Hate-Watching Hating Breitbart

Let’s say that you and your friends get accused of being racist. And let’s say there’s nothing in your heart that fits that accusation. You know you’re a celebrator of freedom, a passionate American who wishes all people could enjoy the best that this country has to offer.

You’re white, incidentally.

Still, you’re accused, and your reputation is tarnished, so you elect to fight back. How to go about it? If you’re the late Andrew Breitbart, champion of the Tea Party’s virtue against the likes of Janeane Garofalo, the answer is clear: Point out as often as you can that, no, it’s actually black people who are the racists.

You don’t put it in those words, of course. No. You yell at the media—“You bullshit artists, you hateful bastards!” You say, “You’re going to call us racist? You’re going to call us potential Timothy McVeighs? Well, fuck you.” And you do what you’re best at—you dig up video of black people behaving in ways that any good person would quail at. Government officials, community organizers, the people that you’ve said are out to hurt this country, who collude with the media to destroy lives and stop Americans like you from telling the truth.

To get that footage, of course, you have to fudge some. Maybe you send dickweed James O’Keefe out there to playact that he’s a pimp, soliciting free tax advice from those ACORN people who claim they’re helping poor Americans find housing. (You’re not rich, and you found housing!) And then, when those ACORN bastards fail to say shameful pro-pimping stuff on camera, you can always edit, make that video reflect what you know they’re really thinking. They’ll help criminals, with taxpayer money. There’s got to be a couple seconds in there where those ACORN women—black, of course—look like they might kind of/sort of not be disgusted with O’Keefe, that skinny piece-of-shit talking about importing underage whores from El Salvador while dressed like Superfly.

And—wait, really? O’Keefe didn’t actually wear that pimp costume in the ACORN offices? Well, what’s it matter? There’s footage of him jaunting around D.C. in it, and that’s good enough. Splice that in, and you’ve got proof: Proof that Janeane Garofalo and those virgins over at MSNBC were wrong to call the Tea Party racist or nationalist or whatever, because goddamn it, right here, on video, it’s absolutely clear that black people are the real problem.

Not that you would ever say that, of course. But you do say things like this: That multiculturalism represents an attempt to “pit us against each other.” That Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights leader, is a “liar” because nobody could find video evidence that any Tea Party people ever called him “nigger.” That’s what you believe: Without video, there’s no proof, so how dare Joan Walsh at Salon call your friends racist?

Tommy Christopher, that little shit from Mediaite, says, “To act like we’re never going to report something unless there’s video? That’s idiotic.” If he were here, you’d grab his tape recorder and scream “Fuck you!” into it, like you did David Weigel’s at the Tea Party convention. Nick Gillespie, one of those Reason guys, calls you “the Al Qaeda of media” and you know that’s a compliment, because this is war—war against those racists who dared to call you racist.

Maybe you keep doing this. “You try to destroy people!” you shout at a reporter, and to show everyone how bad guys like him are, you release some more videos, destroy some people yourself. That Shirley Sherrod woman at the USDA, fired just hours after you showed footage of her bragging to the NAACP that she once considered not helping a white farmer. And they call you racist? You tell the press—who never give a voice to people like you—that the NAACP crowd applauded her for “sticking it to the white man.”

You destroy Anthony Weiner, but that one’s cake. Didn’t even have to fudge anything!

And then maybe you die. Lots of people are sad, and lots of others are sad they won’t have you to hate. Fuck them. You did good. You did your best. You never proved you and your friends aren’t racist, but you did pull off something much more grand: You gave everybody something to yell about.

Maybe someday someone makes a shapeless, uncritical documentary about how much fun you had doing all this. You’d be charming in it, because you always had as much charisma in you as you had rage.

Maybe they bleep your swearing, because it’s a PG-13. You know, for the kids.

And maybe you’ll be filmed puttering around a hotel room, singing “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters to yourself. And maybe that song won’t be listed in the closing credits because maybe your producers didn’t bother with licensing. And maybe some prick reviewer at some rag someplace will put that fact into some review, knowing that the copyright holders of pop songs search the Internet all day, every day, for any indication that someone someplace might owe them some royalties.

That’s what the media does. They try to fuck the good ones.


In the Footprint’s Hoop Schemes

When the investigative theater company the Civilians arrived a decade ago, they came armed with a theme song. “We do little and mostly inconclusive research!” they trilled. “We don’t use notebooks or recording devices.” The Civilians employ these lax techniques to create charming shows exploring geese holocausts, conspiracy theories, loss. But with 2009’s This Beautiful City, a play about evangelicals in Colorado Springs, the company got serious, documenting their interviews and checking their facts. Their latest show, In the Footprint, at the Irondale Center, brings these more mature tactics to a discussion of the Atlantic Yards controversy.

In the Footprint limns the arguments surrounding Bruce Ratner’s development project, which called for a large sports arena and many high-rises on a 22-acre parcel of Brooklyn land, part of it acquired via eminent domain. While some locals supported the project (particularly those marshaled by the community group Acorn), others opposed it and filed lawsuits against it. Most of those lawsuits failed, though the weakened economy will likely result in fewer buildings than originally proposed.

Writer-director Steven Cosson, co-writer Jocelyn Clarke, composer Michael Friedman, and a fine cast follow their subject from its announcement in 2003 to the recent groundbreaking ceremony. Their play draws on interviews with dozens on both sides of the debate, though the major players—Ratner, Mayor Bloomberg—declined to speak to them. (Borough President Marty Markowitz appears, portrayed by a talking basketball.) Though Cosson provides much innovative staging, his attempts to cram so many viewpoints into the show and create balance among them produces a somewhat jumbled piece. Bright moments abound—a bagel-shop anecdote, a surprisingly pompous speech from Jonathan Lethem—but narrative drive rarely emerges. And yet, a play composed of much energy, many voices, disjunctions, and fractures—well, as Friedman’s opening song puts it, that’s “so Brooklyn.”


Acorn’s Long Rise and Fast Fall

Long before voters hit the scanner box this bleak electoral season, Republicans knew they’d already scored a huge win: Thanks to a fusillade of hyped-up stories and pumped-up investigations, they’d succeeded in knocking out an organization with a well-honed ability to turn out large numbers of people likely to vote for the other side: Acorn.

Most local Acorn chapters closed in the wake of last year’s sensational right-wing video stings, escapades that on closer inspection turned out to be just more YouTube foolery. On election day, what was left of the organization announced for bankruptcy. “Acorn has fought the good fight,” said executive director Bertha Lewis, who was recruited while battling her landlord in an ailing Bronx tenement.

Not that the now-defunct national community organizing group alone could have turned the GOP/Tea Party tide. But it’s not a big leap of faith to believe that in a few races it might well have made a difference. Take Pennsylvania, where Democrat Joe Sestak—a former admiral—lost to conservative Republican Pat Toomey by 75,000 votes. Sestak, running behind most of the campaign, almost closed the gap on election day based on a surge of Philadelphia votes. Then he ran out of time.

Pennsylvania’s story was the same as in many parts of the country: Voter turnout there slipped below 50 percent, as compared to 2008 when a boisterous 70 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote for president. Were it still in business this fall, there’s every reason to believe that Acorn could have boosted those numbers. For starters, Philadelphia was long one of Acorn’s main bases of power, a city where it first captured attention in the late 1970s with a squatting campaign in abandoned houses. Within a few years, the group helped win legislation—the National Homesteading Act—that enabled low-income families to buy HUD-foreclosed homes.

Those kind of campaigns helped Acorn build a national membership that, before it went under, was some 400,000 strong. Unlike most other community organizations, which labor in local trenches and rarely see over the top, Acorn’s leaders had a national analysis of power. This led it to voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Its biggest push came in the months leading up to the 2008 presidential campaign, when it registered some 1.3 million new voters, many of them in battleground states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada—crucial to Democratic chances.

