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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A hastily organized rally Monday morning by Christine Quinn supporters to counter another scheduled to occur right after it by her mayoral opponent Bill de Blasio at the former St. Vincent’s Hospital site turned chaotic after the octogenarian publisher of a monthly Village newspaper suddenly lost it and went on a brief slapping spree.After berating one of the pro-Quinn speakers, former state Senator Tom Duane, as a “fatuous idiot!” George Capsis, 85, then rapped the other speaker, state Senator Brad Hoylman, lightly on the chin and shouted at him, “And look up!”’
Then, as Capsis was being ushered away from the rally, he clamped his hands on the sides of a young male Quinn intern’s face and abruptly gave him a brusque double slap on the cheeks, followed by a push, drawing audible gasps from some in the crowd. The intern looked aghast — and promptly filed a complaint with police who were on hand at the rally. Hoylman did not file a complaint.
Detective Jimmy Alberici, a Sixth Precinct community affairs officer, said Capsis was charged with harassment, a violation. Alberici told The Villager no arrest was made, because with a violation, police must actually witness the incident.
Capsis was in an emotional state on Monday, grieving for the death of his wife, Maggie, two days earlier. He said, had St. Vincent’s still been there, he could have easily visited her in her final days, instead of having to go all the way up to the Bronx where she was being treated at Calvary Hospital after suffering a bad reaction to chemotherapy.
Adding to the scrum-like atmosphere, members of New York City Not For Sale, an anti-Quinn group, holding up their red signs bashing the City Council speaker, had surrounded Duane and Hoylman and other Quinn supporters, including schools advocate Irene Kaufman. Joined by Arthur Schwartz, a candidate for Village Democratic district leader and a de Blasio supporter, and prominent gay activist Allen Roskoff, they intentionally talked over the speakers and created a ruckus in an effort to keep the Quinn group from getting their message out.
Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who has endorsed Quinn for mayor, later blasted the anti-Quinn protesters for engaging in what she called “Tea Party tactics.”
Duane criticized actress Susan Sarandon, who was slated to appear at the De Blasio rally, for flip-flopping on the hospital issue, because she had previously criticized the St. Vincent’s E.R. as an unfit place to take her own children. But when Sarandon testified against St. Vincent’s, it was when the hospital was planning to build an oversized tower on its O’Toole site for a new hospital, which was opposed by many neighbors.
Duane, Hoylman and Glick also slammed de Blasio as a “Billy Come Lately” who was not noticeably active on the St. Vincent’s issue during crunch time when last-ditch efforts were being made to save the failing hospital.
For his part, de Blasio has previously told The Villager that Quinn and Bloomberg “should be seen as one” on the St. Vincent’s issue — as they have been on most issues, he added — and that Quinn did not sufficiently push the free-market, laissez-faire mayor to intervene to keep the historic Catholic hospital from closing.
De Blasio vowed that, if elected, he would do more to keep hospitals from closing.
“We welcome Bill de Blasio’s help,” Duane said, “but he was not around at St. Vincent’s closing. Christine Quinn, Deborah Glick and I were at all the hearings. I know what Christine did, I was there. I know how hard she fought.”
Carrying an 1199 sign, a member of the hospital workers union passing by sniped at Duane, “Haven’t you done enough damage?”
Predictably, Capsis’s surprising outburst grabbed the headlines of the daily newspapers and TV news channels, overshadowing the larger debate about the closing of St. Vincent’s and the future of healthcare on the Lower West Side.
Seizing on an emotional issue for Villagers — and hitting a vulnerable spot for Quinn — de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, on Sunday evening had e-mailed out his Monday schedule, announcing he was holding a “Hospitals Not Condos” rally near the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital. The Greenwich Lane, a new residential development with condos going for $2 million to $20 million, is rising on the former St. Vincent’s site.
(Schwartz, last week, had tipped The Villager off about the upcoming de Blasio press conference, and The Villager was the first to report it, in an online article last Friday.)
