucked up, stepdaddies and shit.” His one memory of his real father takes the form of a joke: “My dad cracked up in the Korean War; by the time I was a year old he’d told enough neighbors he was Jesus they put him in the nuthouse for five years. When he came out, he didn’t say he was Jesus anymore. He said he was God — which was fine, ’cause that made me Jesus.”

Charlie doesn’t have any jokes to tell about his childhood in North Carolina, just some bitter, impressionistic memo­ries of being largely uncared for by rela­tives, of the stigma of his semiorphanage and complete poverty, of being beaten by teachers in class and by the kids after school. “They used to never promote me in school. I used to always get whuppings. The kids used to beat up on us afterward, and it was an embarrassment to play with the Barnett boys. My older brother and me, the black sheeps on the street. My mother dumped us off down there, and I didn’t see her for 11 years.”

When he finally returned to his moth­er, at the age of 12, she was “still fucked up” and he was practically illiterate, which in the Boston of the early ’60s meant an effective end to his education. (After the Saturday Night Live auditions he taught himself to read.) He remembers adolescence as a series of racist reform schools in Massachusetts, which taught him only “how to fight, to stay alive, and what drugs did what for your head.”

“Comedy,” he says, “came much later, as a kind of gift I never knew I had. I learned I could make people laugh, that I loved to do that, and that after a while I could make a living at it. I never thought of making it, I never thought of audition­ing for anything. Everything I ever got came from someone seeing me on the street and wanting me.”

Joel Schumacher, his director on D.C. Cab, remembers an “incredible need to succeed in Charlie, and a shyness and innocence that I formed an immediate attachment to. He was like a kid who’d fallen asleep dreaming up one of his street shows and then woken up on a Hollywood set. A lot of people got very interested in Charlie very quickly,” he recalls, “making him all kinds of offers. It confused him, brought on all sorts of con­flicts and doubt. I felt a little culpable, and wondered if I wouldn’t have done better to have left him in the park, where at least he knew the turf. He’s such a complicated, fragile person, a true origi­nal. Over the years he’s really paid the price for being so. Even when everything was going so well, there was a kind of Judy Garland-John Belushi side to Char­lie, very angry, self-destructive, very much the same anguish, finally the same response. In our Marie Antoinette era, we say, ‘Just Say No to Drugs.’ But what does that mean to someone like Charlie? Just say no to a lifetime of anger?”

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Greg Mullins says that Charlie’s is “the saddest case I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the business 14 years. I remember one night, during one of Charlie’s drug-free periods, I took a colleague to a show of Charlie’s that just wasn’t working. He was clearly uncomfortable onstage, un­funny, not like himself at all. My friend said, ‘Greg, how do we get him back on drugs?’ It’s a cruel story, but it illustrates the point: Charlie’s humor comes from his life, and his life’s been a cruel one.”

“I’ve had a fucked-up life,” Charlie nods. “My life is fucked up. I’m an angry man, and I’m an angry comic. I’m funni­est when I’m mad. But you have to be on, and you’ve got to be quick. My brand of humor, you can’t be, shit, what’s that word? The audience will take over, you have to be so bold they’ll just accept you, so they say, fuck it, we have to, ’cause he’s too crazy for us to reason with him. I say all that vulgarity — sex, all that shit, people will — I get hecklers. They don’t like what I say and speak on it. So I dog ’em. You can’t be laid back worth a fuck. Some women get angry during the shows, ’cause that’s where a lot of my anger comes from and that’s where it goes. I used to have a hell of a temper, used to always beat up on women.

“It’s funny though, my father died this summer, and I went to see my mother, first time in years. When I was a year old, she was in trouble and sent me away for 11 years. When I came home, she was in trouble, and when I saw her this summer she was still in trouble. Only now I was a junkie, and I had to forgive her a lot of shit. We both just started crying.”

“Charlie,” Marcie told me later, “has lots of sides to him: his image side, which is really up for grabs, day-to-day. He’s got a very ‘personal’ side — the ‘Fuck it, I might as well just be honest’ side. He’s got what he calls his nigger side, which is very proud, and pretty cutting. And there’s the real Charlie, that only people like One-Eyed Shorty know, bums and addicts. More important, it’s how Charlie knows himself. King of the Park. Lots of times we wouldn’t have enough money to eat, and Charlie’d give them half of it, ’cause they had nothing. It comes from knowing what it’s like. Sometimes he’d be walking through the park at 7 a.m. after a night of partying, without a dime and hungry. He’d yell, ‘OK, I’m collecting for yesterday’s show,’ and they’d pay up-a quarter, 50 cents. Doesn’t sound like much, but at times like that it can be a lot of money.”

The Village All Stars are retiring for the night. There’s no one left in the park to sing for but the Rastas selling drugs by the chess tables, and they’re here for the night. Charlie really wants to go, rushing Marcie, saying a quick goodbye to me. Last week this time, Charlie was east­bound once the show was over, and it’s clear he’s still programmed that way, strongly, only what he wants now is to go home while he still can. When the five of them head up Fifth Avenue, Charlie’s a few steps ahead of the others and looking back over his shoulder, impatient at their dawdling and singing, which he keeps telling them is “completely homeless.”

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THE COMIC STRIP on 82nd & Second is a welcome anachronism among the nou­veau quiche cafés and boutiques of the Upper East Side, a place you’d sooner expect to pop up in some Jack Webb vehicle of the ’50s. Inside is the warm comfort of old wood, old beer, and old jokes; the clientele at the dimly lit bar (ex-comics, mostly, and comics waiting to go on) arguing about George Bush seem like they might as well be talking about Duke Snider or Abe Beame. I find Char­lie, glum and angry, sitting with Marcie in a graffiti-scarred oak booth opposite the bar. He’s been given the best spot, at 1 a.m., but there are four comics on be­fore him, and he says he doesn’t want to be here, he doesn’t want to be anywhere.

It’s been a month or so since I first met Charlie. I’ve gotten a powerful second­hand taste of what running good and bad with a major league drug habit’s like, the good time spent largely recuperating, the bad in tremendous isolation, in a place where I certainly can’t follow him. Char­lie is remorselessly candid about his life (it’s the source of his comedy, and he doesn’t seem to know how to be any other way), but piecing it together from what he says is puzzle work. Events he describes in a deeply historical tone often turn out to have taken place two days before, and his mood swings are baffling and sudden: one afternoon, I’d find him performing in the fountain at the top of his form, wearing his sleeveless CHOOSE LIFE T-shirt, doing a perfect moonwalk as he explains he’s just trying to get the shit off his shoes, then I’d witness one of his $10 corner shows and quick getaways lat­er that week. The end of it all seems to be the mood I find him in now, depressed, hostile, confused, utterly disgusted.

