By: David A. Smith
In order to have a plot, you have to have a conflict; something bad has to happen.
As we saw in Part 1 and Part 2, The Lower East Side of Manhattan was a crucible of the changes sweeping American cities during the 1960s.
A protest (over a police shooting of 15-year-old James Powell): Harlem, 1964
With the slow collapse of the industrial-manufacturing city model, and nothing rising in its place, America experienced frightening and incomprehensible urban riots starting with the Harlem Riot of 1964:
On Thursday, July 16, 1964, James Powell was shot and killed by Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan. The second bullet of three, considered lethal, killed the 15-year-old African American in front of his friends and about a dozen other witnesses. The incident immediately rallied about 300 students from a nearby school who were informed by the principal.
This incident set off six consecutive nights of rioting that affected the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In total, 4,000 New Yorkers participated in the riots which led to attacks on the New York City Police Department, vandalism, and looting in stores.
At the end of the conflict, reports counted one dead rioter, 118 injured, and 465 arrested. It is said that the Harlem Race Riot of 1964 is the precipitating event for riots in July and August in cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rochester, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Jersey City, New Jersey; Paterson, New Jersey; and Elizabeth, New Jersey
That became a riot: Harlem, 1964
The morning after
The 1960s riots led, among other things, to the creation of HUD’s new affordable housing production programs.
Sources used in this post
New York Times (March 23, 2014): the story damning Mr. Rapfogel and Mr. Silver
New York Times (September 25, 2013; green font): Mr. Rapfogel’s indictment
New York Times (September 17, 2013; blue font): Announcement of development
New York Times Letter to the Editor, November 29, 1989; red font); Local opposition
To its residents, Cooperative City must have seemed a Jewish enclave of reason in an America apparently going mad, as the world had gone mad twice already in the century.
Two nice Jewish mothers for a nice Jewish girl from Delancey
Cooperative Village was surrounded by more than 14,000 units of public housing to the north, east and south.
Co-operative Village (B, C, and D) surrounded:
The Lower Weast Side, looking east at the Williamsburg Bridge:
Vladeck Houses in the foreground
Baruch Houses, otherwise known as ‘the projects’
Those buildings were full of less prosperous African-Americans and more recent Hispanic arrivals.
In the Sixties, ‘affordable housing’ meant public housing, public housing meant blacks and Puerto Ricans, and that meant ghettos and crime, and the Lower East Side Jews wanted no part of that.
Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel steadfastly opposed any mention of affordable housing, which would have altered the demographics of the neighborhood and put Mr. Silver’s political base in question.
They might also have opposed losing the area’s Jewish identity, or the neighborhood’s middle-class character. With elected officials, the voters’ wishes, good public policy, and their own power base all become ineluctably fused.
You got a problem with that?
“They’re the reason that this site has been empty for 50 years,” said Edward Delgado, known as Tito, who was a teenager when the city cleared the blocks and his family was evicted. He has been advocating for affordable homes at the site in the decades since.
Are they? Are these the two self-interested individual who singlehandedly blocked development?
Do I look anti-development? Mr. Rapfogel in 2009
The major tussle was, and for the next four decades would remain, how much affordable housing? And underneath those words, the tussle was about what kind of people, and which people, would live in the neighborhood. From the beginning, the new development’s residential composition was a code for political power coupled with neighborhood character and identity.
From the perspective of Grand Street’s Jewish leaders, any development with affordable housing that replaced the cleared tenements would tilt the balance of the entire neighborhood.
Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel fought that possibility, chiefly through a community group called United Jewish Council of the East Side. Mr. Rapfogel’s father, Hyman, was a co-founder and Judy Rapfogel was on its board of directors in the 1970s. Mr. Silver was the group’s lawyer and headed one of its housing corporations.
They were friends from the neighborhood, and in their view their neighborhood was threatened, and with it their society, and they banded together.
In the early 1970s, the city built a 360-unit housing project on a corner of the site. But that project wound up the subject of a court dispute when Jews were given many of the apartments. And the fate of rest of the site was still deadlocked.
By December 1977, Mr. Silver was still serving as United Jewish Council’s lawyer. He wrote to members of the departing administration of Mayor Abraham D. Beame about a plan he and the group had submitted years earlier for a “mini shopping center” on the Spura site. In drawings, it resembled a massive airplane hangar. It included no housing, but the group said it would create needed jobs.
In the late Seventies, with New York City having barely escaped municipal bankruptcy and the information/ financial revolution not yet taking hold in the revitalization of urban cores, a jobs-creating retail complex might well have been an excellent idea. (For one thing, it may have anticipated the current policy fancy of eliminating ‘food deserts’.)
Retail anchors a neighborhood too, doesn’t it?
Ed Koch, campaigning in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1978
“I would very much appreciate meeting with you or members of your staff in order to set up a program of incentive to get this plan off the ground,” Mr. Silver wrote. “It has been quite some time since the proposal was submitted and, to date, there has been no action.”
Mr. Koch took office weeks later. He hired Mr. Rapfogel, then 23 [Almost exactly my age – Ed.], as a spokesman at a city agency. Mr. Silver was pleased. He was sure Mr. Rapfogel would be “a capable spokesman in such a sensitive area of your administration,” he wrote to Mr. Koch.
They were buddies from the neighborhood, though Mr. Silver and Mr. Koch are both many years older than Mr. Rapfogel.
Soon after, United Jewish Council began pushing its friends in the administration to support the “international mall” plan, and its handpicked developer, Howard Blitman, arguing that the neighborhood was “clearly saturated” with public housing.
Al Smith Houses, Lower East Side
While there can be little doubt the neighborhood did have plenty of public housing (Baruch Houses contains 2,193 apartments and 5,400 residents, while Vladeck has 1,523 and is home to 2,800 people), affordable housing is quite a different animal – private non-governmental ownership (subject to government regulation), generally better property management, and higher levels of average resident incomes. Even in the 1970s that distinction was visible and relevant, though perhaps not to Messrs. Silver, Rapfogel, and others.
Eventually, the Koch administration selected the Chinatown Planning Council to build a 156-unit building for seniors on a lot near the main site. United Jewish Council, working with the Bialystoker Synagogue, was awarded 124 senior units in a different project nearby.
Through the late Seventies and into the early Eighties, ‘affordable housing’ continued to be a political flashpoint.
Three years later, in April 1980, another proposal that included low-income housing was considered by the city’s Board of Estimate. It was opposed by Mr. Silver and United Jewish Council, according to records and former city officials.
Jay Goldin was opposed
Mr. LoCicero, the political adviser to Mr. Koch, said Mr. Silver made his opposition clear and won the support of Harrison (Jay) Goldin, then the city comptroller, who had a crucial vote on the board and coveted the Grand Street Jewish vote for future elections.
Though the Times is laboring mightily to make Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel into puppeteers with powers to command others, at issue under all the politics is an ongoing feud over what type of development should occur, and if residential is to be part of that development, what type of residential and for whom (both ethnicity and income level).
“Shelly said: ‘Are you crazy? We’ve got enough low income housing,’ ” Mr. LoCicero recalled. “He aligned himself with Jay Goldin at the Board of Estimate, and they beat us.”
Former Koch political advisors Peter Aschkenasy (left) and John LoCicero (right)
[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]