This electoral muscle had already been on display in earlier elections, enough to capture the attention of GOP political handicappers, who began to look for ways to curb it. There is a simple reason Republicans oppose most measures favoring greater voter registration and turnout. It is this: the more people going to the polls, the less chance Republicans have to win.

Taking Acorn out of the game wasn’t the biggest advantage that Republicans brought to the midterm elections. But it was a wonderful insurance policy, as good as kneecapping the other team’s star outfielder right before the World Series.

This isn’t to say that some of the wounds that eventually brought Acorn down weren’t self-inflicted, or that its leaders weren’t often too clever by half, and prone to cutting corners when it suited them. But none of those sins amounted to more than a two-day story, or the kind of fierce internal battles that the left specializes in having. What made them fatal was a coordinated attack, with the full weight of the Bush Justice Department and the Greater Murdoch Media Empire brought to bear.

Just how much was gained and lost in Acorn’s rise and fall is told in Seeds of Change: The Story of Acorn, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, by John Atlas, a lawyer and veteran housing organizer from New Jersey. Atlas started his book in 2004 while looking to chronicle winning strategies for change. “We were losing out in so many places,” he says. “We needed to make a big difference.”

As his model, he chose the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which had started in Arkansas in 1970. He wound up an accidental witness to its destruction. “Few people had heard of Acorn when I started,” he says. “By the time I finished, 80 percent of Americans had heard all about it, and what they’d heard was wrong.”

Polls show that 52 percent of Republicans believe that Acorn stole the 2008 election for Barack Obama. And why wouldn’t they? Every time they turned on Fox News or listened to conservative radio, that’s what they were told.

There were investigations—dozens, in fact. But their biggest yield was 11 convictions of registration card forgers who tried to turn a quick dollar after being hired among thousands of canvassers. And most of those were turned in by Acorn. The only charges against the organization itself were in Nevada. There, its alleged crime was paying bonuses to its hardest working registrars—a capitalist offense of the highest order. An audit issued this June by the U.S. Government Accounting Office found that six cases of alleged Acorn-related voter fraud—the ones that brought the scandal headlines—were investigated by U.S. attorneys and the FBI since 2005. All were closed for lack of evidence.

Atlas walks the uproar back to the earliest Republican-promoted probe in Florida in 2004. Acorn at the time was riling conservatives with a campaign seeking a statewide referendum to hike the minimum wage, while registering thousands of new voters.

One of its local recruits was a Cuban-American named Mac Stuart, who presented himself as a former police officer excited about Acorn’s goals. Stuart initially seemed a hard worker. He was promoted to oversee the voter-registration drive in Miami. But supervisors soured on him when he stopped delivering registration cards to the Board of Elections. When Acorn finally checked out Stuart’s background, it found that not only had he never been a cop, but he had served time for armed robbery with past busts for drugs and a concealed weapon.

The rogue employee was fired. But it was already too late. Within days, he showed up at a press conference represented by Florida’s most influential Republican law firm—Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler—announcing lawsuits claiming that Acorn had hidden thousands of voter registration forms. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement instantly made a rare public announcement that it was investigating. Local authorities jumped in as well.

This won headlines and Rush Limbaugh’s attention. “A group that was formed in the 1970s—you may have heard of them, Acorn—is out trying to register voters two and three times, and they’ve been caught in the act,” he trumpeted. Stuart appeared on Fox News with Bret Hume, who introduced him this way: “More troubles in Florida today for that left-wing group, Acorn.”

Atlas includes the postscripts unnoted by Fox: A year later, Stuart’s lawsuits were dismissed; the criminal probes also fizzled. Stuart even admitted that he had defamed Acorn with his bogus vote-fraud charges.

This year, Florida’s most sensational criminal case was that of Scott Rothstein, the now disbarred GOP lawyer whose firm first embraced Stuart and promoted his phony charges. Rothstein, whose past partners included GOP mischief-maker Roger Stone, was sentenced in June to 50 years in prison for his own $1.2 billion fraud.

Oh, and that minimum-wage increase on the 2004 Florida ballot? It passed 3 to 1, upping wages by a buck and indexing them for inflation. Apparently, it was enough to make some people want to put a stop to such nonsense.


Merry Pranksters in The Yes Men Fix the World, Plus (the Not-So-Merry) Bronson

The anti-globalist performance guys who call themselves the Yes Men are masters of forging corporate rhetoric and media protocols. The most recent prank perpetrated by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (not their real names) involved an eco-warning simulacrum of the New York Post (headline: “WE’RE SCREWED”), pegged to last month’s U.N. summits; their forte, however, is the phony website and the fraudulent PowerPoint presentation.

A sequel to their first film, The Yes Men (2004), The Yes Men Fix the World continues the saga with the heroes’ greatest stunt—one going live on BBC World in the guise of a Dow Chemical spokesman with the Pynchonian handle of “Jude Finisterra” to announce that Dow would mark the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster with a $12 billion aid plan for the victims. Stock dropped faster than the interviewer’s jaw.

The BBC, which had taken the bait of a faux-website, blamed the Yes Men for fooling the poor people of Bhopal into thinking they would get justice. But Fix the World asks that the spectator decide which hoax was crueler—the Yes Men’s, which at least directed attention back to Bhopal, or Dow’s. As hinted by their affirmative name, the Yes Men enact scenarios, however fleeting, of social justice. In a similar stunt, the duo impersonate a HUD representative and his flack, dropping in on a New Orleans event attended by the ever-jive Mayor Nagin, with the surprise news that HUD is reopening the Ninth Ward public housing projects shut down (and later destroyed) in Katrina’s wake.

These political tricksters have an additional agenda: identifying the late market über alles economist Milton Friedman as the enemy. (Their deadpan interviews with Friedman’s true believers are the most effectively informative aspect of the movie.) But mainly, Fix the World is about the beauty of the riff. The Yes Men are funniest when addressing a straight audience, making outlandish claims in favor of the free market and the benefits of unregulated catastrophe—the Black Plague gave us capitalism! What’s fascinating is spectator reaction (or lack of same). Some people laugh or register disgust; others find their ideas “refreshing.”Although the Yes Men’s presentation on Exxon’s plan to recycle unproductive corpses as a fuel called Vivoleum—which included passing out (smelly) candles as a sample—largely bombs, an equally ludicrous demonstration of an inflatable, extremely expensive survival suit is hailed as “very cool.” As one Yes Man explains, “Instead of freaking out, they just took our business cards.” People want to believe.

The Yes Men Fix the World ends on a utopian note with last November’s distribution of a fake, post-dated New York Times (among the thrilling headlines, “IRAQ WAR ENDS” and “Nation Sets Its Sights on Building Sane Economy”). Random New Yorkers are amazed to find good news—strategically timed to celebrate the equally impossible election of Barack Obama. The Yes Men have pulled off another coup, although my own pleasure, watching Fix the World, was mitigated by the brief appearance in the film of one of ACORN’s founders—an unintentional reminder that left-wing tactics, whether community organizing or guerrilla theater, can be appropriated by the right.

Writing on the ACORN gotcha tapes in last week’s Nation, Chris Hayes referred to the Borat Effect—”human beings’ intense socialization to be helpful and not rock the boat, even when confronted with someone doing something objectionable, outrageous, or preposterous.” Although the Yes Men also draw on this syndrome, they almost never draw blood. They’re good guys who operate in the realm of materialized fantasy. Typically targeting some corporate Goliath, their performance pieces offer a taste of what utopia might feel like if authority told the truth. In this, Bichlbaum and Bonanno are essentially entertainers who strut and fret their hour on the media stage, delighting sympathetic audiences with the possibility of change.