Still, things are looking up. There’s a tentative two-week offer from a big club in Fort Lauderdale, coinciding nicely with the sea monsters he’ll be costarring with nearby. Charlie, a professional comedian above all else, knows how to take the good in the same stride as the worst of it. Though he’s feeling like shit, he’s all busi­ness tonight, hustling agents who’ve come to see him, talking shop with club-­owner Richard Tinken, a big man in the comedy field and someone in a position to do him some good. He settles back in the booth and tells me about life in L.A., how he got sick of the condo swimming pool after a month, then retired every afternoon to the sauna in his apartment, sweating the drugs out. After a cold shower he’d walk down Sunset Boulevard past the Chateau Marmont (the luxury hotel where John Belushi OD’ed) to the Comedy Store or over to Venice Beach to do a street show. I ask Charlie how the clubs in L.A. compare to New York. “Same shit,” he says, “nice places.”

The Comic Strip’s eight-by-10-foot stage is only a few inches above the audi­ence level, so well-lit it’s practically glow­ing in the dark, 200-seat room surround­ing it. It’s a full house tonight, 98 per cent white: aging jocks from the boroughs in threes and fours, awkward, half-drunk couples, flocks of tourists. A lot of the women look like they’ve been dragged here, and it is a fairly macho scene. The beginning of a 10-man, all-night bachelor party has a lock on the first-row tables; the groom, a kind of Spuds MacKenzie on two legs, has an audible head start in the booze department and pride of place under the microphone. He’s been heck­ling the shit out of the last two comics.

Limited to 15 minutes, Charlie hits the stage running, and by his second joke is walking up and down in front of the first-­row tables, asking the two black couples in back to smile so he can see them, giving high-fives to Bachelor #1, yelling “How the hell are you, fuckin’ A, how’s the wife, how’s my kids?” then stepping onto a second-row table to ask a stony­-faced middle-aged woman where she’s from. “From St. Louis,” she says. “Do the women there masturbate?” Charlie asks politely. Apparently they don’t, or would rather not say, and this enrages Charlie. “You lying bitch,” he yells, walk­ing to the stage and flopping on his back. “What the fuck is this?” He puts a finger to his groin and starts convulsing up and down the stage until the woman, who can’t believe what she’s looking at, snick­ers under her hand a little. Charlie keeps it up, his mouth open and gagging, his eyes going white, and finally the woman starts roaring, louder than the bachelors in front of her. When he finishes, Charlie leans back on an elbow. “Now you re­member?” he asks, nodding his head. “I thought you would.”

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AFTER HIS SET, I offer Charlie and Mar­cie a ride to Port Authority in the cab I’m taking downtown. Turning onto Times Square, wall-to-wall crowds at 3:00 a.m., I ask Charlie, who’s been pretty quiet the whole ride, if he’d ever perform in a place like this. “I do perform here, all the fuckin’ time,” he says. “That corner over there.”

I take a long look at the furtive little congregations forming and unforming at the “Meat Market,” the corner of 42nd and Eighth; it’s been said that over $1 million changes hands on this corner ev­ery day. To me, it’s like watching a bee­hive, only more alien, dozens and dozens of people moving back and forth, no one seeming to leave. To Charlie it’s just an­other crowd: “Huge audiences,” he says, looking out the window with me, “any time of the night. Hookers, winos, crack dealers, heroin addicts, drag queens, pimps. They pay real well. You’d be amazed at how well they pay here. Good place to work on your heckler lines, any new material. I learn how to time my routines here.”

I’ve never heard Charlie talk about ma­terial before, or timing or routines, any of the buzzwords of his work; it’s easy to lose sight of his craft. I ask if there are any other comedians he likes, and he says, “Richie,” really softly, with incredi­ble tenderness. “Lenny.”

At risk of patronizing Charlie, I ask him: “Why on earth would men like that destroy themselves with drugs?”

Charlie turns to Marcie and says he wants to go for a bite before getting on the bus back to Jersey. I wonder if he hasn’t heard me, or if he’s just impervi­ous to such questions. “Because he’s a drug addict,” he finally says, looking lost in thought as he steps out of the cab. “What more reason do you need?” ■

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Pleas, Pleas, Pleas: The Tribulations and Trials of James Brown

Gus, the pasty-white 300-pound cabbie driving me to the State Park Correctional Center outside Columbia, South Carolina, doesn’t need to ask which of the 288 inmates I’m going to see. He just wants to know if I’m a writer or a lawyer. “Reason I ask,” he says in his melliflu­ous, surprisingly feminine drawl, “is if you’re a writer, I might just wait around for the return trip. Mr. James Brown don’t see no more writers. They were coming down here by the busload till a few weeks ago, fans too, but they all went away empty-handed. That roly-poly preacher from New York seen to that.”

I ask Gus if he means the Reverend Al Sharpton, an old friend of Brown’s (they cut a gospel single, “God Has Smiled on Me,” together in 1981). Sharpton brought the Brawley family to visit Brown after their pilgrimage to the Atlanta Democratic Convention last July, then re­turned south alone in December to lobby for Brown’s release. Gus, who’s been fair­ly taciturn the whole ride up, lets out with a riptide at Sharpton’s name. “That loud roun’ moun’ of soun’! He was stand­ing on the courthouse steps in Aiken the day after the trial, holding onto Adrienne Brown and them ancient photographs of President Bush and Mr. Brown and him, talking racist verdicts, media circuses, and whatnot, making that bogus offer to serve Mr. Brown’s time for him. He was here on Christmas too, holding his can­dlelight vigil in front of the prison with that lawyer buddy, Perry Mason, trying to stir up the ministers. They wouldn’t give him the time of day. People here say James Brown got his day in court — and more. Got to be every time you turned around him and that wife’s acting up. Time and again they let them off, time, time, time and again he’s shooting some­thing up. People behaving like that — pis­tols, drugs, shotguns. Me and you’d have got all 30 years he was looking at, that’s for sure.”

Gus gets pacified as we coast past the rolling green lawns and maples hedging the State Park driveway and stop in front of what he calls the “nursing home.” A jet of steam is coming out of the ventilation duct of a block-long, white-stone hospital to the left; a tacky gift shop on our right is open, even though it’s Super Bowl Sun­day. Down a series of stone stairways strewn with ivy is the dirty red-brick prison, looking more like a 1940s subway station on the Grand Concourse than a penal institution. “Still, I feel for the man,” Gus says as I get out, “because it was that wife who drove him to it. Filing them charges for assaulting her, filing them divorce papers, saying his men planted those PCPs they busted her with all them times, setting fire to their hotel room up north. She done him in, that’s for sure.”

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James Brown, probably the most influ­ential black musician of all time, will turn 56 in this prison on May 3 — and then 57 and perhaps 58 as well — short of success­fully petitioning to have his sentence commuted to time spent in drug rehabili­tation, which seems unlikely: Brown reso­lutely maintains he has no drug problem. On December 17, 1988, an Aiken, South Carolina, judge sentenced Brown to six years for “running a blue light” (failing to stop for an officer’s signal) and aggravat­ed assault — reduced from two counts of assault with intent to kill. Brown’s tar­gets were two South Carolina police offi­cers who had pulled him over on Septem­ber 24 during a now-legendary two-state, 80 mph car chase that began after Brown, armed with a shotgun, had berated 40 people at an insurance seminar held in a building adjoining his Augusta, Georgia, offices for using his rest rooms. His trial in Augusta for the Georgia half of the chase and a second arrest the following morning — for nine misdemeanor charges of assault, carrying a deadly weapon to a public gathering, carrying a weapon with­out a license, driving under the influence (PCP), and related charges — was set for January 23.

