Kiko Was Here

A would-be Basquiat goes to prison in a misguided graffiti crackdown

His City Council website biography lists his achievements as introducing legislation "to keep illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of domestic violence offenders, to abolish the statute of limitations on child abuse offenders and rapists, and to double the penalties for graffiti."

Gun runners, wife beaters, pedophiles, rapists, and . . . graffiti van dals?

"Graffiti anywhere is a crime against New York City residents everywhere," Vallone explains. "Whether done with spray paint, marker, or etching acid, our neighborhoods wear these tags like scars, not only making them unsightly, but also opening them to the infection of more dangerous crime."

photo: Jorge Colombo


Tune in: Interview with reporter Sean Gardiner

Vallone has been waging his one-man war since at least February 2005, when he proposed an ultimately unsuccessful bill to ban the sale of spray paint in the city. It was then that Vallone first hurled what would become his go-to pejorative. "We can no longer let these spray-painting punks use our city as their unmarked canvas," he said.

Four months later, he invoked the P-word again, publicly chiding Time magazine for paying $20,000 to "Cope2," who had several prior graffiti arrests, to paint a Soho billboard. " Time magazine should have spent its money rewarding legitimate artists," Vallone argued, "not some punk who has been defacing our city."

The next month, he proposed a boycott against Atari for producing the tagging-themed video game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. "We don't want them [Atari] supporting criminals and punks and if they do, we don't support them," Vallone vowed.

Another anti-graffiti attempt a month later backfired when Vallone led the charge to pull the permit for a Manhattan block party sponsored by Getting Up creator Marc Ecko, a graffiti writer turned fashion designer turned video-game maker.

Vallone likened the block party's plan to tag replica subway cars to "having a demonstration of a thug pickpocketing a wallet or stealing a purse." Ecko sued and won the right to stage the block party.

"I'd like to see him [Vallone] this aggressive on gun trafficking or our failing school system," Ecko told the Voice.

After this embarrassing defeat, Vallone's anti-graffiti crusade needed a victory. Enter Kiko.

As a shiny black SUV with license plate number 114CIVOP pulled out of an underground garage in Astoria, a white Plymouth Voyager minivan, license plate number CIVOP1, pulled in behind it, followed by a third car.

Three days before Thanksgiving, the 114th Civilian Observation patrol was on the move. The 114th Civ-Op's mission was to clean up a graffiti-marked wall of a Twin Donuts/Blimpie's franchise.

The all-volunteer, unpaid crew goes out twice a week, usually for two hours. On this night, rolling aluminum paint over a gate and Richmond Bisque gloss on the wall, they slapped on two new coats in about 35 minutes. When they finished, a neighborhood woman complimented, "It looks like a new wall," before adding, "Now, is there any way you can get someone to go up and take down that big turquoise 'Kiko' across from the White Castles?"

The 114th Civ-Op knows all about Kiko.

"His tag was everywhere," says Pollock, a stout, jovial man who swears he doesn't own a pair of paints that aren't paint-splattered. Though Kiko hasn't tagged in well over a year, Pollock says, "We haven't even cleaned up half his stuff yet because it's up high, on roofs, on walls. We're trying to get one of those trucks, a bucket truck, so we can get at some of it."

At one point, Pollock says, they counted more than 600 "Kiko" tags in their neighborhood.

That volume of indiscriminate spraying was bound to lead to trouble, and it did.

Siandre put "Kiko" on the garage of the Powhatan Regular Democratic Club, which has close ties to the Vallone family and other Queens pols. He spraypainted a wall of the St. Demetrios Greek American School two months after Vallone was the keynote speaker at their graduation. He hit the home of an NYPD sergeant.

But there was one "Kiko" that really led to Kiko's demise.

Years ago a community group, at a cost of $300,000, installed three imported Greek granite columns in Athens Square Park in Astoria. It was Community Board 1 District Manger George Delis's pet project.

One night, Siandre says, he blacked out after drinking too much. The next day he returned to the park and saw "Kiko" sprayed on the columns, violating the first rule of tagging—don't shit where you eat. "I was really drunk or else I would have never blown up my spot," Siandre recalled. "After that, I knew I was fucked."

Pollock agreed. "Before that point we really didn't pay attention to his tag per se," he said. "But once he hit those columns, we were on him. They [community members] put a lot of pressure on City Councilman Peter Vallone and he put a lot of pressure on the precinct and that's basically how it came about."

When Delis spotted the tags on his beloved columns, he went ballistic.

"I was outraged," Delis recalls. "I couldn't believe what they did. I went to these skateboarders who hang out in the park, and I said, 'I don't know if one of you is Kiko, but Kiko's going to jail.' It became very personal."

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