Volume 74, Number 38 | Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2005

Dorm poster puzzle solved; just don’t say ‘Charas’

By Lincoln Anderson

While the fight against Gregg Singer’s E. Ninth St. dormitory project goes on, the mystery of who pasted over-the-top Auschwitz-referencing posters outside the offices of the dorm’s architects, Beyer Blinder Belle, at least, appears to have been solved.

Lower East Side activist Susan Howard of the Corazon de charas group said she was able to watch a security camera videotape from a business located on E. 11th St. between Broadway and University Pl. that showed two members of the East Village Community Coalition clandestinely putting up the posters during the night of Nov. 23.

She used a camcorder to record the security videotape and showed her tape to The Villager last Friday. The grainy tape shows Michael Rosen and Roland Legiardi-Laura, two founders and leading members of E.V.C.C., putting up the posters around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 23. At one point, when a pedestrian comes into the picture, the pair momentarily run out of the screen.

Provocative poster that was pasted outside Beyer Blinder Belle architects’ E. 11th St. offices on Nov. 23.
Early on the morning of the day before Thanksgiving, The Villager received an e-mail from an address — “Charas/El Bohio” — with a copy of the poster attached and a pidgin English message alerting the paper of the act a few hours earlier and suggesting someone go to the location and take a look.

After reading about it in The Villager, Howard requested The Villager forward the e-mail to her. She was subsequently incensed that the e-mail had been sent from the “Charas/El Bohio” address, noting that the real CHARAS/El Bohio — the former E. Ninth St. cultural and community center — is under a signed gag order with developer Singer, barred from speaking about him or the building. A settlement, which included the gag order, resolved a lawsuit Singer brought against charas seeking $600,000 in damages for not vacating the property for the two and a half years after he closed on the deed. Included under the three-year gag order — which expires Jan. 3, 2006 — are Chino Garcia, director of CHARAS/El Bohio; its board of directors and the group’s tenants.

“The significance is the videotape connects them to the e-mail sent to The Villager and the Auschwitz posters put out in CHARAS/El Bohio’s name,” Howard said.

A previous e-mail from the mysterious “Charas/El Bohio” address had invited people to an organizing event at St. Mark’s Church, saying Howard and Garcia, among others, would be attending. Although Garcia did attend, Howard, who did not, said the real CHARAS/El Bohio didn’t send this e-mail or sanction this event.

Although some might speculate that sending e-mails under “Charas/El Bohio” was a way of “rallying the troops” to the cause, Howard claims Rosen and Legiardi-Laura were aware of the gag order and knowingly violated it.

“I would like a public apology to the organization CHARAS/El Bohio and I would like to know why they did it in CHARAS/El Bohio’s name,” Howard said.

In addition, she charged, members of E.V.C.C. recently tried to have her kicked out of an organizing committee that is working with Councilmember Margarita Lopez to try to landmark the old P.S. 64 to save it from being developed.

Told Howard possesses a videotape that caught them red-handed putting up the posters, Rosen — developer of E. Houston St.’s Red Square — said, “I have no reaction to that.”
The posters refer to Rudof Hoess, Auschwitz’s sadistic commandant and architect, and accuse Beyer Blinder Belle of selling their souls for “30 coins of Silver.”

Asked if he would apologize publicly to CHARAS/El Bohio, as Howard has asked, Rosen said, “I…..,” then paused several seconds, before continuing. “We really have a wonderful community and there’s a lot of us in the community who care about it and love it. And I’m one of those people. I have nothing but respect for Chino and Alfredo,” he said — referring to Alfredo Irizzary, who was active with CHARAS/El Bohio and is working on the organizing committee — “and Susan for her work with CHARAS. I certainly am not looking for any sort of fractures in the community. I’ve never done anything intentionally to hurt CHARAS or to diminish the great stature of CHARAS in the community,” Rosen added, referring to CHARAS’s “serving children and the disadvantaged — and all the others that have passed through its wonderful doors in all 20 years that it was in operation.” Rosen said he didn’t try to get Howard removed from the organizing committee and is only participating on it.

In the past, in interviews with The Villager, Rosen, in expressing his unbridled outrage over the dorm project, has used Holocaust-laden language in discussing it, though The Villager chose not to print it. Once when questioned about the posters, he confided to The Villager that his wife lost many family members in the Holocaust.

Legiardi-Laura, a poet and filmmaker who is chairperson of Nuyorican Poets Café’s board of directors, didn’t return a call for comment. Neither did Singer.