1989 Village Voice article by Ivan Solotaroff about James Brown's trials and tribulations

The Aiken trial was the fourth time in 12 months Brown had appeared before a South Carolina court on criminal charges, all four, in one way or another, involving cars, two involving PCP and guns. Two ’87 arrests resulted in one speeding charge, one count of leaving the scene of an accident, two charges of elud­ing arrest, and a total of $1460 in fines. On the Monday after Easter, 1988, he was arrested after he’d allegedly emptied his pistol into the trunk of his wife’s car as she tried to leave their Beech Island, South Carolina, house and then beaten her with an iron pipe; Adrienne eventual­ly dropped the charges. Five weeks later, on May 17, he spent another night in an Aiken County jail before a $24,218 bond was posted on charges of PCP possession, possession of a pistol, assault and battery (his wife again), failing to stop for blue lights, and resisting arrest; Brown re­ceived two and a half years, probated to a concert benefiting local charities.

In the last year, Brown was indicted for more than 45 years worth of felonies and misdemeanors, of which all but 12 and a half were probated or commuted to more than $50,000 in fines, restitution, and public service. The IRS, Brown’s 20-year nemesis, is also suing him for $9 million in back taxes, two years after Brown was forced to auction his home in South Car­olina (his Georgia lawyer purchased it and now rents it back to Brown as trustee for his two daughters from his second marriage).

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THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER, James Brown has remained the same unresolved American paradox that Martin Luther King, if in radically different fashion, represented: a street-smart activist who was clearly motivated by his own, innate sense of the law. At a Black Power con­ference, Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) dubbed Brown “our No. 1 black poet.” At the 1966 Memphis-to-Mississippi march in support of James Meredith, Stokely Carmichael told Brown he was the man “most dangerous” to the Movement. In ’68 he alienated the left by touring Viet­nam; later that year he terrified the right with “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” After a highly coveted endorse­ment of Humphrey in ’68, he became a more active campaigner for Nixon in ’72.

Only the jukebox provided a consensus: James Brown’s singles routinely hit the high reaches of the pop charts for 30 years. Though he never tried to cross over into the integrated record-buying market he and Motown helped to create, he consistently outperformed every act that did: Brown hit the charts 114 times, a quantum leap beyond Aretha Franklin’s 84, Ray Charles’s 83, and the Tempta­tions’ 76. Among the handful of perform­ers who arose unfiltered out of what was openly called race music, Brown was one of the few to escape death on the road, death by drugs, death in prison, the living death of golden-oldie status, or the re­treat into the obscure immortality of gos­pel. Twenty years before rappers appro­priated him, 10 before disco digitalized him, Brown anticipated the future of black music by stripping his sound to pure rhythm, blueprinting Pan-African pop, a worldwide explosion against which the Beatles and Stones are circumscribed, Anglo phenomena. At 53, James Brown, the man who taught us all how to dance, was rocking the pop charts (“Living in America,” No. 4), and last year only Sade’s “Paradise” stopped Brown from topping the r&b charts for the 18th time.

As the first, relatively minor charges became public, there were predictable, occasional snickers in the national press about James Brown — high-minded pillar of black capitalism, proud singer of “King Heroin,” “America Is My Home,” “Don’t Be a Dropout,” and “Living in America,” recipient of numerous citations for public service, 30-year hero to black youth all over the world — having misdemeanor troubles with the local authorities. After the Easter shooting of his wife’s car (and the gruesome detail of the iron pipe) launched Brown onto the tabloid head­lines, the media began scrupulously de­tailing an almost unbelievable string of marital incidents:

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Adrienne files for divorce in March 1988, citing years of cruel treatment and showing a National Enquirer photogra­pher bruises on her face and bullet holes in their Beech Island bedroom. In April Adrienne, arrested at Augusta’s small air­port with eight grams of PCP, says it was planted by men hired by her husband to pressure her to drop her divorce suit. In early May, Brown tells reporters his wife set fire to some of his clothes in their Sheraton Hotel room in Bedford, New Hampshire, shortly after she is arraigned on charges of arson and PCP possession (seven ounces, this time) early in May. “My wife is a real stinker,” he says. “She sets rooms on fire. She’s a brat.” Four days later, Adrienne calls police claiming that Brown was beating her again and he is captured a mile into a high-speed chase that begins at his driveway. “He was let­ting that Lincoln sail,” says the local po­lice captain. “We thought it was a B-17 coming out of there.” Brown claims his wife planted the seven grams of PCP he’s caught with. Two days after this, Adri­enne, arrested at Augusta’s airport for possession of eight ounces of PCP, again says she was set up: “The Godfather of Soul isn’t what he pretends to be,” she tells deputies. “He warns young people to stay off drugs, but he doesn’t practice what he preaches to children. He’s high on drugs, PCP, angel dust… ”

And on it went: bench warrants, missed court dates, indictments, the now legend­ary motion filed by one of Adrienne’s lawyers to have her September 7, 1987, speeding, DUI, and criminal trespass charges waived on grounds of diplomatic immunity as “the wife of the Ambassador of Soul,” a suit filed by that same lawyer for $4500 of Adrienne’s legal fees incurred in connection therewith, and the ensuing arrests and convictions for weap­ons possession, PCP possession, resisting arrest, etc., etc., etc.

The Browns, clearly under the strain of severe financial, domestic, and career problems, were airing too many of them in public, and the media was there wait­ing, cameras clicking and tape recorders whirring. In a May 13 interview given to the local press, after assuring the report­er, “You know I love my wife. I love you, too, as a brother in friendship,” Brown was asked why Adrienne had made “those serious accusations and set fire to the singer’s clothes.” Never one to waste words, Brown summed it all up in four: “Love’s a funny thing.”

AT THE DOOR OF THE PRISON, a gangly, red-haired guard in short sleeves and a handlebar mustache wants to know just where the hell I think I’m going. I explain I’m going to see James Brown, and he places a meaty hand around the entirety of my left elbow, saying, “No you ain’t neither.” As we head back up the ivied stairway, he says, “You look like you’re from the Rolling Stone. That where you’re from?” I mention the paper I’m with, and he gets a big kick out of it, big enough to turn me around and lead us 50 paces to a tiny guardhouse at the edge of the compound. “Here’s one at The Village Voice,” he hollers to four colleagues as we approach; one of them thinks that’s just too rich not to share with the lieutenant in the prison office.

Now on my second day in the New South, I’m a bit surprised to see the lieu­tenant is a black man, and clearly very much in control of this prison, which he’s quick to inform me is not a prison but a correctional facility. Stroking his salt­-and-pepper mustache, he carefully lists the ordinances I’ve violated by coming as far as I have, then instructs the red-­haired guard to escort me to my vehicle, making sure no one congregates with me in the meantime.

