The (Very) Earthly Pursuits of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III

Meet the reverend of real estate

The (Very) Earthly Pursuits of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III

The Harlem Renaissance Ballroom and Casino, an art deco behemoth on the corner of 138th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, opened in 1923. With terrazzo tile, gleaming casement windows, and neon signs advertising "FUN" and "DANCING," it was the city's showcase for African-American celebrations and cultural events for decades, and the home court for the barnstorming Harlem Rens all-black pro basketball team in the 1920s and '30s.

The ballroom was closed in 1979. It was boarded up and lay fallow until the Abyssinian Development Corporation took over the property in 1991. Founded by the politically powerful Reverend Calvin O. Butts III, the longtime lead pastor of the 205-year-old Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street, ADC is Abyssinian's nonprofit community-redevelopment arm. In the early days after ADC took over the Renaissance's mortgage, Butts talked about restoring the ballroom and bringing back a gleaming entertainment venue to the very heart of Harlem.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church was founded in 1808 by parishioners who left the segregated First Baptist Church. Just after the turn of the 20th century, Adam Clayton Powell Sr. became pastor. His son, also named Adam Clayton Powell, took over in 1937, and went on to serve 26 years in Congress. He was succeeded in the church by Samuel Proctor, and then, in 1989, by Calvin Butts.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church, spiritual home of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III. Butts is the founder of Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), the church’s nonprofit development arm.
Wikipedia
The Abyssinian Baptist Church, spiritual home of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III. Butts is the founder of Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), the church’s nonprofit development arm.
Reverend Butts, leader of the church, also runs the ADC.
Wikipedia
Reverend Butts, leader of the church, also runs the ADC.
NYPD Chief of Department Phillip Banks was called by Butts after Shenna Wright was arrested for assaulting her husband. The arrest was voided that same night.
NYC.gov
NYPD Chief of Department Phillip Banks was called by Butts after Shenna Wright was arrested for assaulting her husband. The arrest was voided that same night.
Former ADC CEO Sheena Wright left for a similar role at the United Way of New York City, a post some say Butts helped obtain for her.
unitedwaynyc.org
Former ADC CEO Sheena Wright left for a similar role at the United Way of New York City, a post some say Butts helped obtain for her.
The West 138th Street lot that ADC bought from a local janitor, Buster Green, for $2,500. Two adjacent lots sold for $800,000 and $980,000. Green is suing ADC for fraud.
Village Voice Media
The West 138th Street lot that ADC bought from a local janitor, Buster Green, for $2,500. Two adjacent lots sold for $800,000 and $980,000. Green is suing ADC for fraud.
Abyssinian Baptist as it looked in 1907, on Waverly Place in Manhattan.
Library of Congress
Abyssinian Baptist as it looked in 1907, on Waverly Place in Manhattan.

The son of a cook and a welfare worker who grew up in Queens, Butts, now 64, is nothing if not ambitious. In addition to his role at Abyssinian, he is the president of SUNY–Old Westbury and the former chair or vice chair of the boards of United Way of New York City, the Harlem YMCA, and the now-defunct North General Hospital; sits on two state development boards; and holds honorary degrees from eight colleges.

Butts founded ADC the year he arrived at the church as a way to address the large number of abandoned and decaying properties in a neighborhood crippled by drugs, crime, and a lack of investment. The organization's mission statement says it "addresses complex, interconnected challenges facing the Harlem community, increases availability of quality housing to people of diverse incomes, enhances the delivery of social services, fosters economic revitalization, and enhances educational opportunities for youth."

It also buys, develops, and sells significant pieces of real estate. During a span of time that included a dramatic rise in local property values, ADC became one of Harlem's signature institutions, a nonprofit that says it has invested some $800 million in residential and commercial real estate; building or renovating hundreds of units of housing; partnering in retail shops and a supermarket along 125th Street; and founding a charter high school, a middle school, an elementary school, and a Head Start program. From a single paid employee in 1989, the staff had swelled by 2011 to 140 people.

With his history of promoting the rebirth of Harlem, it was surprising, then, when Butts himself went down to the city Landmarks Commission in 2004 and successfully opposed a plan to preserve the historic Renaissance Ballroom building. And then in 2006, the ADC came out with a plan to demolish the structure altogether and erect a 19-story apartment building with 116 condos and 90 parking spaces. Twenty percent of the apartments were to be set aside for low to moderate income residents, as part of what's known as the 80/20 model, which is extremely favorable to developers because of the associated government subsidies and tax breaks. The "Renny," meanwhile, would be remembered with a plaque.

