By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
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If there's one thing Steve Gluck knows, it's tenements. He's spent most of the last six years as a salesman with Sion Misrahi Real Estate, the Rivington Street firm that has turned dowdy tenements into high-rent quarters. And for 20 years before that, gluck worked in the neighborhood's women's apparel industry. Although Gluck lives in Brooklyn, he's no stranger to the Lower East Side. So it makes perfect sense that Gluck will be lending his talents to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
What's surprising is whyGluck will be devoting time to the museum: He'll be serving his sentence on a criminal conviction of harassment. In 1999, Gluck made nearly a dozen hang-up phone calls to a community board member who opposed his renting space to bars and night clubs. On January 12, Criminal Court judge Neil E. Ross sentenced Gluck to 74 hours of community service work, including 50 at a local organization.
"He'll be working in our visitor's center at 90 Orchard Street, but the details are not set yet," says Renée Epps, vice president for properties and administration of the museum. "We don't know each other very well, and we do not know what he will bring to the table." The museum, founded in 1988, has preserved and documented the life of a single tenement and aims to teach about urban history and city life. "If being at the museum furthers his sense of tolerance and the historical nature of the neighborhood, that's good," says Epps. "We are an educational institution, and if he learns something, that's our mission."
In June, Ross asked Assistant District Attorney Lauren Grollman-Anders to come up with a list of community groups where Gluck's sentence could "not only be seen as punishment, but also could . . . make good to the community on the nature of the crime for which Mr. Gluck was convicted." Gluck did not return Voicecalls, but his attorney, Michael Stalonas, said that Gluck has no particular penchant for museum work. Instead, the museum was the only one of three groups suggested by Grollman-Anders that returned his call. "I had to tell them it wasn't a violent crime, that I'm not sending over a drug dealer or assailant," said Stalonas, who says he will appeal Gluck's conviction.
"It's astounding that someone who has the temerity, resources, and guts to bring a lawsuit for calling her up in the middle of the night, and then wins this criminal conviction, in turn gets sued for malicious prosecution. Someone doesn't deserve to be terrorized for fighting for her neighborhood."
Ross also sentenced Gluck to 24 hours of arguably more punitive community service, probably with the Parks Department or the transit authority. Ross also extended an order of protection on behalf of Marcia Lemmon, the community board member who was Gluck's target, for three years.
"It's all very satisfying," says Lemmon. "It's a textbook case that justice gets done and done right."
Gluck was convicted on March 28 after making calls from his cell phone to Lemmon's home from June 9 through August 3, 1999, including one placed at 1:03 a.m. Most were hang-ups. Gluck admitted making the calls but told Ross he did not mean to harass Lemmon, only to "reach out" to discuss her opposition to his efforts to rent real estate to clubs.
Lemmon is a member of Community Board 3's liquor license committee and a self-described "critic of the burgeoning influx of bars, clubs, bistros, and other late night commercial establishments," which she says are ruining the neighborhood. Lemmon has a reputation as being trenchant, sometimes videotaping renovation work that she suspects might be illegal (the buildings department has on occasion concurred and stopped the work). She also makes a point of questioning entrepreneurs about plans to bring nighttime businesses to the community. "She causes headaches for people who are trying to put $50,000 to $250,000 into an old-world building," Gluck testified in June.
In July, Lemmon sued Gluck and the Misrahi brokerage in civil court for $5 million, alleging harassment and emotional harm. In August, Gluck filed a counterclaim, charging Lemmon with malicious prosecution and seeking damages of $500,000.
"It's astounding that someone who has the temerity, resources, and guts to bring a lawsuit for calling her up in the middle of the night, and then wins this criminal conviction, in turn gets sued for malicious prosecution," says Lemmon's lawyer, Daniel Alterman. "Someone doesn't deserve to be terrorized for fighting for her neighborhood."
As for Gluck's stint at the tenement museum, Alterman sees "a delicious irony. It says, You've been abusing the law and harassing this poor woman and trying to control this neighborhood. Now you have to go back and study its roots, and maybe learn something from it."