At the top of the stairs I listen while the guard explains the difficulty of main­taining security at such a facility; he also wants me to know he’s not a guard, he’s a corrections officer, that Mr. Brown is not a prisoner, he’s an inmate, and that I will certainly be placed in custody “if appre­hended at the facility again.” A chunky, raven-haired woman in a thick sable coat, whom I recognize as Adrienne Brown, wants to get past, and I step aside, get­ting a whiff of cosmetics as she negotiates her way down the steps on her spike heels. In her right hand is a plate of food under Saran Wrap; tucked under her left arm is a huge, salon-style hairdryer.

The cloying odor of Thai stick fills Gus’s cab as I climb back in, and he’s giggling mischievously, stopping long enough to assure me the guard was just having some fun with me, then lapsing into a fit of chuckling and coughing as we head to the airport; 10 minutes later he’s still laughing so hard he can’t get the roach of his joint lit. “I was just thinking about the poor man,” he apologizes, gun­ning the cab across a double yellow line onto the airport highway. “Checks into that nursing home for six years, still can’t get away from his wife. Guess that’s why they call ’em housekeepers,” he guffaws, going 20 mph over the highway speed limit. “They always keep the house.”

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WHOEVER GAVE PCP THE NICKNAME angel dust was looking at the ephemera through the wrong end of the telescope. Phencyclidine, an animal tranquilizer, is a diabolic substance, pure and simple, attractive on a protracted basis only to those interested in testing the extreme limits of physical and emotional experi­ence — the limits, more specifically, of their control. Variously mislabeled a nar­cotic, hallucinogen, or psychotropic, PCP — even in the smallest doses — is well-documented to produce psychotic re­actions in humans, and cases of dust­-induced homicide are legion.

“James Brown certainly never had a drug problem till he remarried,” says Bob Patton, his tour and booking manager through the ’60s and late ’70s, “but he does have one now. He’s been smoking a joint or two of PCP a day, probably for the last year or so.” Patton, like everyone I’ve talked to who knows Brown well, insists he is not a violent man and does not have a short fuse. “He is a paranoid person though,” says Patton, “even with­out the drug. Doubly so with it. It was paranoia that was driving him on the chase. I think he was terrified. He had a gun, he was being chased by policemen across state lines, he was probably stoned out of his mind, and the police in South Carolina overreacted. How often does your average South Carolina policeman get a chance to pull a gun on James Brown, smash in his windows?”

Anne Weston, who sang for the James Brown Revue from 1977-81, also attri­butes the recent arrests “directly to PCP. Since his marriage to Adrienne, the drugs have been really bad. And I think he’s been getting some awful stuff lately. I can’t say when he started smoking, or how often. It was only onstage that you could tell when he was off, out of control, which is a sure sign with James Brown. Normally he’s totally in control, especial­ly onstage. By 1981, when the Revue started heading downhill, it was clear he was slipping. We’d gone around the world many times, playing to packed stadiums from Australia to Kuwait to Surinam. It was like the Beatles, only much bigger. When we were landing the plane in Afri­ca, you’d look down from a mile up and see the runway moving — literally hun­dreds of thousands of people waiting. I think his smoking then was recreational, and he could control it. Not anymore.”

In a September 27 interview given in his Executive Park office to Linda Day, a staff writer for the Augusta Chronicle, Brown, accompanied by his lawyer, his lower teeth missing and his cheeks Scotch-Taped together under his chin (a home remedy for a slack jaw after recon­structive surgery for a degenerative jaw disease), said he’d begun “substance con­trol” treatment. Too days after twice be­ing arrested DUI, though, he still seemed out of control and under the influence of something. Brown, who has always spo­ken publicly in purposeful proclamations, was all epiphany on this occasion.

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Asked about the shotgun-brandishing incident at the Augusta insurance semi­nar, for example, Brown replied, “I went to my gospel office, that I have, I own. [Brown actually rents his office space.] Went to the gospel office and it was open, and they were using my rest rooms … without saying ‘May I use it?’ … So then I want to know, do I own something, or am I just kidding myself? I mean, what do I own here, or what do I control? I mean do I control anything? Can’t accept that. The last name is Brown … Now when I can’t do that, never do I want to exist anymore. A problem I have, you have problems … We all have problems. Exactly why the Bible says to take the Sabbath Day to ask God’s forgiveness of our problems and our sins, because we’re human. We’re not God. We’re human. And he has saints down here that he designates for different programs. He called John, He called Job, He took Mo­ses out of the — away from his sheep. He said you must go. He said I can’t go, I can’t speak the language. Your brother can speak the language. I will fix it so you can speak all the languages. But you will go. But the Lord, who controls every­thing, knowing that He has the final say-­so, He has the key to everyone, body, tongue, the devil, everybody, He did not take it upon His almighty power to rule. He called Aaron and the three wise men. Said I need some help here. We have a roundtable discussion, like the United Nations. Now God, who controls nothing before him, don’t make the decision, how are you gonna make the decision on me? I need help. I accept that. We all need help. Can we accept the ridiculing or the formalness? Go get you one. When I tell my Daddy I don’t disagree he get offended. Why? I’m your father. I have my own mind. When you go to the rest room, I can be seated and you use it by yourself. When I go to the rest room, you can’t go in there, so you be seated. When you eat I don’t taste it. What you eat don’t make me fat or lean. Independence is all I’m asking for. The word is spelled F-R-E-E-D-O-M. Nothing I need to say. I rest my case … I’m not going to say the devil made me do it. Stress made me do it. S-T-R-E-S-S! Emphasize that three times, S-T-R-E-S-S!, S-T-R-E-S-S!, one more time, S-T-R-E-S-S!”

Asked if he felt he owed the people of Augusta an apology, Brown was more succinct: “I apologize,” he said, “for the unawareness of what I was about. I apol­ogize for the discomfort that I caused you. I apologize for saying I simply love you. Just let me pass.”

“James will talk stream of conscious­ness from time to time,” said Anne Wes­ton, to whom I showed a transcript of the interview. “It can be brilliant, poetic. You can only sit back and let him flow. But not like that. That’s a very different James Brown. That’s PCP talking.”

I asked Bob Patton why a man like James Brown would be attracted to a drug like PCP. “He’s not attracted to it,” Patton said automatically, “he’s addicted to it. He thinks it gives him power.”

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TOCCOA IS A SLEEPY, once-pretty town lying in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia. Except for a picturesque, deserted downtown that never modernized, there’s not much to recommend it: Burger strips and shop­ping malls and Baptist churches relo­cated into ugly, white-block, two-story buildings have pretty much taken over the town, as they’ve taken over the rest of small-town America.