The Yes Men’s virtuoso naturalism is essentially an exercise in pleasurable illusion. The real realists are the college clowns who pranked ACORN—the rich and privileged laughing at the poor and disenfranchised. What’s more, as made for YouTube, amplified by the Fox News megaphone, and set to the news cycle drumbeat, their crude stunt had actual repercussions.

The eponymous protagonist of the British film Bronson is another sort of hoax-perpetrating performance artist—but, upending a script he was handed, director Nicolas Winding Refn punches across his real-life story with such demented gusto that it’s difficult to ascertain the precise nature of Bronson’s act.

The inmate who renamed himself after a Hollywood action star has been incarcerated for all but a few months of the past 34 years—30 of them spent in solitary—having strategically attacked a succession of guards, attendants, and fellow inmates to parlay his initial seven-year sentence for armed robbery into a lifelong role as “Britain’s most violent prisoner.” The first thing Bronson tells us, in direct address, is that “all my life, I wanted to be famous.” Cut to the mad dog wannabe (played with insane brio by Tom Hardy) in his cell battling half a dozen screws.

With his shaved head, handlebar mustache, and mighty physique frequently stripped down for action, Hardy’s Bronson resembles a sideshow strongman—he also serves as the ringmaster and chief clown in the brawling three-ring circus that is Refn’s movie. Despite the naturalistic mayhem Refn deployed in his widely praised Pusher trilogy (violent, drug-dealer demimonde in darkest Denmark) and for all the bellowing fisticuffs here, Bronson is essentially a faux-operatic, music hall turn—a larky, lumpen version of Lola Montès. Bronson goes from prison to mental hospital to a few weeks of freedom, until another botched robbery lands him back in the slammer. There, he abruptly reveals a talent for drawing goofy cartoons. (The real Bronson makes art, writes poetry, and has published 11 books.) But pugnacity remains the source of his celebrity. He repeatedly traps unwary guards so as to ensure that he’ll get the shit kicked out of him once more.

Well received in the U.K., Bronson was bracketed with Steve McQueen’s Hunger, a more seriously visceral tale of an incorrigible, self-promoting prisoner. Bronson is lighter fare, but harder to watch—its over-bright palette and pop-eyed perkiness are assaultive in the manner of Australian comedies like Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding. The kernel of an idea—brutish antihero as irrepressible life force—is trampled into dust by the showy Sturm und Drang of Refn’s filmmaking.


The Acorn Tapes

It was hard to know who to be angrier at in the candid camera caper pulled off by a pair of right-wing video bandits last month in the Brooklyn offices of Acorn, the community organization now serving as the preferred Republican punching bag.

On the one hand, there was the relentless way that the activist duo stalked Acorn across the country, strutting into at least 10 of its offices, decked out in comic pimp and hooker garb, in search of the most gullible and vulnerable targets they could find. This kind of shtick is always cruel and offensive, whether it’s Michael Moore aiming his camera at an aging and confused Charlton Heston, or Sacha Baron Cohen urging on drunken white frat boys to scream racist insults. The laughs generated by these pranks are always sour and mean.

On the other hand, the calm, unruffled manner of the Acorn employees as they counseled a self-declared procurer and his half-clad prostitute about how to hide their criminal wages stokes high outrage. It first makes you wonder what other nonsense these partly government-funded advisers may have been spouting. Then there’s the inevitable follow-up: Who the hell is minding the store?

Which is why the Right knew it had struck pure gold when the tapes surfaced. Ever since Acorn helped register some 1.3 million voters for last year’s elections, the organization—already high on the GOP watch list—was elevated to Target No. 1. Republicans blame Acorn’s newly registered voters—most of them minorities who signed up as Democrats—for several congressional losses. They may even be the reason Barack Obama won a few states, a thought that gnaws nightly at Fox News producers and Limbaugh ditto heads.

Karl Rove was so keenly focused on this problem that he got his Justice Department henchmen to sack U.S. attorneys who balked at pressing vote-fraud charges against the group. Straight-shooting prosecutors—like former New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias—who said there were simply no criminal cases to be made, paid with their jobs.

The complicating factor on the other side of the aisle is that Acorn—despite decades of otherwise good work—has made itself a ripe target for these reactionary blasts. In the midst of last year’s elections, as Republicans were leveling a steady barrage of bogus fraud claims against the group, the organization shot itself straight in the foot. Top Acorn executives, it was revealed, had long hidden a $1 million embezzlement by the brother of Acorn’s co-founder from both their own board and foundation funders. The revelation sparked an ugly internal brawl, resulting in the defection of several members who found sympathetic ears in Republican congressmen and Fox TV’s Glenn Beck.

“We are somewhere on the path of something very dark and sinister here,” the talk-show host cooed delightedly back in May, months before the amateur sleuths began their cross-country camera tour of Acorn offices.

Those are some of the reasons why most Democrats beat a hasty retreat when Republicans, waving the embarrassing video tapes, introduced amendments last month barring federal funds for Acorn. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the move, by a count of 83 to 7. New York’s senators split on the vote: Chuck Schumer—who held a fundraiser for Acorn in July—voted for the ban; newbie Kirsten Gillibrand quietly voted against it.

A couple of days later, Republicans pulled the same stunt in the House, attaching the Acorn ban to a college loan bill. Democrats had only a few minutes’ warning, but the sentiment was the same as the Senate’s: Why engage in a battle your opponents are craving to have?

This is a reasonable tactical response. Brooklyn congressman Anthony Weiner figured that they were simply dodging a harmful right-wing bullet. “I am not eager to get into that fight,” he said last week. “I think this is one of those times when they are trying to distract us from what we are trying to do.”

No question, that’s the game plan. But as it happens, this is when being a constitutional scholar counts for a great deal. Jerry Nadler, the nine-term congressman from Manhattan’s West Side, chairs the House subcommittee on the Constitution. Nadler is just north of five feet, but on these issues, he always stands tallest of all our legislators. Nadler immediately spotted the Senate measure as a “classic Bill of Attainder.” If you don’t know what this is, then you should look it up right now, because it is one of the few clear limits placed on what bills Congress can pass: no laws restricting religion, or freedom of speech or press—and none that punish a person or group without fair trial.

The greatest promoter of this right was Alexander Hamilton, the conservative icon who founded the New York Post, the newspaper now owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire includes Fox TV, which did the most to hype the videos and goad the GOP into action. The Post was once so proud of Hamilton that it carried his image on its front page banner. Here is how their hero put it in the Federalist Papers: “If the legislature may banish at discretion all those whom particular circumstances render obnoxious, without hearing or trial, no man can be safe.”

Even back in the wicked McCarthy days, the Supreme Court quickly slapped down Congress when it sought to punish “subversives” without trial. A century earlier, the court did the same thing when states tried to bar former Confederate soldiers from public life.

Nadler understood this history lesson without even picking up a book. When the anti-Acorn bill surfaced in the House, he spread the word about its unconstitutionality. He tried and failed to get the floor that day, but he was back a week later after Republicans, eager to beat Democrats again with the same stick, inserted the Acorn bar into another funding bill.

“Last week, to the great shame of this House,” Nadler said from the floor on September 25, “we passed a Bill of Attainder.” Whatever infractions Acorn may be guilty of, Nadler said, “it ought to be vetted or sanctioned by the appropriate administrative agency or by the judiciary. But Congress must not be in the business of punishing individual organizations or people without trial.” He cited a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from Acorn’s general counsel, Arthur Schwartz, pointing out that this was the first time in Congressional history that a group had been so singled out.

“I was just offended by the whole notion,” Nadler told the Voice last week. “Congress is not supposed to be prosecutor, judge, and jury. It is fundamental. Any unpopular group can be killed.”

