By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Chalk one up for CHARAS/El Bohio. The 22-year-old Latino community center has been fighting for its life since 1998, when the Giuliani administration auctioned its headquartersa five-story former elementary school on East 9th Street off Tompkins Square Park.
But this month, a jury unanimously ruled that the new owner, Gregg Singer, cannot evict CHARAS because he did not prove that he intends to house organizations that serve the local community, as required by the deed. The verdict was a substantial victory for the neighborhood and activist groups that rely on CHARAS and have become increasingly marginalized in the gentrified East Village. "The jury, unlike Singer and Mayor Giuliani, recognized that you can't just throw out a long-standing community center on a whim, or in order to make a profit," says CHARAS attorney Catharine Grad.
But Singer's lawyers, who maintain the jury was swayed by "emotional sentiment" rather than fact, say this battle is far from over. The jury, they note, only decided the fate of CHARAS, not El Bohio, the group formed to develop the building, which held the original lease with the city. Technically, CHARAS is a tenant of El Bohio. If Judge Saralee Evans rules against El Bohio, she could overturn the jury's verdict in favor of CHARASthough attorneys for CHARAS insist such a reversal is "extremely unlikely."
Singer is also seeking to overturn a prior court ruling that granted CHARAS a jury trial in the first place. But CHARAS members (who held a victory celebration over the weekend) hope that by holding their ground, they can convince the developer to rent the space to them at a more affordable rate than he has been offering other prospective tenants. "Even if Singer has to lose money on CHARAS, he can still make money on the building," says Alan Levine of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. "It's going to be a cash cow."