At the age of 16, Brown was sentenced to a dilapidated reform school in Rome, Georgia, for stealing clothes out of the back of somebody’s car in the middle of winter. That reform school was con­demned two years later, and Brown was transferred to the Boy’s Industrial Insti­tute, a juvenile prison converted from a disused paratrooper camp in Toccoa, where he served another year. A young Toccoan named Bobby Byrd, who’d gone out to the prison to trade gospel licks with the talented singer he’d heard about, got his mother to help Brown out of prison, and parole was arranged in custody of a local Oldsmobile dealer, who gave him a job sweeping out his lot and waxing cars. A childless couple who ran the town barbershop took Brown in to live with them, go to church with them, sing in the choir. He married a churchgoer named Velma Warren, raised three children, and joined Bobby Byrd in the Gospel Star­lighters, the nucleus of the original Fam­ous Flames. Mostly he hung around a tavern called Bill’s Rendezvous, owned by a savvy woman named Delois Keith.

“James would practically open the place,” she tells me, “so he could bang on the piano all day. He’d sweep out the place too, just so he could bang on the piano some more. He had a beautiful gos­pel voice, but he was getting a taste for rhythm and blues, which is what hap­pened at the Rendezvous at night. James and Bobby had been doing r&b a little when Little Richard came through with his band. It was at that point they decid­ed maybe spirituals were a little too slow a path. Anyway, the next time Richard came by here, James Brown was running circles around him. He had people screaming, on the floor. Before long, they were touring, endless touring, every night a different place. It went on for years like that. Finally he moved on to Macon, then up north after ‘Please, Please, Please’ made it so big in ’56 — even though the song didn’t have but one word.”

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Guy Wilson, the man I’ve come to Toc­coa to see, loaned Brown’s band an old white station wagon they could “tour” in — one-nighters in bars within a 30-mile radius, occasionally venturing as far as Macon, 70 miles away. A gentle man now in his late sixties, he greets me at the door and seats me in his easy chair to watch the Super Bowl on his 25-inch TV. “I was lucky I had insurance on that station wagon,” he tells me at halftime, “’cause James was a menace when it came to cars. That two-state chase wasn’t the first of his car troubles. He lost his job at the car dealership when he totaled one of them on a joyride, and he had a ton of other wrecks, almost lost his pa­role a couple of times. His son Teddy died in a car, too, long after James had left Toccoa. He was back here for the funeral. They had to rent the second floor of a building just to put all the flowers that came in from the famous entertainers.”

I ask Mr. Wilson if Brown came back here often after he’d made if big. “All the time,” he says. “This is where his family was, even if he and Velma’d broken up. James was first and last a family man. He was a proud man, and a good one, too, always handing out $10 bills every time he came around. When he first came to Toccoa his spirits were down. He was a 20-year-old boy who’d been kicked out of Augusta — they wouldn’t even let him go back and perform there, a part of his probation; he’d lost what family he had there, gone to prison. When he left Toc­coa he was a well-respected man, with his head held high. He always came back, though maybe not so much these last couple years.” Guy eyes the second-half kickoff before continuing: “Only once or twice with that new wife. I was surprised when I heard James was in all that trou­ble, but not when I heard about that car stuff. It’s like what they’re always saying, right? ‘Once a man, twice a child.’ ”

After the game he walks me out to the car, commiserating on my long drive ahead to Augusta. “James never had any kind of luck in that town. He left there a poor boy and came back a rich man. They beat him back down, but he was on his way back to the top when all that trouble started up again. Still, I guess he should have known better, and it’s true they let him off all those times. It’s like what they say,” Guy winks at me when I start the car. “The victim always returns to the scene of the crime.”

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AUGUSTA IS A THREE-HOUR DRIVE from Toccoa along the South Carolina-Georgia border on Highway 17, an endless strip of road connecting towns with names testi­fying to their isolation — Pignail, Black Well, Lost Mountain. The only thing that holds this monotony of farmland and pine forest together is the radio, a verita­ble House of Music down here, built from the bottom up: gospel, bluegrass, jazz, and Delta blues filling the 80s on the dial, rockabilly, early Stones, and Broadway show tunes in the low 90s, everything from Vanilla Fudge to Simply Red for the rest of the dial, a few staticky black sta­tions playing rap and funk at the top. Dotted throughout, of course, is coun­try — the music Brown grew up hating as the sound “playing on the radio of every white man I ever worked for” — every­thing from Hoyt Axton singing “Work your fingers to the bone/What do you get?/Bony fingers” to Charlie Daniels bragging how country boys survive.

If you drive around long enough, you find your way into the black sections of these pretty, dirt-poor towns, where you’ll find the only bar and liquor store open at this time of night, the only signs of life. In the ’50s these bars formed the chitlin’ circuit, the subject of James Brown’s 1962 hit “Night Train”: a swath of juke-joints from Washington, D.C., to Macon to Jackson to Miami. In cars like Guy Wilson’s station wagon, Brown put in tens of thousands of miles along High­way 17 and other roads during the six years he and his fellow travelers were refining and swapping their various strains of rhythm and blues. There was Little Willie John and fellow Georgians Little Richard and Otis Redding, but James Brown was the greatest of them, with a voice that screamed and crooned in coloratura range through songs like “Try Me,” “Don’t Let It Happen to Me,” and “Lost Someone.”

On a line with Greenville, South Caro­lina, I pick up the legendary Country Earl broadcasting “way past my bedtime,” learning the best places to buy boiled peanuts on Highway 25 (“tell ’em Coun­try Earl sent you”), listening to his rare Bob Wills, Shorty Long, and Tennessee Plowboy singles. When I pass the Augus­ta Corporate Line I start losing him as he reads a letter from a reverend who says he’s thinking about marrying after all these years. Earl plays him a warning, Tammy Wynette and George Jones sing­ing about living in the “Two-Story House” they dreamed of when young and poor, Tammy singing, “I’ve got my story,” George responding, “And I’ve got mine,” and the two joining for the refrain: “How sad it is we live in a two-story house.”

A couple stations up the dial, by way of announcing James Brown’s trial tomor­row morning, an Augusta DJ with an overripe sense of humor is playing early singles, all on themes of confinement and bad love. The power of Brown’s voice turns the intended irony into pathos:

I need no shackles to remind me
I’m just a prisoner

Don’t let me be a prisoner
You made me a prisoner
When you made me love you.

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IN 1970, THE SAME YEAR Governor Lester Maddox urgently requested that he come down to help quell the riots in Augusta, James Brown returned to live there. He bought one of the biggest houses with one of the biggest yards on Walton Way, the town’s Park Avenue, where he remained for over a decade. “It got a little ugly when James bought that house,” remembers Bobby Byrd, who moved to Augusta shortly after Brown. “A lot of talk going on, petitions, a lot of confusion about a black family moving into the neighborhood, a couple of un­friendly offers by neighbors to buy the house at twice what he paid. Gradually, the people in the houses on both sides started to talk over the fence, you know how it is, eventually coming over, getting him to sign records for their kids. I can’t say, though, if he was ever really accepted in Augusta. I moved out after a few months myself.”