CHARAS vacated the former P.S. 64 under threat of eviction several years after Singer purchased it from the city in 1998 for $3.15 million. Singer plans to keep the building’s Ninth St. facade, demolish its 10th St. side and add a 19-story, 222-room student dormitory — though he currently lacks a university tenant. The Department of Buildings recently rejected the application for the property — which carries a deed restriction for community-facility use — stating Singer’s architects failed to “substantiate dormitory use” and that interior plans appeared residential, not resembling a dormitory.

Howard further says that while some are claiming Garcia is asking that the old school building no longer be referred to anymore as “CHARAS/El Bohio” — but only as “the former P.S. 64” — what Garcia is, in fact, requesting is that no more unauthorized e-mails or statements be issued in CHARAS/El Bohio’s name.

Confusion over this could be witnessed at a December organizing meeting when — after being warned by Lopez to refer to the building as “the former P.S. 64” — several artists consciously had to catch themselves from saying “CHARAS/El Bohio” when talking about the embattled building.

Councilmember Lopez said the Jan. 20 organizing meeting went well, with a mission statement being crafted for what members hope will one day be called the Armando Perez Community Center, in honor of the late East Village Democratic district leader and former artistic director of CHARAS/El Bohio.

Lopez hasn’t seen the provocative posters, but commented, “If somebody is putting posters comparing this building to the Holocaust, it’s simply wrong whoever it is.”

As for using the name “CHARAS/El Bohio,” Lopez said she had a conversation with Garcia about this, during which he cautioned her about it.

“The staff in my office has been told that in no way are we to use that name,” she stressed. The councilmember said, after there was some confusion about the location of last week’s meeting, Howard called her office urging that fliers being put up around the neighborhood about the meeting should include “CHARAS/El Bohio” on them.

“I have been so careful not using that name,” Lopez said, “and now she called my office to demand [this].” According to Lopez, the organization’s name cannot be used to call a meeting, only to refer to the building’s history.

Rosen and several other prominent E.V.C.C. members are backing Lopez’s borough president run, recently holding a fundraiser for her at the Christodora House, where some of them live, next to the old school building.

While admiring her sleuthing abilities, some fear Howard’s giving the hot videotape to the press may only undercut the tenuous chances to save the old P.S. 64 and stop the dorm. Right now, unity is paramount, they say. Also, they add, Rosen and E.V.C.C. have reenergized the fight and are bringing their financial resources to it — as well as to Lopez’s political campaign. According to a source, E.V.C.C. claims to have a staggering “$13 million war chest” that would be used to fix up the old building, should it be saved, as a community center.

Meanwhile, Howard, who worked for CHARAS/El Bohio for three and a half years, directing the fight against Singer’s purchase of the building and charas’s eviction, has always seemed reluctant to cede control of the reins. She sees the E.V.C.C. and Christodora faction as latecomers to the effort and asks where they were when CHARAS/El Bohio was being auctioned and evicted. Now that their views are threatened by Singer’s dorm, they’ve gotten involved, she charges. Exposing the tape is her way of discrediting Rosen, Howard’s critics say.

Clayton Patterson, a Lower East Side documentarian and gallery owner, felt Howard was undermining the effort by giving up Rosen and Legiarida-Laura — and that she had broken an activists’ cardinal rule in doing so.

“What’s shocking to me is that within the Lower East Side activist community, I’ve never seen anyone rat anyone else out like this,” Patterson said. “The city has a new graffiti vandalism program — is Susan trying to get $500 from the city for turning [Rosen] in? If someone gets information and gives it to the press and compromises the other person within the movement, it’s a very serious offense — it’s ratting. Susan’s asking for their public apology is just a form of trying to humiliate Rosen.”

“I think it doesn’t matter,” said David McWater, chairperson of Community Board 3, of Rosen and Legiardi-Laura being caught in flagrante delicto, “and I think anyone who went to such lengths [to acquire the tape] probably needs a hobby — stamp collecting is fine.”

Of Rosen, McWater said, “He’s trying to fight the fight and he’s new to it. Rather than restricting this to people who’ve always been in the fight, we should be open to new people — and show them how to do it if we need to.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than unity,” McWater stressed. “If you polled people in the community, 95 percent would say they want this building back as a community center. The masses are unified and the leadership is unified. What’s happening is two people have a personality problem. We want to remember, Gregg Singer’s the enemy in this — not one of us.”

News that Howard had provided The Villager with the tape traveled quickly through the East Village grapevine. Several people involved closely in community affairs called The Villager urging that the article not be printed. However, Howard said she told this to Garcia and that he definitely wanted the article to run, feeling it was important to point out the improper use of CHARAS/El Bohio’s name and about how this could give a misleading impression that the organization had broken its settlement with Singer.

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