As for Acorn itself, the employees who casually counseled deceit to their erstwhile clients may yet face criminal charges. And the organization’s clearly sloppy operations will be scrutinized by an outside watchdog. But the video fiasco raises a bigger, underlying question about Acorn’s entire mission: Why is a scrappy advocacy group even taking government money in the first place? Why leave yourself wide open to a right-wing jihad by taking funds from the politicians you help elect?

It’s the kind of problem that Saul Alinsky, the great radical theorist whose ideas helped inspire Acorn’s founders, foresaw back in the 1960s when the Great Society programs started showering big bucks on organizers. Those who chow down on government anti-poverty monies, Alinsky warned, were accepting “a prize piece of political pornography.”


Brooklyn’s Captain Nemo

He’s circumnavigated Manhattan in a plywood raft, planted a flag on the East River’s Belmont Island to claim it as a sovereign nation during the Republican convention, built the secret Dead Horse Tavern on Plum Beach, almost inhabited Robert Smithson’s Floating Island (the Coast Guard threw him off), and lived for several years in a storage space with pigeons. But for Duke Riley—artist and explorer of the obscure, bird lover, professional tattooer, nautical nostalgist—no adventure compared to the Friday morning in August when, in the Buttermilk Channel, he launched The Acorn, his ill-fated version of a Revolutionary War submarine that tried but failed to sink a British man-of-war in 1776. Over two centuries later, Riley was only trying to make a movie. But as he coaxed his miniature sub toward another significant British vessel, the massive Queen Mary 2—an intentional parallel to history—the city saw terrorism instead.

Homeland Security protocols snapped into effect, news helicopters circled, the Harbor Police rushed over to apprehend him, and Riley was hauled off to the 76th Precinct for questioning. Eventually, the FBI showed up to make things, as Riley says, “very dramatic.” One frightening guy, as Riley describes him, stood silently in the corner and just glared, looking like “a cross between Christopher Walken and one of those tree creatures from Lord of the Rings.” Two other agents, working the good-cop/bad-cop routine, tried to link him, he says, to anti-British sentiment and the IRA, citing the thousands of dollars he once received from an Irish woman named Ursula (a grant from an arts organization, actually, for a project in Belfast). Fined by the NYPD, Riley still faces the federal charge of violating a security zone (punishable by up to five years in prison), not to mention the FBI’s promise to keep their dark shades trained on him.

It’s not the first time his art has instigated a terror alert. One morning, as he was filming a project near the East River, Riley says a suspicious cop demanded to see his video camera, found footage of a one-eyed Pakistani man (a friend of the artist) standing before distant jets, and then called in the Anti-Terrorism Task Force. Waiting for the trench-coated agents to arrive, the cop quizzed Riley about college football, apparently to test his citizenship. If you measure American credentials by moxie, Riley’s are more than solid. But as he describes the day of the Acorn incident, he insists several times that he didn’t want publicity. “The submarine was one aspect of a pretty elaborate project,” he explains. “People think about it as a performance, and it becomes something that seems more like a stunt. . . . But there’s never anything I’ve done that solely involves an act.”

The project, titled After the Battle of Brooklyn (at Magnan Projects beginning October 28), centers on a mockumentary that mixes the history of the original 1776 sub, The Turtle, with deadpan Monty Python absurdity. Like his previous video, The Bright Passage—which investigates accounts of Mill Rock Island’s land-based pirates—the latest one is a smirking PBS-style presentation, with English-accented narration, several “authorities” in book-lined offices, clips from re-enactments, and the familiar (and by now clichéd) Ken Burns–ian pans across old images. Leaping from theme to theme (as Riley’s conversations often do), the video touches on insurgency, suicide bombing, and disillusionment with political causes—parallels, Riley sees, between the Revolutionary War in New York and the “current situation.” The video’s central claim is that the Americans employed a second sub—The Acorn, of course—that mysteriously disappeared with the pilot (and possibly his cat) and has now resurfaced. But you never quite know what’s real. His videos, Riley says, demonstrate how “you can take certain information and twist it to tell whatever story you want.”

Fascinated by The Turtle‘s odd history, Riley also saw it as art: “Just as an object, it’s a beautiful-looking thing.” With friends offering their technical expertise (from welding to water displacement), Riley created his own version in about five months. Seeing the craft up close (it’s part of the gallery show), you understand Riley’s attraction: It’s an elegant—and sophisticated—piece of work, shaped just as its name suggests. Built from iron, plumbing pipes, and slats of oak coated with fiberglass (a substitute for the 18th-century tar), the sub includes two large snorkels, a water chamber for neutral buoyancy, a ballast-release mechanism, a flipper-shaped rudder, and miniature portholes. “I definitely wanted to make sure I didn’t die,” Riley says, referring to the controls. Though he never got the thing to fully submerge, he implies that the dangers were a necessary aspect of his imagined history. Consider, he says, what The Turtle‘s pilot, a man named Ezra Lee, “was thinking about in 1776—they had no knowledge of how this stuff worked.”

Riley’s interest in the maritime anachronism extends to his other art works, which typically augment his videos. He designs black-and-white mosaics as whalers’ scrimshaw: Ships and sailors from past centuries, set inside ornamented ovals, sit before contemporary cityscapes or ply through waters filled with fast-food trash. Dense and busy drawings in the style of Hieronymus Bosch depict hallucinogenic frigates. Another piece, in the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection, packs in all the images and stories—historical and invented—that he collected for The Bright Passage. And at East River Tattoo, a shop that he co-owns, Riley inks antiquated nautical designs on his customers’ 21st-century skin.

Thin as a harpoon, with tattooed arms and a throaty Boston accent, Riley, 35, resembles an old-time sailor himself and rarely strays too far from the sea, in either art or life. His apartment overlooks Red Hook’s marine terminal, and his studios sit near the river. “The water was traditionally a place available to everyone,” he says, lamenting the gradual disappearance of the working dockside community, something he addresses in his work. “Living close to the water has now become a luxury. Particularly in New York, it’s becoming less and less accessible. To be able to maintain that connection to water is extremely important to me.”

Riley grew up with that connection, working as a kid with his uncle on the docks of New England fishing towns. Having also developed obsessions with drawing and tattoos (his first barber had one), he went to art school at the Rhode Island School of Design and combined everything he knew. In his freshman year, he tattooed dead fish with seafaring scenes and floated them in formaldehyde—his first project, as it happened, to attract unwanted attention from the authorities. Responding to complaints about the smell, a school security guard threw out everything.

Riley’s current troubles, along with the publicity, may force him to postpone his more ambitious explorations for a while. “It makes it a lot harder to do my artwork. Maintaining a low profile has always been really key for me in doing a lot of this stuff.” Possibly he’ll return to pigeons, the less-risky subject of earlier paintings and photographs, and another interest that had its start in childhood, when he first saw the famous rooftop scenes in On the Waterfront. But even the birds have come up against official disapproval: His landlady recently ordered him to discard his coop. “I still have one pigeon,” he happily admits, “that comes back to visit a lot”—a creature Riley welcomes inside as a fellow voyager of the city.


Billionaire Buys Union

The most important event so far in the 2005 mayoral campaign was Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s endorsement by District Council 37, the largest municipal union, with 121,000, mostly minority, members. Yet, bizarrely, no one in a town where tabloids bash unions for sport has examined how Bloomberg snared it. That’s because every pro-Bloomberg insider knows he bought the endorsement with taxpayer funds in broad daylight and, as battered as Governor Pataki was in 2002 when he cut similar deals with the teachers and health care workers, Bloomberg’s heist was cheered from the sidelines. A Daily News editorial actually called the choice “enlightened,” its kindest words about a union since the paper broke its own 12 years ago.