Down the street from Brown’s old house is the Law Enforcement Center, where he will stand trial for his latest series of misdemeanors. Brown has en­tered its various courtrooms and offices in markedly different ways over the years — in family court for divorce pro­ceedings and custody battles with his sec­ond wife, Deedee; at the governor’s re­quest 10 years before that. The first visit came in 1949, after being confined for two months in the Fifteenth Street Pris­on till he turned 16 and could be tried as an adult, when Brown was brought to trial for stealing clothes from a car and three other counts of petty theft. Brown had escaped arrest the night of the bur­glary, and officers were waiting the next day at his shoeshine stand on Broad Street. Brown outran them, ducking in and out of alleys, then returned later in the day, knowing they’d be waiting for him, for more of the same. Though he eluded them again, when he returned to the stand a few hours later for a third time a squad car was waiting, soon to be joined by others. After a long chase Brown was cornered in a blind alley and arrested at gunpoint by a majority of the Augusta police force. After a 15-minute trial, Brown, who has said he remembers his chases that day as a game, was sen­tenced to eight to 16 years hard labor.

There are two men here, an old bailiff and a county clerk downstairs, who go back far enough to remember George Haines, the solicitor who prosecuted the 16-year-old James Brown. A grandilo­quent orator worthy of The Thin Blue Line, Haines would occasionally bring a suitcase into court and announce he’d leave town immediately if the defendant were found not guilty. Neither man re­calls Brown’s trial, or if he got the suit­case treatment, but they remember seeing a show in the early ’60s that ended with Brown — The Hardest Working Man in Show Business — clutching a black suitcase with the words TRY ME printed in white across the front of it as he was dragged offstage “against his will” by members of his entourage.

The suitcase days are over, both for Brown and his prosecutors: state court solicitor Robert W. “Bo” Hunter III, conferring at the doorway of the modern courtroom with Brown’s lawyers, A. H. “Buddy” Dallas and John “Bill” Weeks, looks like he stepped out of last week’s episode of L.A. Law, his dark blue suit draping perfectly, his layered hair trimmed to a T. The absence of Al Sharp­ton — a sure sign Brown won’t be asking for a jury — is one of two topics of discus­sion among the press seated in the first few rows of the gallery; the other topic is the wording of an ambiguously dated “EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, Brown behind bars” in this morning’s USA Today. Bur­ied at the end is a fantastic quote: “I’m the Einstein of Sound, the Napoleon of the Stage. I can still dance three times faster than anyone else — and I can keep it up for two hours. I can roll out of my bed and sing. I am James Brown 24 hours a day and they can’t take that away.”

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In the back of the courtroom I notice a tiny woman in her mid-seventies — paying close attention to the proceedings — who bears a striking resemblance, with her high cheekbones, pursed lips, and cleft chin, to James Brown. I walk over and ask if she might be some relation, and in a thin, shy voice she says, “I’m James’s mother,” then writes her address in Bam­berg, South Carolina — very carefully — in­viting me to visit her anytime. “Now, though,” she says with a familiar smile, “I have to keep an eye out for my boy.”

James Brown is #1 on the docket to­day, the list of his charges taking up a third of the first page of the court calen­dar. When his case is postponed till later in the morning, I watch the 20 trials that go on before his, an amazing exercise in the bureaucratization of justice: Each de­fendant, head bowed, stands before Jus­tice Hamrick (a familiar name in the South, Hamrick’s being a large chain of mall-based discount clothing stores) while the D.A. cites previous arrests and recommends sentence. The judge calls each defendant by name only once, “Mr. Snopes, don’t drink and drive,” before coming to what increasingly begins to seem like the real issue: “How is the defendant disposed today for the pay­ment of fine?” In this case, to Hamrick’s embarrassment, Mr. Snopes, a short, middle-aged man wearing jeans that barely make it to the top of his white socks, a heavily starched white shirt, and a clip-on tie, pulls out a wad of fives and tens before the bailiff leads him to the jury bench to sign his plea and waiver along with the other defendants.

Adrienne Brown, accompanied by her lawyer, makes her appearance before Jus­tice Hamrick, and a battery of TV cameras, tape recorders, and cameras loaded with 3200 ASA film start rolling and shooting. A pretty, stocky 38-year-old woman with a hard-earned reputation for being high-strung, she seems regal today: A two-inch diamond broach glinting on the lapel of her camel-colored skirt suit trimmed in mink at the wrist and hem, she endures her bench trial without wast­ing a motion or word. She listens careful­ly and diffidently while her lawyer and the D.A. itemize her plea/waivers to the DUI, speeding, and criminal trespass charges from her September 17, 1987, arrest, then attest to their personal knowledge of her law-abiding nature­ — the D.A. over a much longer period than her lawyer.

The “influence” she had been driving under, says the D.A., was only the “high end of the therapeutic level of butalbitol,” a painkiller prescribed following a hyster­ectomy and colon surgery. Not a word is said about her diplomatic immunity mo­tion, missed court dates, bench warrants, and imprisonment for failure to appear at her previous trial, and the D.A. takes great care to advise Justice Hamrick that the charge of criminal trespass (incurred when she slashed the back of the police car she was taken to jail in with her nail file) is estimated at “about $75 worth of upholstery damage to the vehicle” and hardly worth prosecuting. She gets off lightly — $650, attendance at a DUI course, and $75 restitution for the police car. She’s led to the empty jury box to fill out her paperwork, the TV cameras and tape recorders are shut off, and a cub reporter is sent to ask the D.A. how to spell butalbitol.

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Everything is switched back on a min­ute later when James Brown enters the courtroom, looking like the negative of a Matthew Brady portrait of a plantation owner: black three-piece suit with shoul­der epaulets and wide lapels, black bowtie knotted loosely under the collar of his maroon shirt, black patent leather shoes, a huge, immaculately coiffed shock of hair framing his head. Standing casually before Justice Hamrick, flanked by law­yers for both sides and holding a pair of zippered racing gloves behind his back, he could easily be mistaken for a motorist who’s impatient to get back to his Excali­bur in the parking lot. He clearly is not having an easy time countenancing his presence here: While the charges are read and the pleas announced — guilty to ev­erything except handgun possession (dropped for lack of evidence) and nolo contendere to the drug charge — Brown shakes his head in disbelief.

Solicitor Hunter advises the court that the State wants only some period of in­carceration. Brown’s Georgia lawyer, Buddy Dallas, talks briefly and dreamily about how long he’s known the defen­dant, followed by a few exculpatory re­marks about “this old shotgun Mr. Brown clearly never intended to threaten anybody with.” Bill Weeks, the South Carolina lawyer, has come to speak for his client, which he does with conviction: “Sometimes it takes a knock on the head before you get someone’s attention. Well, South Carolina certainly gave him a knock on the head, Your Honor. Very honestly, I think they laid a heavy hammer on him.”

Adrienne, her head turned away from the proceedings, looks out of the corner of her eyes when Brown is asked if there’s anything he’d like to say on his own be­half. In an almost inaudible, raspy voice, he tells the judge that it hurts for a man of his beginnings to appear in court this way. “My life has always been a model,” he continues, “and I just don’t feel good about it at all … I hope this is behind us.” Still, Justice Hamrick has to ask Brown three times if he understands he’s forfeiting his right to trial by jury before he gives the required “Yes.”