"The thing that's shocking to me is that here is a uniquely African-American landmark—an important element of Harlem history—and it's been diminished in an irreparable way," says Michael Henry Adams, a Harlem historian and author. "The architectural heritage of Harlem has been neglected for years and years. Something close to 40 percent of Greenwich Village has landmark protection, but just 3 percent of Harlem. Most tragic of all is that this is being participated in by African-American leaders who don't consider the value of commemorating what was archived here by protecting buildings that embodied our accomplishments."

Today, however, that tower exists only on paper. Beyond a partial demolition, the parcel still sits dormant, and insiders say that a lot of money was frittered away in the planning. "It's another one of those stories that ended up in a fishtail," a current ADC employee says.

Indeed, like its derailed ballroom project, ADC is looking shaky, despite regular and generous infusions from government and private entities. Tax returns suggest the organization is nearly out of cash. Other high profile projects have also been shelved. And on April 1, former ADC president and CEO Sheena Wright, who now serves as president and CEO of United Way NYC, was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors to discuss ADC's sale of a brownstone to a wealthy member of the church.

From the church pulpit, like the Powells before him, the always crisply attired Butts has talked his way into a role as one of Harlem's key political power brokers—a position that is not without its benefits. In 1998, Butts endorsed the Republican incumbent governor, George Pataki. The following year, Pataki appointed him president of SUNY–Old Westbury, where he continues to earn $200,000 a year. And while he was a harsh critic of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, once calling him a "racist," Butts not only endorsed the Republican Michael Bloomberg, but has said hardly a word against his policies. Bloomberg's City Hall has lavished $68.6 million in government money on the organization, according to the city comptroller's office. The mayor himself has made repeated charitable donations to ADC, and once sat down at a fundraiser and wrote out a $1 million check on the spot. After Senator Hillary Clinton secured $1.5 million in earmarks for ADC, Butts endorsed her for president.

Corporate largesse has also flowed toward Butts's nonprofit, from the likes of Citibank, Boston Properties, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and other companies looking to stay relevant uptown. In 2011, ADC took in $3.8 million in private gifts. In 2012, the organization reported donations of more than $200,000 from Deutsche Bank, more than $150,000 from Bank of America, more than $100,00 from TD Bank, more than $60,000 from Wachovia, and more than $50,000 from Bloomberg LLC. Similarly, M&T Mortgage Bank has also been a generous contributor, donating more than $20,000 just in 2012. And on March 22, M&T approved a $1 million loan to Butts on his regal $1.2 million brownstone on St. Nicholas Avenue. Butts had already renovated the home at least once, via two prior loans for substantially less than $1 million.

ADC's tax returns also show that from 2007 to 2011, program revenue—money ADC takes in from services it provides—came close to tripling: from $6.9 million to $19.3 million, including rental income, which doubled.

Meanwhile, an ADC subsidiary called Harlem Village Homes II was also doing well. Harlem Village buys dilapidated or foreclosed properties for a pittance, renovates them, and resells them at a large profit. In 2007, just to take one example, Harlem Village bought eight brownstones from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for a grand total of $10, property records show—and then renovated the buildings and resold them in 2011 and 2012 for an average of $1 million apiece—or $8.5 million in all.

It was a similar Harlem Village sale in 2006—to Todd Hunter, the son of former NBA players' union head Billy Hunter, who is under investigation for fraud—that led federal investigators to order Wright to speak with them earlier this month. Those homes are intended for buyers making less than $130,000 per year; that year, Todd Hunter was vice president at investment firm Prim Capital.

"That's not community development, that's real estate development," says one longtime observer of ADC. "At some point you have to wonder if it violates their non-profit status, or at least the spirit of it."

All of which would suggest that business—even the not-for-profit kind—was booming uptown. "Based on my experience, if you had invested $100 million in Harlem development," says Ronald Gold, a real estate appraiser and member of the Greater Harlem Real Estate Board, over the course of a decade "it would be worth around $600 million in the open market."

And yet, if you click on the "Financial Highlights" link on ADC's website, the page is blank. The most recent press release posted to the site is more than a year old.

The Voice reviewed six years' of ADC's tax returns and found that, in 2008, ADC posted a surplus of nearly $11 million, but one year later, a deficit of $4.2 million. The trend continued in 2010, with a $5.3 million deficit, and in 2011—the most recent year available, the same year program money nearly tripled and ADC was flipping all those brownstones—with a $1.1 million deficit.