The reason the addition-by-subtraction endorsement is so important is that it costs the Democrats, particularly likely nominee Freddy Ferrer, a critical field operation. In the 2001 runoff, Ferrer had a union army in the streets that included District Council 37, handing out palm cards and literature, ringing doorbells, driving voters to the polls, making calls, generating electoral juice. That’s why he got 84 percent of a record Latino turnout in the runoff, and 71 percent of blacks, and that’s what he needs to spur street buzz in 2005. Without troops on the ground, usually union, the sense of movement that helped David Dinkins unseat Ed Koch in 1989 and propelled Ferrer in 2001 may never develop.

The untold endorsement story has a tabloid simplicity. In 2004, DC 37 and Bloomberg agreed to a belated 2002-to-2005 contract that, contrary to the mayor’s prior bluster, included retroactive raises, albeit modest ones. For the first time in the history of city collective bargaining, however, the agreement dangled another 1 percent hike if the parties could find common ground before June 30 on productivity concessions. On May 19, the union held a mayoral forum where 800 of its leaders were entertained by Mayor Mike’s tease that the city and the union were close to a productivity agreement, one that would instantly put another $300 in the average member’s pocket. Wild applause and whistle-blowing followed his “good news” declaration.

On June 28, an agreement was reached that was such a fake that DC 37 executive director Lillian Roberts openly told The Chief, a newspaper for city workers, that she’d kept her promise that “we would get the 1 percent and that we would not have to give anything back.” Two of the three so-called productivity improvements involved more jobs for DC 37 members at the Police Department and the Human Resources Administration, with the city acquiescing to longtime union demands for greater NYPD civilianization and less contracting-out at HRA.

On July 14, the union’s executive board voted 14 to 12 to endorse Bloomberg, the only time it’s endorsed a mayoral candidate for a general election before the primary. It was also the only time in modern history that the union’s backed a Republican, except its endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in 1997, an alliance that later led to jail time for the union brass who fraudulently fixed the vote on the contract they’d already signed with Giuliani.

Incredibly, DC 37 was in such a rush to close its end of the transparent transaction that it bypassed its own constitution, which requires that the 327-member delegate assembly vote on endorsements except when “time is of the essence.” In a Voice interview, Roberts acknowledged that the union had never before made a mayoral endorsement without a delegate assembly vote. But she said that the assembly was “on vacation” in July and August and that the board “didn’t feel they should wait.” Actually, the assembly convened in July 2001 to vote on all its major city endorsements, but it is such a difficult body to control that the pre-Roberts leadership won by a narrow 50.01 percent of the vote.

Denying there was any link between the endorsement and the 1 percent raise, Roberts nonetheless boasted that the city agreed in the productivity deal to hire more DC 37–represented secretaries and slash temp contracts, a recommendation in union white papers that Bloomberg had previously spurned. Asked if the union would’ve endorsed Bloomberg had no agreement been reached by June 30, Roberts said, “We would have had a problem” and “we would have kept pushing” for it, apparently unaware that she could not get the 1 percent beyond that deadline. A union spokeswoman told the Voice that DC 37 now intends to mount a large field operation for the mayor, not merely deduct one from the Democratic nominee.

Roberts conceded she had not only met with Ferrer in New York early this year, but joined him at a meeting in Washington with the head of the national union, Gerald McEntee. While she tried to make it appear that the McEntee meeting was happenstance, occurring only because she happened to be at a meeting of the national board, a top Ferrer aide says “she set it up” at Ferrer’s request. Ferrer declined during a
Voice interview to discuss the meetings, but according to one ally, was so convinced he had a commitment from Roberts that he asked for the McEntee meeting to see if he could also get the backing of the national union. Roberts claims she made no commitment and merely noted at the Washington session that “we have a process” for endorsements that would have to be followed. The 1 percent dance with Bloomberg went into full swing after this Washington sideshow.

It wasn’t just Roberts who flip-flopped. Bloomberg has been the toughest negotiator with city unions ever, refusing to cut contracts with the police, fire, and teacher unions and forcing the first two to arbitration. He is still demanding real work rule concessions from the teachers, just as he did with the uniformed services. His contract with DC 37 was no giveaway; it agreed to raises rejected by the other unions. But the productivity collapse contradicts the core of his bargaining position and was a crass political deal.

Not only is Ferrer facing the primary and the general without DC 37 and the so-far neutral health care workers at 1199 that were keys in 2001, he can’t expect much from other Democratic field operations like the community group ACORN and Local 32 B-J, which represents building maintenance workers. ACORN’s John Kest, who ran Mark Green’s 2001 field operation, says that the group plans a “series of meetings over the next two weeks” and that there is “at least a 50-50 chance that an endorsement will come out of that.” Kest and other ACORN leaders have been meeting with Ferrer and his associates, but Kest made it clear the group is too busy with “a multitude of issue-oriented campaigns to do what we did in 2001” for any candidate. Ferrer ran his affordable-housing plan by ACORN before announcing it recently.

The prospective, half-hearted-at-best ACORN support of Ferrer is another measure of Bloomberg’s tactical skill. Though the administration and the group once warred over everything from predatory lending to the living wage bill, Bloomberg backed their 4,500-unit Bruce Ratner housing plan in Brooklyn, and ACORN leader Bertha Lewis famously kissed him at the announcement. (“No tongue and no booty,” she told the Voice, while Bloomberg spokesman Bill Cunningham contended she grabbed the mayor by the head, calling it “illegal use of the hands.”) The other convert, 32 B-J, was a field linchpin for Green and recently endorsed the mayor at no cost to taxpayers.

It’s not just field forces that have come full circle in four years. A couple of days before the general election in 2001, Ferrer called Green, who had just beaten him in the runoff, and demanded that he fire Kest, holding the organizer responsible for Green-tied leaflets that the Ferrer camp called racist. Green refused, and an outraged Ferrer failed to appear at a unity dinner that night, a decisive snub that contributed to Bloomberg’s triumph. Nonetheless, early this year, Ferrer and his firebrand consultant, Roberto Ramirez, sat down with their former devil and talked deal. It may even happen soon. Such are the ever changing currents of New York City politics.

Research assistance: Nicole D’Andrea, Bryan Farrell, Alex Gecan, Leslie Kaufmann, Ian Kriegish, and Stephen Stirling


The Battle of Brooklyn

In February 2000, the veteran activists at ACORN—the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—demonstrated against developer Bruce Ratner over hiring practices at the Atlantic Center mall he operates. The protesters wanted the stores there to hire more kids from the community and pay living wages. Cops threw the rabble-rousers out. They kept shouting from the sidewalk.

Five years later, Ratner’s firm Forest City Ratner has proposed a massive development comprising an NBA arena for his New Jersey Nets and thousands of residential units across the street from the mall, over the MTA’s Atlantic Avenue rail yards and on surrounding blocks. But ACORN won’t be rallying against Ratner this time. Instead, the group will help sell the Atlantic Yards deal to government agencies, community groups, and the media.

Under a deal with the developer, in exchange for Ratner’s promise to provide affordable housing and a host of other community benefits, ACORN and several other nonprofit organizations have agreed to support the Atlantic Yards plan. That alliance pits them against longtime allies who think the goodies that Ratner has offered are not worth the price: perhaps 15 new high-rise buildings—one of them possibly 60 stories tall—built with the help of public subsidies and, perhaps, the bulldozers of eminent domain.

The way the rail yards split the landscape, the Ratner proposal has divided Brooklyn. ACORN has fallen out with local city councilwoman Letitia James, whom the group helped to elect but who now opposes the plan. Reverend Herbert Daughtry, a well-known clergyman, has broken with an organization he founded and set up a new group to support Atlantic Yards. Some residents in the footprint of Ratner’s proposal have sold out to the developer. Others are hanging on.

It’s all about hanging on—for everyone involved—in the face of gentrification, which has accelerated in Brooklyn in recent years. Some of the people affected by Atlantic Yards arrived in earlier waves of displacement. That makes project supporters unsympathetic. “We just think that folks who have been part of the gentrification of the community don’t get to define the community,” says New York ACORN executive director Bertha Lewis.