There is some disappointment among the reporters who were hoping for an encore of the melodrama that accompanied the South Carolina trial: Brown tell­ing the D.A. he loved him, then attempt­ing to take the Fifth after agreeing to testify; the judge admonishing Adrienne, sitting in the gallery, for “prejudicing the interests of the defendant” by talking, nodding her head, and making gestures; the testimony of a young man who had driven 200 miles to tell the court that Brown had inspired him to rise above his troubles and that “God set this man on the earth”; and surprise testimony from the court bailiff, a former evangelist, who said God had placed him in the court to meet people like James Brown. (“If Satan throws us out,” the bailiff said, “God will take us back. Give him another chance.”)

The Augusta sentence is read off quickly: Amounting to six and a half years, it’s to be served concurrently (ex­cept for an additional six months) with his South Carolina time. On his way out, Brown stops for a moment to look back, turning a profile to the audience, which hasn’t seen his face yet. Leaning against a railing with one hand, the other held statesmanlike to his hip, he scowls at the court for a few seconds before he turns and walks out the door.

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JAMES BROWN’S FATHER brought him to Augusta in 1938 at the age of five, and for 10 years Brown lived in various rela­tives’ houses in what is still, in less than polite society, called the Terry, short for Negro Territory, a 130-block range of closed businesses and ancient one- and two-story houses that run the gamut from abjectly poor to uninhabitable. Un­til the age of nine, Brown stayed in a bar/whorehouse at 944 Twiggs Street owned by his aunt, Honey Washington, a fearless woman who ran her establish­ment openly, going to jail once a month, paying the police off just as regularly.

A desolate, barracks-like ’40s housing project stands where 944 used to be, but an aproned woman in one of the dilapidated, well-scrubbed houses across the street, Mrs. Nunnally, remembers Honey, though little about James Brown. “He was one of those kids, you know the kind, that just sort of lives on the street. Espe­cially after the police finally closed Hon­ey’s place for good. My husband,” she says, nodding down the street at a wiry man dragging a tar bucket up to the house, “can tell you about James Brown. I think they were in prison together or something. Finally, I get all the war stories confused.”

“Back in ’48,” Robert Nunnally tells me reluctantly, leaning against the one unbroken spot of his peeling wooden fence as he lights up the last of his Pall Malls, “me and James Brown were in prison together, that’s true.” With his hair processed slick, a la James Brown, his 57-year-old body pure muscle and tar stains after 30 years as a roofer, Nunnally could play the doppelganger in a film about Brown’s life: Though they came out of the same street of the same ghetto, the path of Brown’s life led him far away — even if by force at first — and Nunnally is clearly a little bitter about the course his own life’s taken. “I can’t tell you much more about him, ’cause he’s been on the road. I just stayed here.”

I ask if Nunnally was one of the kids who’d been stealing clothes on Broad Street. “I never stole a damn thing in my life. No, what happened with me,” he says remorselessly, “is I shot a man when I was 16. But I stayed in the Fifteenth Street Prison — it was a state prison then — digging ditches, working behind the drag line. James got moved away, and I didn’t see him for 20 years.” I ask if he remembers Brown before their arrests. “Sure. It’s true he was a thief, seemed to always have half his body under the hood of someone’s car, stealing batteries. But take a look around,” he says, eyeballing the empty blocks leading off Twiggs Street. “Nothing’s changed since then. He wasn’t stealing for pleasure. And he wasn’t no violent man. That’s why I can’t understand those assault charges.”

I ask if he’s seen Brown in the last few years. “All the time,” he says. “James comes around here regularly, handing out $20 bills, like always. At least until he got arrested. That’s why he moved back to Augusta. Here’s where he comes from, where his people are. Here on Twiggs, by the bars on Ninth. Not no Walton Way.”

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AT THE LAST INTERSECTION IN AIKEN, heading out to see Brown’s mother, I see something bizarre: Two flatbeds hauling the two halves of a two-story prefab house are waiting, side by side, for the light to change. As they turn left, I catch a glimpse of the interior of one side of the house — patio, dining room, kitchen (ma­jor appliances already in place) and a pine stairway leading up to a master bed­room; white curtains are blowing in the windows of the living room, second bed­room, and bath on the second trailer. A short distance after they straighten out, the two halves of the house come within inches of each other. I follow the bifur­cated house down the highway, thinking about George and Tammy.

Barnwell County, in which James Brown was born in 1933, is plantation country, with Historical Markers dotting the highway every 10th mile and long red-dirt driveways leading to the sites of old mansions, now occupied by prefab houses or run-down farmhouses with 20-foot FOR SALE NO RESTRICTIONS signs spelling the end, 127 years after abolition, of white plutocracy in the rural South. On the outskirts of Bamberg, I find an enclave of similar houses at the edge of a pine forest; a polished Silver Shadow Mercedes in one driveway tells me which house is Mrs. Brown’s.

“I had to leave James when he was four, you know,” she says apologetically, pouring coffee at the kitchen table. A pair of jays are cawing loudly from a bird­house nailed to a pine in the backyard, and she tells them to shut up. “We were living out in those woods, because that’s what his father’s work was, pulling tur­pentine out of the trees. One thing about James that never changed: He couldn’t sit still, even when he was a baby. He was always crawling out of the house, eating dirt, always eating dirt. One time he ate so much dirt I had to take him to the doctor to get it all out. He had to stay with his father when we parted because I was going to New York, to work in the factories, and I couldn’t care for him. I didn’t see him for over 20 years, then I went to the Apollo, waited on a line going around the block. After the show his peo­ple brought him to see me and my two sisters on the third floor of the Theresa Hotel, above the Apollo. I turned it into a game, see if James could tell which of us was his mother. He knew right away.”

I tell her the resemblance is uncanny, and she thanks me. “Even then he was moving. One place one night, another the next. He’s still like that. Now how’s he going to make it sitting in a cell all that time?” She shakes her head, raising three fingers. “Three weeks is all I give him. Three weeks to think about what he did. Then I want him to come out and behave, like he’s been doing all these years.”

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CONSIDERING BROWN’S CRIMINAL re­cord over the last year, it’s easy to forget that the September 24 chase — responsi­ble for all the time he’s currently serv­ing — was a freakish event: Brown was arrested under violent circumstances only once before, when police forcibly dis­persed fans talking to Brown outside Knoxville’s Civic Auditorium in 1973. Af­ter he was railroaded into jail for the night, the charges were dropped and Knoxville’s mayor publicly apologized for the incident.

“You have to remember,” Bill Weeks tells me outside the Aiken courthouse, “the events Brown is taking all this heat for happened in the space of one hour.” A six-foot-10, soft-spoken man who chooses words precisely, Weeks fills me in on the details of that hour, none of which really came out in the various news reports. Later that day, I clock the route of the chase, a 10-mile stretch of suburban, in­terstate, and city road passing nine hous­ing complexes, six large shopping malls, 12 Baptist churches, 13 gas stations, 19 burger joints, 15 fried chicken stands, 11 car lots, and three weapons shops.