The tax returns also show that from 2006 to 2011, ADC's total debt more than doubled, to $117 million from $58 million. Total assets did not increase at nearly the same rate, so it wasn't as though ADC was taking on debt strategically, as a way of, say, increasing its real estate portfolio. And its cash reserves were simultaneously draining fast: At the beginning of 2007, the agency had $6.5 million in cash on hand; by the end of 2011, there was just $860,000. A stock fund worth $7 million in 2007 had plummeted to just $1.2 million by the end of 2011. ADC is said to owe its attorney, Charles Simpson, as much as $2 million in legal fees. ("No comment," Simpson replied when asked about the debt.)

Meanwhile, projects like the ballroom and others have stalled. A highly touted plan to build a new facility for the elementary school, announced in 2007, has yet to get off the drawing board, and one ADC employee says "millions" were wasted on an unusable architectural design. "There were meetings where the plans were shown," the employee says, "and none of it ever materialized."

It is a strange predicament: A prominent institution, dialed in to government and private largesse, buttressed by a revenue-generating real estate portfolio, is nevertheless in such financial trouble that on multiple occasions, according to three current and former employees, it actually had to borrow money, or divert money earmarked for other purposes such as Head Start, to meet payroll. Why were there layoffs at ADC in February? Why have a number of board members resigned in discontent?

The answers to these questions are apparently so sensitive that few current or former board members—a roster of distinguished New Yorkers—would return phone calls, let alone talk on the record. Calls and e-mails to Reverend Butts were not returned.

ADC president Ralph Dickerson, who was appointed only a couple of months ago, told staff in one of his first meetings, according to an employee who was present, that "he is not trying to do anything miraculous, he just wants to keep the doors open because they are in a fiscal crisis." In a telephone interview with the Voice, Dickerson said that he did not recall making that statement, but acknowledged financial strains and the recent layoffs, calling them part of an "austerity program." Asked what the state of ADC was when he arrived, Dickerson demurred. "This organization deserves to continue, and I can't afford to look back. I've got to go forward with it."

Some of the losses at ADC may well have been due to the financial meltdown. Its $7 million stock fund, for example, wasn't the only one to take a dive in those years. But ADC is primarily a real estate developer and Harlem real estate has been solid since 2009—and up substantially over the past year or two. Why the crisis?

There are signs that even during the city's lean years, ADC officials lived it up, spending more than $500,000 on out-of-town trips. While one former ADC executive says the trips were cost-effective and for legitimate reasons such as "team-building," "leadership retreats," or conferences, some insiders contend that many of them amounted to junkets or vacations for favored senior staff—to the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Martha's Vineyard. "The vacations would be very elaborate with maids and butlers and cars," says one former ADC employee. "They would go under the guise of business conferences, and then just swim and go diving or parasail." The Martha's Vineyard trip, an attendee says, was about partying: "There was no conference."

Present during those high-flying trips with the butlers and the parasailing was ADC's CEO and president, Sheena Wright. Wright left ADC in November after a decade to run United Way NYC. An attractive 43-year-old woman who wears her hair in signature braids, Wright was raised in the South Bronx by her mother while her father was in prison. At age 16, she went to college at Columbia University, and then attended law school and worked for a prominent law firm before going to work for ADC.

During her tenure, a number of high-profile Harlem projects were developed, including 800 units of housing and the Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, an offshoot of the Thurgood Marshall Academy High School, which was also founded by ADC. Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Wright to his New York City Regional Economic Development Council.

In the announcement for her new post, Wright said of her ADC tenure, "In the 10 years that I was there, we were focused on continuing to build on the mission of making sure that the community evolved." In an e-mail she sent to ADC staffers, she thanked God for her decade of service and a city "where all can reach their full potential."

But current and former employees of ADC paint a less flattering picture of their former CEO, and they lay the blame for ADC's woes with Butts for ignoring internal concerns over Wright's stewardship. They say Wright hired unqualified cronies for senior jobs, including a high school classmate and her former hairdresser, whom she employed as a special assistant. They say she was behind the expensive junkets. And during her reign, a number of board members resigned, as did at least one chief financial officer, with a number of other top officials leaving on less-than-positive terms. One departing vice president is said by a former employee to have excoriated management on his way out the door. The former human resources manager was pushed out, the same ex-ADC worker says, for inquiring into a possible labor law violation.

"What killed me is that they would sit at staff meetings talking about integrity and transparency, but you never knew what exactly what was going on," an employee says.

Asked about the changes, Wright sent the Voice a written statement listing her accomplishments and claiming that companies invested with ADC because "they knew their dollars were being used wisely, efficiently, and effectively."

Wright's departure was presented as a promotion to a larger and higher-profile nonprofit. Robert Kueppers, chairman of the board of United Way NYC, said that the agency went through a rigorous process to select her and was impressed with her accomplishments at ADC.