Not everyone in the footprint is a newcomer. But if a new wave of new residents is coming, ACORN asks, why not ride it for all you can? “Downtown Brooklyn is growing, and if it’s growing, let’s get a piece of the action. Let’s get something for the community,” says Greg Blankinship, co-chair of ACORN’s Prospect Heights/Crown Heights chapter. “This is progress.”

ACORN, which has chapters in many cities, has always prided itself on being the kind of nonprofit that delivers results and not just rallies. That means its workers have adopted roles that grassroots activists don’t usually play. Longtime advocate for tenants, it’s also the landlord of several properties. It has partnered with banks it once criticized for redlining. And an independent political consulting group for which some ACORN activists have worked has done $400,000 worth of organizing for city candidates since 2001.

That pragmatic approach shaped the group’s response to Ratner’s proposal. Lewis says she didn’t find opponents of the arena compelling, because “it’s not really up to us if this thing comes to fruition or not.” But if it happens, she says, “we shouldn’t wait until it’s all done and we can’t affect it.”

So when ACORN came up with a housing plan that it thought would create long-term affordability and Ratner was willing to listen, the seeds of a deal were sown. The fruit of months of negotiations was a 50-page “community benefits agreement” in which Ratner pledges to make 50 percent of the apartments affordable (2,250 units), set aside construction contracts and leased space for minority- and women-owned businesses, give public housing residents and low-income people from the immediate area priority for any jobs, and house a health clinic and day care center in the project. A long list of other benefits is also included. Along with Ratner, ACORN, and Daughtry’s Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, signers include Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, Public Housing Communities, and the New York State Association of Minority Contractors.

Lewis contends that the deal is the first such legally binding community benefits agreement in city history and calls it unique because it imposes a stricter income ceiling in the affordable-housing component. The pluses of Atlantic Yards, she says, outweigh the worries about its size and the people it might displace.

“I think that when you take all of it together this is a net gain for Brooklyn especially and for New York City,” Lewis says. “The net gain is it can stop some of this tidal wave of gentrification. It can supply, over the next 10 years, 15,000 jobs—good-paying jobs.”

But there’s disagreement about the size of those benefits. Forest City Ratner quotes an estimate of a $1.55 billion net gain to the city and state over 30 years. But the New York City Economic Development Corporation arrives at a much smaller $524 million fiscal gain to the city. (The EDC doesn’t report a figure for the state.) To break even, the city and state have to get back more in taxes than the $500 million in public financing Ratner would use.

Critics of the proposal—including Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the Fifth Avenue Committee, and the Pratt Area Community Council—see far larger costs than the dollar figures. The character of the neighborhood might change dramatically. Eminent domain could be used to force people out of their homes for a private development. And there’s the precedent set by such a major project as Ratner’s not going through the city’s land use approval process, which does not apply to state property like the MTA-owned rail yards.

Ratner’s plan is still a long way from a green light. Assuming his bid for the rail yards beats rival developer Extell’s smaller-scale proposal, Ratner still faces a state environmental review and the Public Authorities Control Board—the body that doomed the West Side stadium. “And who knows what can happen at that point?” Forest City Ratner’s Bruce Bender tells the Voice.

As that process unfolds, the community groups will play the important role of giving Ratner street credibility. But critics say the deal between Ratner and the community groups makes promises it can’t deliver. Ratner can’t tell his tenants to hire local or low-income people; he has agreed, instead, merely to spur discussions. If Ratner sells Atlantic Yards, the deal doesn’t require that the community benefits agreement remain in place.

Even in the affordable-housing plan, critics see the devil in the details. As in all housing programs, the income tiers are based on regional statistics, which cite income levels much higher than Brooklyn’s. The effect is that 10 percent of the apartments might be set aside for people making more than $60,000 a year and who would pay rents that aren’t much lower than market rate. Given those potential income levels, and the fact that the project includes 2,250 market-rate apartments and 1,500 condos, City Councilman Charles Barron calls Atlantic Yards “instant gentrification.”

None of the community groups allied with Ratner are getting any fees under the agreement, although they might be well positioned to eventually bid for contracts to provide some of the services that the agreement covers, like affordable housing and the day care center.

As the best known of the groups involved, ACORN will play a particularly important role in selling the Atlantic Yards deal (a recent picture of Lewis smooching Mayor Bloomberg, for example, was priceless publicity for hizzoner). For several years Ratner, like several other city business figures, has donated money to ACORN, but officials at the group scoff at the idea that they’ve been bought off.

Critics, however, say ACORN has bought into the dubious notion that it faced a choice between joining with Ratner or being left with nothing for Brooklyn’s low-income people. In fact, the deal’s opponents say, it’s possible that a smaller-scale development could have generated similar community gains.

“Ratner’s project is probably the least efficient, most harmful way of creating affordable housing,” says Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. “I believe that ACORN has been trying to do the right thing. I don’t think there’s anything nefarious. I just think it’s shortsighted and that they’ve set up false arguments. It’s a false debate.”


Essential Numbers

Health and Justice

Need a 12-step program? Want to volunteer to fight hunger and homelessness? Check out these worthy organizations:


• 129 Fulton St., New York, NY 10038 • 212-964-5900 • fax: 212-964-1303 • •


• 320 W. 13th St., New York, NY 10014 • 212-645-8111 • fax: 212-645-8750 • TTY users call 212-925-9560 • If TTY is not available, call New York Relay Services at 711 or 800-421-1220 • •


• Global Office, 15 E. 26th St., New York, NY 10010 • 212-251-9100 • fax: 212-532-9785 • •

SAKHI (support group for South Asian women who are domestic-violence victims; empowering survivors to help build a society free of the abuse of women)

• P.O. Box 20208, Greeley Sq. Station, New York, NY 10001 • 212-714-9153 • •


• Margaret Sanger Square, 26 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012 • headquarters: 212-274-7200 • to volunteer: 212-274-7284 • to make an appointment at Planned Parenthood health centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or the Bronx: 212-965-7000

Substance Abuse Programs


COCAINE ANONYMOUS• 212-929-7300 •


MARIJUANA ANONYMOUS • 212-459-4423 •

NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS • 212-929-6262 •

Other 12-Step and Self-Help Groups


MOOD DISORDERS SUPPORT GROUP • P.O. Box 30377, New York, NY 10011 • 212-533-MDSG (6374) • fax: 212-675-0218 • •

Self-help organization serving individuals with depression or manic-depression (bipolar disorder), as well as their families and friends.


• 24-hour suicide hotline: 212-673-3000 •


• 212-367-1385

Helps HIV-negative gay men who use alcohol and drugs to remain uninfected, and HIV-positive gay men who use alcohol and drugs to stay healthy.


• 80-A Fourth Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217 • 877-615-2217 •

A coalition of nonprofit housing providers, AIDS service organizations, and homeless and formerly homeless people living with HIV/AIDS.


• 120 Wall St., 22nd fl., New York, NY 10005 • 212-363-3500 •

AFSP funds research, education, and treatment programs aimed at the prevention of suicide.


• 2 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10001 • 212-577-7777 •

Oversees programs that have been designed to benefit and assist victims of crime.


• 212-628-9154 •

Directs the attention of medical practitioners, researchers, and community groups to the seriousness of herpes on personal, physiological, and social fronts and offers support to herpes patients and provides information on treatment.

Activist Groups

Stop complaining and do something!


• 156 Rivington St., P.O. Box 436, Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009 • 212-254-3697 •

Center for art and activism, or “oppositional culture.”


• 532 La Guardia Pl., #510, New York, NY 10012 • 212-905-2373 • fax: 212-694-9573 • •

Builds relationships among grassroots youth organizers, donors, professionals, and artists.