And de Blasio reportedly plans to keep pounding at the St. Vincent’s issue, and thus, pounding at Quinn. At the rally, Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, said they will return to the same location, Seventh and Greenwich Aves., on Thurs., Aug. 29, for an even bigger rally with more 1199 members, again to be led by de Blasio.
“We are going to have a massive rally here with 1199, fighting for our hospitals,” she declared, “and Bill de Blasio is going to be leading that charge.”
At the scene of the de Blasio rally on Monday, Tony Hoffmann, president of Village Independent Democrats, which has endorsed District Leader Jonathan Geballe for re-election against Schwartz, said, “This is a political rally,” quickly adding, “I’m in favor of a full-service hospital in Greenwich Village — very much in favor.”
Following Capsis’s outburst, de Blasio, at the start of his rally — which was far larger than the pro-Quinn group’s rally — urged everyone to be “peaceful” and “respectful.”
He was accompanied by three celebrity activists, Harry Belafonte, Sarandon and Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City.”
“It’s a city of 8.4 million people,” de Blasio told the crowd, “and every one of them needs access to healthcare. Mayor Bloomberg let 12 hospitals close on his watch,” he said, as the crowed booed.
Bloomberg, de Blasio said, “did not lift a finger” to try to save St. Vincent’s.
“We’re not going to accept the arguments that because it’s a challenging situation, we’re not going to get involved,” he said. “Mayors are supposed to get involved — that’s what we’re here for.”
Referring to struggling Brooklyn hospitals, he continued, “Usually, the losers when hospitals close are low-income people, working people, people of color. If we lose L.I.C.H. [Long Island Community Hospital] and Interfaith, a quarter million people have an unacceptably long trip to a hospital.
“This is the moment when we need to turn the corner,” de Blasio said.
“Do we need more luxury condos?” he asked the crowd, which answered back loudly, “No!”
“Do you want healthcare?” he asked, as the crowd roared back, “Yes!”
“Brothers and sisters, the people have spoken,” de Blasio said, before introducing Belafonte as the next speaker.
Referring to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Belafonte, 85, cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Parts of the dream are still unfulfilled, one of them being healthcare, he said in his hoarse rasp, the lingering result of a recent stroke.
“New York is about neighborhoods,” said Sarandon, who lives in the Village. “Now, in your neighborhood, you have your deli, your school, your church…your synagogue,” and she added, to cheers, “and your hospital.
“But seriously, we can bail out Wall St.,” she said, “we can’t find a way to keep a hospital?” The crowd exploded in cheers.
Sarandon added that after 9/11, St. Vincent’s, a Level 1 trauma center, was where people lined up to give blood.
Nixon recalled how St. Vincent’s took in AIDS patients during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s when no one else would.
“This is why it’s important to have a hospital in your community,” she stressed.
Referring to the “immense power of the real estate industry,” she added, “We need a mayor who will stand up to that kind of pressure.”
Taking the microphone back, de Blasio blasted Bloomberg for recently saying, “ ‘You can’t have a hospital on every corner.’ … Not a single one of us called for a hospital on every corner,” he retorted. “We just want to keep the hospitals we have.
“Bottom line, we have a chance to protect healthcare in the city,” de Blasio said, “to provide healthcare for everyone.”
Or…there’s the alternative, he said, and pointed over at the site of the Greenwich Lane condo project across the street.
“Brothers and sisters, we cannot, and we will not let this happen again,” he vowed, pointing his finger at the construction site.
During a Q&A period with reporters, The Villager asked de Blasio if he would go as far as to commit to restoring a full-service hospital on the Lower West Side. De Blasio said that, for right now, he is just committing to making sure that the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System’s 24/7 emergency room and care center opens in the former St. Vincent’s O’Toole building, across from the Rudin condos. Work is underway on the free-standing E.R., and a hard hat could be seen and heard loudly jackhammering — or possibly riveting — on a scaffold on the side of the building during the rally.
Terry Lynam, a spokesperson for North Shore-L.I.J., said the stand-alone E.R. is on schedule to open in June 2014.