Brown, carrying a shotgun, entered the insurance seminar in the Executive Park building at 12:20 p.m. and asked to use the microphone. “He was sweating, his hair was messed up,” said Dory Gonzalez, who was seated in the first row, “his shirt was open, his T-shirt was exposed. He was not making sense.” Brown, who al­ways looks immaculate in public, demanded to be told who’d been using his rest rooms. Learning it was a “licensing seminar,” he also asked how to get a driver’s license (his had been suspended). “I thought that if I answered one of those questions wrong,” said Jerri Phillips, who was conducting the seminar, “he was go­ing to kill me and everyone else … ”

Deputy Gilbert Lopez, a Columbia County sheriff attending the seminar, said he “couldn’t believe somebody would come into a room with 40 people with a shotgun. It seemed to me he was not in his right mind.” After five minutes, Brown led two women to his offices to lock the rest rooms, leaving the shotgun behind; at this point, Lopez went out to his car to get his .45. On his way back, he saw Brown come out the front door of the building, carrying his shotgun.

“I didn’t want to approach him,” Lopez said. “I figured someone might get hurt.” Brown got into his truck, Lopez got into his car, and Brown followed him out of the parking lot. Seeing Lieutenant Over­street — responding to the emergency call — coming toward him with his lights flashing, Brown made a U-turn, drove back to the building, and then stopped, seemingly giving up. But as Overstreet and Lopez pulled up, he took off down Claussen Road, gunning his red-and-­white Ford pickup onto Interstate 20 af­ter three miles on Washington Street with Overstreet now hot in pursuit.

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“I’m sure James was high at this point,” says Bobby Byrd, who’s known Brown longer and more intimately than anyone. “He was probably figuring once he got into South Carolina, he could find his way along the backroads, which he knows better than anyone, and get back to his house. He was heading home.”

“After all this stuff happened that I don’t know verbatim what happened,” Brown said in his September 27 inter­view, “God said, ‘Boy go home.’ I got in my truck and tried to go home. Then the police began to chase me. They would literally not let me get home, where I just wanted to close the gates, lock the door, and don’t come out till the next day.”

A mile onto Interstate 20, Brown stopped a second time for Overstreet, but as soon as the policeman pulled over and got out of the squad car, Brown took off again, doing 80 mph past the 25-foot high SOUTH CAROLINA WELCOMES YOU sign, getting off onto Martindale Road in North Augusta, South Carolina. A mile later, he saw the flashing lights of Officer Ronald DeLaughter’s signal and floored it, again doing 80. In another minute, he saw the second blue light — of Officer Wil­liam Luckey’s car — and pulled into an abandoned lot across from the Exxon sta­tion at Martindale and Atomic roads, 20 miles down from the Savannah River nu­clear power plant. It was the third time in 20 minutes Brown had stopped for police.

The Exxon attendant says he didn’t witness what happened across the street, so there’s only the testimony of Brown and the two officers to go on. While De­Laughter began questioning Brown at the window of his truck, Luckey tried to open the passenger door (he didn’t look, for some reason, to see if it was locked). Luckey began banging on the window. “I was getting ready to get out,” Brown tes­tified at the Aiken trial, “when he [Luckey] started beating on the door and the window … glass went everywhere and I knew he was enraged.”

Luckey says he jumped away from the truck when he saw the shotgun sitting in the passenger seat — strange testimony from an officer responding to a call about an armed suspect. The truck backed up a few feet before Brown gunned it forward; Luckey claims Brown was trying to run him down. As Brown accelerated, De­Laughter, Luckey, and two other officers who’d arrived on the scene fired 18 rounds into the truck, two of them hit­ting the gas tank, others puncturing the front tires. “I was scared to death,” Brown testified. “I went to Vietnam, and I wasn’t that frightened.”

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By the time Brown reached the Fifth Street Bridge, leading across the Savannah River back into Augusta, his tires were nonexistent, and he had eight police cars behind him. His truck was going 30 mph flat out, and there was clearly no escape. At this point the chase entered the purely irrational:

Brown got off the highway onto Walton Way, three blocks up from his old house, then looped around and headed back four blocks. The victim always returns to the scene of the crime: Two long avenue blocks down from his old shoeshine stand, Brown made a right onto Broad Street, sparks shooting up from the rims he’d been driving on for two miles, then headed through Old Town, a six-by-four block storybook testimonial to the plea­sures of Old Money (four-bedroom gingerbread houses, unlocked BMWs and Lincolns sitting blithely on each side of the street). Brown rolled past the mayor’s house on Third Street, and finally across East Boundary, back into the Terry. Once a man, twice a child. Forty years after Brown had three times baited police to chase him through the back streets of Augusta, he was doing it again, once again having stopped for them three times. With 14 squad cars pursuing him through the Terry, Brown made a right on Courtland Street, then a left on Fair­hope Street, where he lost control and ran his truck into a ditch.

At the deputy’s office in Augusta, Brown, carrying $7978 in cash (a normal amount for him), bailed himself out for $4100, then waived extradition to South Carolina. Driven by authorities to Aiken at 5 p.m., he was booked, given blood and urine tests, and bailed out at 10 p.m. for $21,268. At 7:25 the next morning, Brown’s Lincoln Continental was spotted weaving on the road five blocks down from the Terry bars on Ninth Street. Brown, behind the wheel, was completely stoned on PCP. “He just had his hands up in the air while he was driving down the street,” arresting officer T. J. Taylor said. “He was incoherent and couldn’t hold his balance.” Brown was taken to University Hospital for blood tests, and that was all she wrote.

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ANITA BAKER AND OTHER SINGERS have expressed their interest in a benefit concert on Brown’s behalf. In New York, rappers Melle Mel and Van Silk have started a Free James Brown Movement, trying to collect a million signatures on his behalf. Handling hundreds of phone calls in his 54th Street office, Van Silk put it to me simply: “As rappers, we could never have been what we are and where we are if not for James Brown. If the man has a drug problem, let him get out, let him get rehab. He sure isn’t going to get no rehab sitting in a jail cell with the Joker and the Riddler and the Penguin. ”

“From what I’ve heard,” Anne Weston told me, “Brown only half-believes he’s going to stay in prison. His drummer, Tony Cook, saw him in jail and said James was saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll get the band back together, get back on the road again.’ You can talk yourself into that kind of stuff if you’re far enough gone on the believing side.” Perhaps Brown does believe that, perhaps he was just humor­ing himself. But Brown will remain in jail — 18 months to three and a half years, depending on which lawyer you ask.

Until then, he’s leading the gospel choir in the State Park Correctional Center and writing new songs, one of which is called “Staying Power.” Though friends and colleagues have asked him to admit to his drug problem and try to have his sentence commuted, no one I’ve talked to has any hope he will. “James is a hard­headed man,” said Bobby Byrd. “He’s always got to be in control. Things have to happen when he says they happen. I’d love to see him out, but James is the only one who can do it now.” ■

The author wishes to thank Linda Day and the Augusta Chronicle staff for valu­able assistance researching this article.