• P.O. Box 1172, Orange, CT 06477 • •


• 15 Rutherford Pl., New York, NY 10003 • 212-598-0950 • fax: 212-529-4603 • •

Quaker organization for peace and social justice.


• 322 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10001 • 212-807-8400 • fax: 212-627-1451 •


• 99 Hudson St., 12th fl., New York, NY 10013 • 212-966-5932 • fax: 212-966-4303 • •


• 88 Third Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217 • 877-55-ACORN, 718-246-7900 • fax: 718-246-7939 •


• 85 South Oxford St., Brooklyn, NY 11217-1607 • 718-596-0342 • fax: 718-596-1328 •</A. •


• Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812-0109 • 518-352-7391 • •

Working group of writers, artists, musicians, and activists.


• 471 East 140th St., garden level, Bronx, NY 10454 • 718-585-5540 • fax: 718-585-5980 • •

Women’s group for community empowerment, healing, and action.


• 666 Bway, 7th fl., New York, NY 10012 • 212-614-6464 • fax: 212-614-6499 • •


• 1195 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11216-1815 • 718-398-1000 • •

Community-based campaign to build the capacity of local, low-income people to become financially independent.


Drop-in centers:

MANHATTAN’S CHINATOWN CENTER • 15 Catherine Street, 2nd fl. rear, New York, NY 10038 • 212-619-7979 • fax: 212-374-1506

BROOKLYN WORKERS’ CENTER • 5411 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11210 • 718-633-9748 • fax: 718-633-9757


• 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012 • 212-254-2591, 888-57-LUCHA • fax: 212-674-9139 • chri@ •


• 2473 Valentine Ave., Bronx, NY 10458 • 718-220-7391 •


• 545 Eighth Ave., 14th fl. NE, New York, NY 10018 • 212-868-3733/3334

• fax: 212-663-3650 • •


• 212-860-6001 • •

Low-income people on welfare working together to improve the lives of members’ families and all poor people in New York City.


• 817 Bway, 3rd fl., P.O. Box 264, New York, NY 10003 • 212-598-4000 •

Aims to bring about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnic background.


• 968 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11328 • 718-398-2825 • fax: 718-398-2856 • •

Against the prison-industrial complex.


• 72-26 Bway, 4th fl., Jackson Heights, NY 11372 • 718-205-3036 • fax: 718-205-3037 • •

Social justice organization for South Asian immigrants.


• John M. Miller • 48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 • 718-596-7668 • •


• 3930 46th St., Sunnyside, NY 11104 • •


• 141 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217 • 718-857-2990 • fax: 718-857-4322 • •

Group of residents working together to advance social and economic justice in South Brooklyn.


• Local contact: James Parrott • 275 Seventh Ave., 6th fl., New York, NY 10001 • 212-414-9001 • parrott@ • •


• P.O. Box 403, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10036 • 212-592-3507 • fax: 651-321-1845 • •

Philippine American women’s solidarity group.


• 248 W. 35th St., 8th fl., New York, NY 10001 • 212-629-3322 • fax: 212-629-3225 •


• 121 W. 27th St., ste. 804, New York, NY 10001-6207 • 212-727-0135 • fax 212-727-0254 • •


• 561 Bway, New York, NY 10012 • 212- 226 0130 • fax: 212-226 0137 • info@ •

Prepares urban youth to become global citizens and community leaders.


• 151 W. 30th St., 10th fl., New York, NY 10001 • 212-594-2155 • fax: 212-594-2380 • •

Creates community gardens.


• 249 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211 • 718-388-8915 • fax: 718-388-0285 • •


• 1916 Park Ave., ste. 212, New York, NY 10037 • 212-234-6200 • fax: 212-234-2340 •

Nonprofit, community-based organization that works to enhance the quality of life for children and families in some of New York City’s most devastated neighborhoods.


• 511 E. 5th Street, #4, New York, NY 10009 • 212-674-9598 • fax: 212-208-4533 • •


• 350 Fifth Ave., 34th fl., New York, NY 10118-3299 • 212-290-4700 • fax: 212-736-1300 • •


• 39 W. 14th Street, #206, New York, NY 10011 • 212-633-6646 • fax: 212-633-2889 • •

Information, activism, and resistance to U.S. militarism, war, and corporate greed.


• 39 West 14th Street, #206, New York, NY 10011 • 212-633-6646 • •


• 1270 Bway, ste. 609, New York, NY 10001 • 212-760-1440 •


• P.O. Box 494, Prince St. Station, New York, NY 10012 • 212-539-6683 • • • mailing list: lefty-jews-events@yahoogroups


• 140 W. 22nd St., #302, New York, NY 10011 • 212-647-8966 • fax: 212-647-7124 • •


• 208 W. 13th St., New York, NY 10011 • 212-620-7310 •


• 121 W. 27th St., rm. 301, New York, NY 10001 • 212-627-0444 • fax: 212-675-3704 • •

International women’s human rights group.


301 Grove St., Brooklyn, NY 11237 • 718-418-7690 • fax: 718-418-9635

Community activist group.


• 388 Atlantic Ave., 3rd fl., Brooklyn, NY 11217 • 718-254-8800 • •


• •

Electronic advocacy network.


• P.O. Box 1307, Madison Sq. Station, New York, NY 10159 • 212-631-4263 •, frescofua@ •


• 540 W. 48th St., 3rd fl., New York, NY 10036 • 212-242-3002


• 143 Madison Ave., 4th fl., New York, NY 10016 • 212-679-5100 • fax: 212-679-2811 • •


• 30 Third Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217 • P.O. Box 130293, New York, NY 10013-0995 • 718-625-9091 • fax:718-625-8950 • •


• 71-34 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY 11372 • 718-205-8796 • fax: 718-505-7130 •

A cross-cultural, grassroots nonprofit organization that uses advocacy and public education to ensure that new immigrants are influential in civic, governmental, and public affairs.


• 31 W. 15th St., New York, NY 10011 • 212-604-9552 • fax: 212-604-9550 • •

Aims to champion the rights of working men and women in New York City.


• 115 W. 30th St., ste. 709, New York, NY 10001 • 212-239-8882 • fax: 212-239-2838 •

Links grassroots organizations, low-income neighborhoods, and communities of color in their struggle against environmental racism.


• 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012 • •

Redirects war taxes to socially productive organizations, acts as a link with community groups, and explores the possibilities of coalition building.


• 125 Broad St., 17th fl., New York, NY 10004 • 212-344-3005 • fax 212-344-3318 •


• 3 W. 35th St., penthouse, New York, NY 10001 • 212-563-5636 •


• 3 W. 29th St., ste. 1007, New York, NY 10001 • • 212-679-2345 • fax: 212-679-2484 •


• 41 E. 70th St., New York, NY 10021-4941 • 212-452-7728 • fax: 212-535-7534 •
orks to advance a progressive vision of public affairs for New York City.


• 395 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014 • 212-925-6635 • fax: 212-226-1066 •

Defends women’s rights.


• 888-253-CHOICE • fax: 212-977-4578 • •


• 151 W. 30th Street, 10th fl., New York, NY 10001 • 212-244-5335 • fax: 212-244-2682 •

Advances diverse young leaders with the values and long-term commitment to strengthen communities, nonprofits, and civic participation.


• 99 Hudson St., 14th fl., New York, NY 10013-2815 • 212-219-3360, 800-328-2322 • fax: 212-431-4276 •

Works to secure, promote, and protect the civil and human rights of the Puerto Rican and wider Latino community.


• 305 Madison Ave., ste. 1166, New York, NY 10165 • 212-713-5657 •


• 89 St. Nicholas Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11237 • 718-366-2450, ext. 0 • fax: 718-366-7416 •

Brooklyn-wide working-class black and Latina women building a society based on liberation and love.



Student organization committed to the struggle for community, democracy, and social justice.