Also, in the crowd was nurse Eileen Dunn, who for 18 years led the nurses union at St. Vincent’s. Before the second rally started, she told The Villager about how Mt. Sinai, in February 2010, seemed to be on the verge of taking over St. Vincent’s, before the deal suddenly, mysteriously, collapsed.
“For two weeks, they were in the hospital, with their accountants, their architects, the president” she said, recalling how Mt. Sinai personnel were checking out St. Vincent’s and its infrastructure. “I got a call to meet with the head of nurses of Mt. Sinai. Then, that Monday, I got a call — the whole deal was off. That was a serious two-week negotiation,” she said. “Very serious.”
Addressing the crowd, Estela Vasquez, 1199 executive vice president, angrily criticized the mayor, saying, “You tell us to stop smoking, and not to drink sodas. You tell us what to do with our garbage. Dammit! Now we are telling you — don’t close our hospitals!” She then led the crowd in a chant of “No Mas Condominiums! No Mas Condominiums!”
Duane, who hung around to keep an eye on the de Blasio rally, said he is committed to continuing to try to get a hospital built on the O’Toole site.
“If we can get a hospital on top of it, we’re not giving up the fight to bring back a full-service hospital to this community,” he said. Duane said it was Quinn who secured O’Toole as a “base” for a future hospital to be built on top of.
He contrasted the fight to save L.I.C.H., which is run by the State University of New York, to St. Vincent’s, which was run by the Catholic Archdiocese.
“It was a private entity,” he said of the latter. “It was not dependent on state funding. It came out of bankruptcy a few years ago, and it still had debt.”
To illustrate that he, too, used to use the hospital, Duane held up his thumb, showing a scar, and said, “I went to St. Vincent’s Hospital.”
Of de Blasio’s event, he said, “I don’t think he should have had a press conference here.”
As for why Quinn wasn’t there, he said, “I said, ‘Don’t come, because you have nothing to prove.’ ”
Jim Fouratt was part of the coalition that fought to save St. Vincent’s and then to restore a hospital to the Village. Speaking after the de Blasio rally, Fouratt said he didn’t recall de Blasio having been active on the St. Vincent’s issue when the hospital was facing closure.
Yet, Fouratt said, “Despite the fact that Bill de Blasio never showed any public action about St. Vincent’s, with his campaign stump speech here — and he talked about his private conversations with the mayor [about St. Vincent’s], which we’re not aware of — he clearly today becomes the candidate of choice for those who care about progressive values in a culturally and economically diverse city. He’s taken the lead on the hospital issue — an issue which our neighborhood certainly knows about.”
Fouratt, a longtime vehement Quinn foe, previously supported Anthony Weiner and then John Liu for mayor.
Glick, for her part, asked of Capsis’s slapping incident, “I mean, how is he not arrested? He slapped a state senator.”
Hoylman had his young daughter, Silvia, 2½, with him at the press conference. However, he had moved her out of harm’s way when he sensed the crowd was getting rowdy.
“Brad should probably get a restraining order [against Capsis] for the protection of his child,” Glick said.
Hoylman said he’s O.K., but he’s just sad that his daughter had to witness the incident.
Capsis has a prior slapping incident, in which he struck a Sixth Precinct police officer after the officer’s van cut him off while Capsis rode his bike in the Bleecker St. bike lane. The officer responded by punching Capsis in the eye and breaking his glasses. Capsis is suing the city for $1 million and is being represented by Schwartz.
Glick, who wasn’t at the rally but joined Duane and Hoylman to “slam” (as their joint press release said) de Blasio for not having been active earlier on the St. Vincent’s issue when it really mattered, also took a shot at City Council candidate Yetta Kurland for — in Glick’s words — “fanning the flames” of the hospital issue without a realistic solution in sight.
Told of that comment, a Kurland spokesperson responded, “There’s no reason to give up on a hospital. New Yorkers know that where there is a will, there is a way. With the right leadership at City Hall, on the Council and in Albany, the people in Chelsea and the West Village can get the hospital they deserve. …
[T]here’s no reason to give up on hospital services for neighborhoods on the West Side.”
