By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
For the past eight years, James Davis, a cop-cum-minister, has hosted a once-a-year 'Stop the Violence' march in Crown Heights. This year, the Kings County Democratic Committee is engaged in an effort to block Davis's run for the Fort Greene-Crown Heights city council seat.
The charges against the cop-minister are varied and severe. Along with his impolitic statements about members of the party, Davis had the temerity to run for the assembly seat held by Clarence Norman, the head of the Kings County Democratic Party, and though he lost, Davis managed to snatch Norman's job of district leader. Such a thing was nearly unheard of, and for the county, it's payback time.
Though there are six candidates running for the 35th City Council seat, up for grabs because of term limits, only two matter to the county machine: Letitia James, 41, a former deputy state attorney general, and Davis, whose nonprofit, Love Yourself/Stop the Violence, is merely a cover for illegally moving money from his ministry to his campaign, say his critics.
"Ask Mr. Davis what he has done with all this money" for Stop the Violence, suggests Letitia James. "There's been no institution building. He's done nothing to reduce violence in the community, other than have a march that attracts 100 people" a year, says James.
Brooklyn congressman Major Owens calls Davis a "reckless" man who has tried to build "a cult of personality." "[Davis's] Stop the Violence literature that he sent out is the same as the fliers for his campaign. He's using his nonprofit tax status to promote himself as a candidate," says Owens. Adds the congressman, "He has enough name recognition that people identify with that [organization], and he has used that, I think, maybe illegally and unethically."
Asked whether it is true, as Davis claims, that Owens suggested he pull out of the Crown Heights race and run instead in Flatbush, the 20-year congressman fiercely rejects the claim. "James Davis is a liar. He is a loose cannon. I never talk to James Davis. I'm afraid of James Davis," says Owens.
"Whenever they get scared, they pull that on me," says Davis, of the accusations that he was misusing charity funds. Davis says he has a check from Letitia James for his organization, and maintains his record keeping is on the up-and-up. Stop the Violence is an eight-year-old offshoot of his federally tax-exempt ministry, Jesus Christ House of God, says Davis. His ministry has 40 followers. They meet for worship in his house, says Davis. It was "anti-Christian" of Letitia James to suggest he was abusing his tax-exempt status, says Davis. "I've been preaching the gospel for 20 years," he says.
"I took the district leadership right from Clarence Norman's front yard," adds Davis with glee.
This week, in response to steady lobbying from Norman, Owens pulled back from his favorite candidate for the 35th City Council race, Bill Saunders, and switched his support to Letitia James. Though Saunders, as an aide to State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and a district leader, has good connections to the community, says Owens, there were bigger concerns.
"Tish James has done a much better job of organizing, getting money, and building support," says Owens, who claims he is concerned that voters will be split among the most recognizable candidates: Saunders, Letitia James, and Peter Williams. That kind of split would give Davis a wedge the county is determined to see he doesn't get.
"I personally asked Letitia James to run, going back two years," says Norman, who calls James a "brilliant" lawyer and the "most qualified" of the candidates. "She's better known than Pete Williams," says Norman. Williams, a housing director at the National Urban League, ran for the 35th City Council seat in 1991, garnering 40 percent of the vote.
Williams, who helps municipalities deal with the problems of affordable housing, believes a "housing trust fund" supported with dollars from developers who receive tax breaks on their commercial projects would help expand the city's pitiful supply of affordable housing. To improve schools, Williams recommends a $5000-a-year (for five years) bonus for experienced teachers to work in the city's worst schools to improve student grades, at a cost he estimates to be $45 million.
Learning from a reporter that Owens had dropped his endorsement, Saunders did not want to comment. "I have no reaction," said the candidate, now in his seventies. "He hasn't spoken to me."
Sidique Wai, 53, another candidate and president of the United African Congress, shrugged off the county machinations this week. "The county machine has a right to back who they want to back. I'm going to concentrate on getting my message to the people," says Wai, who is also running on the Independent and Liberal Party lines.
Abraham Wasserman, a Lubavitcher who has gained the endorsement of the Crown Heights Jewish Political Action Committee, says his candidacy is the "next logical" step in his civic activism, which includes starting a block association and chairing the environmental committee of Community Board 9. Wasserman, 51, a project scheduler for Muss Development and the first Hasidic Jew to run for City Council, is noncommittal about the disappearance of his posters at the Franklin Avenue station. Could be bad weather, says Wasserman. "It's been raining."