• 541-549 E. 138th St., Bronx, NY 10454 • 718-742-5770 • fax: 718-742-5772 • •


• 70A Greenwich Ave., ste. 120, New York, NY 10011 • 212-627-1969 •

Represents gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history and culture.


• 3 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017 • 212-326-7000 •

Promotes the survival, protection, and development of all children worldwide through fundraising, advocacy, and education.


• 37 Howe St., New Haven, CT 06511 • 203-777-4605• •

Devoted to the study, development, and application of radical political economic analysis to social problems.


• P.O. Box 607, Times Sq. Station, New York, NY 10108 • 212-868-5545 •

A coalition of more than 60 community, labor, religious, peace, and other organizations in the greater New York area.


• 666 Bway, 10th fl., New York, NY 10012 • 646-602-5600 • •

Provides legal representation and advocacy for poor and homeless New Yorkers.


• 340 W. 85th St., New York, NY 10024 • 212-873-2600 •

National, nonprofit, spiritually based organization providing local human service programs, and opportunities for individual and community involvement.


• 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012 • 212-228-0450 • fax: 212-228-6193 • •

Advocates Gandhian nonviolence as the method for creating a democratic society free of war, racism, sexism, and human exploitation.


• 275 Seventh Ave., ste. 1205, New York, NY 10001 • 212-633-6967 •

Initiative to enable low-income grassroots groups to use technology to advance campaigns on economic security issues and to build their members’ leadership and computer technology skills.


• 271 W. 125th St., ste. 308, New York, NY 10027-4424 •
orks to improve environmental quality and to secure environmental justice in predominantly African American and Latino communities.


• P.O. Box 344, New York, NY 10108 • 201-968-0595 • fax: 201-968-0595 • •

Fights for human, animal, and earth liberation through protest, direct action, street theater, political advocacy, and public education.


• 35-32 Union St., 2nd fl., Flushing, NY 11354 • 718-321-2434, 718-321-2592 • •


• P.O. Box 814, Lincoln Station , New York, NY 10037-0814 • 212-576-8875 • fax: 212-491-9185 • •


• 339 Lafayette St., rm. 202, New York, NY 10012 • 212-979-8353 • fax: 973-773-9337 • wsany@ •

An anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian organization of activists promoting solidarity and self-management.


• 88 Third Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217 • 718-222-3796 • fax: 718-246-3718 • •

Grassroots community and labor-based political party.


Wooten for the Wrong Team

If murder, rape, and robbery were athletic events, East New York could arguably be an Olympic stadium. According to current police statistics, the Brooklyn community has more of the above-named crimes than any other New York neighborhood. Indeed, of the city’s 76 police precincts, the 75th in East New York seems the most impervious to the mayor’s much-ballyhooed crime slump.

The numbers are not only disturbing; they’re ironic. East New York is home to city councilmember Priscilla Wooten, who is arguably Giuliani’s most ardent supporter among black Democrats. Despite her loyalty, however, Wooten’s community seems to have been shortchanged by the alliance— or treason, as some of her constituents might see it— since her district still suffers mightily from crime.

It also suffers from a dire shortage of decent housing. And on that front, Wooten herself is an obstacle— despite the fact that Giuliani appears willing to help out. While his housing agency is prepared to help a local group turn six abandoned buildings into affordable co-ops for 19 low-to-moderate-income households, Wooten refuses to write an essential letter on behalf of the project.

Also ironic is the fact that the sponsoring group is ACORN, a nonprofit that Giuliani has deep-sixed as an enemy of his administration. In 1997, the mayor reneged on pending commitments to ACORN after the group criticized his housing plans and disrupted a speech. Even so, his Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is willing to honor a 1995 plan to give ACORN’s housing arm, the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), $1.2 million to renovate the six buildings. The European American Bank is prepared to loan ACORN $411,662. The state awarded ACORN $276,000 in a competitive grant. And MHANY itself is forking over $303,000. Only one obstacle remains: Wooten.

Before HPD can turn the properties over to MHANY, Wooten must write a letter of approval— or, at least, neutrality— to HPD. For at least three months, MHANY director Ismene Speliotis has asked Wooten for such a letter. Wooten has ignored the request.

“HPD has this money slated for this group of buildings and this project,” says Speliotis. “They have all the paperwork ready to go, they’re waiting, they’re poised, and ready to submit this to the City Council.” The council must approve the transfer to MHANY, and traditionally takes its cue from the councilmember whose district is involved. “The commissioner of HPD, who works for the mayor, got the go-ahead to do this,” says Speliotis. “But Wooten’s holding it up. She doesn’t work for the mayor. She’s actually supposed to work for her constituency.”

Wooten would not explain why she has not written the required letter, offering only references to “reservations” she declined to discuss. She launched into a tirade about ACORN’s “tactics,” but refused to give details. No doubt among her peeves was ACORN’s January 26 protest, when about 40 members marched with petitions to Wooten’s Linden Boulevard office (she was in Albany at the time). The protesters were greeted by just as many police officers.

“I have reservations about how ACORN does things,” Wooten said. “I will say that I’ve been more courteous to them than they have been to me. I don’t take lightly someone telling me what I am to do.”

Speliotis says months of reaching out to Wooten, to no avail, left little choice but a protest. “We’re not confrontational on day one,” she says. “We write letters and we pick up the phone and we call. If you don’t respond, then we come and look for you. We meet you where you are. If you can’t respond to your constituency what are we supposed to do?”

The six buildings now in limbo are the last in a round of 17 properties that MHANY has renovated since 1995. Eleven in Crown Heights and Bushwick are already occupied. In fact, the East New York properties were the last MHANY projects to be funded before Giuliani cut ACORN out of his political will in 1997.

In September of that year, just months after an ACORN report criticized the mayor, Giuliani pulled a $6 million contract that was supposed to help the group renovate a string of buildings on West 166th Street in Manhattan. In the November 1997 election, ACORN supported Democrat Ruth Messinger against Giuliani.

But this past fall, in a move that ACORN staffers describe as “agonizing,” the group endorsed Wooten’s reelection. The decision tore members apart largely because of Wooten’s support for the mayor. Ultimately, the group decided it was best to support her, in hopes of getting more housing. “Wooten would call me personally” around the time of the election, says Bertha Lewis, head organizer for ACORN’s Brooklyn office. “But from election day on, we have not been able to get a phone call returned or a letter returned.” Wooten refused to discuss why she would not respond to calls or letters.

Wooten and ACORN have not always been antagonistic. In 1995, the councilwoman wrote a letter supporting the very project that she is now jeopardizing. All of which raises a question: Is Wooten’s unwillingness to write the letter, coupled with the administration’s apparent support of the project, orchestrated so that ACORN is punished without tainting the mayor?

Speliotis says that Wooten’s refusal to help or even declare herself neutral about the renovation plan means the project might never happen. The buildings will remain idle and dilapidated, as they have for many years now.

“HPD is ready to go with this, but they’re also desperate for money for middle-income housing,” and could give up on the East New York proposal. “It’s pathetic that these six buildings can’t get rehabbed and occupied because a councilperson would rather just let them sit vacant.”

Yanik Strike Out

An East Village rent strike is over and a notorious landlord is out of power now that a building at 649 East Ninth Street has been sold. For years, David Yanik ran the building, which was owned by his common-law wife, Antida Portelli. Falling plaster, rodent infestations, and sporadic heat seemed minor problems compared to the drug trade and violence that plagued the building. Police regularly busted the building’s storefronts as narcotic fronts, and Yanik himself was charged last April with lacerating the face of his 16-year-old daughter in a domestic squabble. The case is pending.

On January 14, a new owner bought the building for just under $2 million. Tenants say repairs have begun, and vacant apartments are being renovated. One drawback: The new owners are letting Portelli keep two apartments for two years. So while Yanik no longer acts as the landlord, he’s now a fellow tenant.