Quinn issued a press release decrying the “violence” by Capsis.
“There is no place in this city — let alone a political campaign — for violence or intimidation of any kind,” she said.
However, Schwartz said the hoopla with Capsis — which was what all the media covered — took the focus off the real issue of the de Blasio press conference, namely, restoring healthcare. And he claimed that was precisely what the Quinn supporters wanted.
Glick dismissed the de Blasio rally as “totally political,” since it’s clear that he held it in Quinn’s district to try to damage her. Hospitals have closed in Queens affecting far more people, she said.
“Of course it’s political,” countered Schwartz. “It’s an election!”
ORIGINAL VESION PUBLISHED AUG. 20, 2013 George Capsis, the 85-year-old publisher of the monthly WestView newspaper, slaps state Senator Brad Hoylman on Monday at a rally in support of Christine Quinn’s actions to save St. Vincent’s Hospital and get a new hospital in the Village.
That rally was hastily staged to counter a previously scheduled rally by mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio that happened a half hour later. At that rally, de Blasio — joined by Harry Belafonte, Susan Sarandon and “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon — criticized Quinn, who is also running for mayor, and Mayor Bloomberg for not saving the historic Catholic hospital, and vowed that, if elected, he’ll do more to keep hospitals from closing.
Capsis also double-slaps a Quinn intern while making his way off.
Capsis yells, “You fatuous idiot!” at former state Senator Tom Duane, then shouts at him, “Get out of here! No one wants to hear you anymore!” and “I’m not a policeman, but I can SLAP you!”
He then slaps Hoylman’s chin and says, “And look up!” Hoylman had been looking down at the time, right after Capsis had paused in his verbal assault and started to glower at Hoylman.
Hoylman then tries to have Quinn aides escort Capsis out, at which Capis fumes, “Whaaat?” You want to escort me out of here?”
Hoylman declined to press charges.
According to Detective Jimmy Alberici of the Sixth Precinct, the Quinn intern did file a complaint at the scene and Capsis was charged with harassment, a violation. Alberici said there was no arrest because, for a violation, police must witness the incident to make an arrest.
Capsis’s wife of 55 years, Maggie, had died two days earlier. He said had she been able to stay at St. Vincent’s he could have provided more support for her at a critical moment. Instead, after suffering a bad reaction to chemotherapy, she was at Calvary Hospital all the way up in the Bronx.
Arthur Schwartz, a candidate for Democratic district leader, said the hoopla with Capsis — which is what grabbed all the newspaper headlines — took the focus off the real issue of the de Blasio press conference, namely, restoring healthcare to the Lower West Side. And he claimed that was precisely what the Quinn supporters wanted.
Meanwhile, Assemblymembger Deborah Glick, who wasn’t at the rally but joined Duane and Hoylman in “slamming” de Blasio for not having been active earlier on the St. Vincent’s issue when it really mattered, took a shot at City Council candidate Yetta Kurland for “fanning the flames” of the hospital issue without a realistic solution in sight.
“There’s no reason to give up on a hospital,” a Kurland spokesperson responded.
Capsis has a prior slapping incident, in which he slapped a Sixth Precinct police officer after the officer’s van cut him off while Capsis rode his bike in the Bleecker St. bike lane. The officer responded by punching Capsis in the eye and breaking his glasses. Capsis is suing the city for $1 million and is being represented by Schwartz.
De Blasio started off his press conference by calling on everyone to be “peaceful” and “respectful.”
In a statement, Quinn condemned Capsis’s slapping spree.
“There is no place in this city — let alone a political campaign — for violence or intimidation of any kind,” she said. “I condemn in the strongest possible terms any individual, group or campaign that would commit or condone such repugnant behavior, and would urge every campaign or individual involved in the mayor’s race to do the same.”
The Villager will have a full write-up on the rallies and related goings-on in this Thursday’s issue.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED Aug 20, 2013 | UPDATED AUG. 21, 2013 |