West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 3 | June 20 - 26, 2007

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

The playground at Bleecker St. is one of the city’s most heavily used.

For Bleecker park parents, vigilance is nothing new

By Lucas Mann
Carl Fisher, who lives a block away, is a convicted sex offender.

“Freed W. Village Perv” blared the headline on a June 11 article in The New York Post. This “Perv,” was Carl Fisher, a 37-year-old man convicted of molesting an 11-year-old girl sleeping at his family home in 1999. On May 30, he violated his parole and was arrested, when he stepped out onto the stoop of his Bank St. brownstone in the Village, stark naked, and began masturbating in the late morning.

But the story for Bank St. residents didn’t end with Fisher’s arrest, for he is back in their midst. A judge released Fisher after he violated his parole, and he returned to his home, just one block away from the very busy Bleeker St. Playground. Fisher lives in 56 Bank St., a beautiful, three-story brownstone. The building was purchased for him by his mother, who is said to be a prominent figure in the New York theater world, as well as a breeder of champion whippets and bulldogs.

Marilyn Dorato, president of the Greenwich Village Block Associations and a Bank St. resident, spoke with a mixture of pity and worry about the situation that has landed itself at her and neighbors’ front doors.

“When I first heard about it, I just felt sorry for his [Fisher’s] mother,” Dorato said. “But at the same time, I couldn’t believe they placed him a half a block away from a children’s playground. It’s the mothers of young children who must be really nervous. This is the first time we’ve had anything like this in the neighborhood.”

Despite the new sense of unease that Fisher’s second arrest and then quick release must bring, the parents at Bleeker St. Playground seemed more than ready for any risks that might come their way. On a sunny afternoon last Friday, the park was teeming with toddlers — but each had a parent or guardian watching intently.

“When I’m here, I’m really vigilant,” said Brian Rutenberg, a father of two who lives near the playground. “It is definitely a concern,” he said of Fisher’s presence on the block. “But everyone should feel threatened anyways,” he added. As he spoke, Rutenberg kept one eye on his 2-year-old son, who ran back and forth with a toy truck. As a father, he was not going to stop bringing his son to Bleeker St. Playground, no matter who lived nearby.

“In the perfect world, those guys would be away from parks,” Rutenberg continued. “But if you choose to live in the city, that’s just not practical. I mean, what are you going to do, put them in a camp somewhere?” Rutenberg’s attitude — a mixture of wariness and “what can you do?” — was echoed by other parents at the playground. Nobody was thrilled with the idea of their children playing on a sex offender’s doorstep, but they acknowledged that, as city dwellers, they are always on the lookout for danger.

“I would say that it’s a big deal, to have him living here,” said Chelsea Gregg, who brings her 2-year-old son down from Chelsea to use the Bleeker St. facilities. “It makes me guarded, but not really much more guarded than I always am around the playground.”

Indeed, the park itself has already helped parents be cautious. A sign is hung on the front gate telling those without children that they are not welcome to enter. Also, a bulletin board next to the bathrooms shows every detail a parent would want to know about their new neighbor. A color photo of Fisher, along with his height, weight, hair color, eye color and a detailed account of when he was arrested and the terms of his parole stare out at every alert parent as they watch their children.

Herman Volk, who sometimes baby-sits his granddaughter for his daughter, who lives in Greenwich Village, and takes her to Bleecker St. playground, said it didn’t really matter to him if a sex offender lived nearby or if he knew about it.

“If you’re watching a child, the responsibility is on you not to take your eyes off them,” Volk declared. “There are dangers all around. I know in New Jersey, where I am originally from, and some other states, a convicted sex offender cannot live within the vicinity of a playground or a school. I never thought that did a hell of a lot to help kids, because a predator can travel wherever they want.”

Indeed, there are no restrictions barring Fisher from living near the playground or anywhere else in Manhattan, for that matter.

“In general, residency restrictions on sex offenders are imposed by the county or district that they live in,” said John Caher, a spokesperson for the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services. “I don’t see anything for New York County that restricts where this guy can live.”

Other counties in New York State have made such restrictions legal, like Suffolk County, which forbids sex offenders from living within a quarter mile from schools or playgrounds. Enforcing such a rule in densely populated New York City, however, with such a large number of schools, would be a greater challenge.

Fisher will have some restrictions put upon him, Caher pointed out.

“Those under parole or supervision are restricted from entering schools or daycare or anything like that,” he said.

For parents who want to take their vigilance to another level, there are a slew of Web sites now dedicated to identifying exactly where sex offenders live, their names, what they look like and their crimes. If one enters a Greenwich Village zip code into www.familywatchdog.us, for example, a map of Downtown Manhattan appears, with dots identifying where sex offenders are. Twenty-six dots appear below 14th St. in Manhattan. Surely, they, like Fisher, live in close proximity to a playground and at least two or three elementary schools.

Without doubt, it’s an unnerving situation for neighbors and parents living in the area around Bank St. But the parents using Bleeker St. Playground seem to have accepted a difficult but unavoidable reality of bringing up their children in the city: They must always be on guard when their children are out having fun.

As the children run around their favorite playground — steps away from the bulletin board alerting them of the predator of whom they should feel threatened — their parents stand alert, eyes glued to their kids, taking up what is, as Volk put it, their “responsibility.”

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