But ADC insiders say it was Butts, a former vice chairman of the United Way NYC board, who found Wright the new role after ADC board members grew weary of the problems she created. And it was Butts who found her replacement in Ralph Dickerson, an Abyssinian Church parishioner who had previously run United Way NYC.

It was a curious form of what might be called executive laundering. Back in 2006, after Dickerson had retired from United Way NYC, an internal review disclosed that he had improperly used $227,000 of the charity's assets for personal expenses, such as hotel stays, dry-cleaning, and paying parking tickets. As a member of the United Way NYC board, Butts must have known about the review. So even as he moved Wright over to United Way NYC, quietly papering over any issues of alleged impropriety, he was bringing in a replacement with a very public—if largely forgotten—history of the very same behavior. A 2006 Times article noted pointedly that Dickerson was a protégé of William Aramony, who led United Way of America for many years until he was sent to prison in 1995 for fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy. (In 2004, another Aramony protégé, Oral Suer, pleaded guilty to theft of $500,000.) The Times story also noted that Dickerson had outfitted his United Way NYC office à la Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski, with a "large Persian rug, a floor-to-ceiling fountain of cavorting dolphins, and a Tiffany-style lamp." Dickerson insisted to the Voice that his time at United Way NYC is "not at all related to this situation" at ADC, and that those earlier issues had been "resolved."

In fact, after the evidence emerged, United Way demanded that Dickerson repay $325,000 to do just that. Dickerson stalled for more than a year, and then finally agreed to a settlement in 2007, court records show. But in 2008, he balked at repaying the remaining sum of $84,000, and United Way sued him for defaulting on the agreement.

To defend himself, Dickerson hired a lawyer, Charles Simpson, who also works for Butts at ADC. Despite his written agreement to pay back all the money, Dickerson resisted through 2008 and into 2009. Finally, a judge had to order him to fork over the $84,000, the records show. Dickerson and the lawyer would work together again in 2012, when Dickerson's ex-wife, Gloria, filed a claim that "Abyssinian Development Corp. was the 'private lender' indicated in court papers agreeable to loan Dickerson up to $500,000" and that Butts "committed fraud with her former husband in an attempt to steal her residence, and [Butts] offered to purchase the home without her knowledge." She added that "This happened after I sought personal and spiritual counsel over a period of time from Rev. Butts. He used my personal and confidential information for his personal, unjust interest." Simpson, representing both Butts and Dickerson, rebutted the allegations in a court filing, and told the Voice the claim that ADC loaned money to Dickerson is simply not true. The case is still open.

Securing Wright's new job at United Way NYC wasn't Butts's last favor for his protégée. On the evening of Jan. 5 the reverend made calls to a top police official on her behalf after she was arrested for assaulting her husband, Gregg Walker.

It was actually Walker, a senior vice president with Sony, who had first called Harlem's 30th Precinct that night, to report his wife for the alleged assault. Wright filed a cross-complaint against Walker and, while she was detained, her mother made calls to a range of influential New Yorkers, including Butts, who called then-New York Police Department Chief of Community Affairs Phillip Banks. Banks, who was recently promoted to chief of department, the No. 3 official in the whole NYPD, is the brother of David Banks, the founder of the Eagle Academy Foundation, the creator of Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, and a close friend of Wright's.

After those calls, the charge against Wright was dropped the same night. The charge against Walker, however, was allowed to stand. Walker has pleaded not guilty and the case is still pending. Neither Walker nor his attorney would comment for this article, but people close to Walker believe pressure was brought to get the charge against Wright dropped.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, a police spokesman, denied that Banks intervened in the arrest. "He was, however, contacted by the Reverend Calvin Butts and other clergy asking—not that the woman's arrest be voided—but that her arrest processing be expedited," Browne said. "Chief Banks was subsequently informed that the woman's arrest had been voided."

But the next morning, Jan. 6, Wright was arrested again. She had allegedly drilled through the lock on Walker's 68-year-old mother's door and attacked her, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Walker's mother alleges that Wright slapped her in the face, scratched her arm, and pushed her. Misdemeanor counts of harassment and attempted assault against Wright are still pending. She has pleaded not guilty.

A police source questioned why 30th Precinct cops took Wright's word in the dispute with Walker: "Normally, the one who makes the initial report has greater credibility." As for Banks's role, the source says that even if he had merely inquired about the arrest and done nothing else, the precinct would have taken that as a signal. "Everyone reads between the lines," the source says. "It's a form of influence-peddling."

Back in 1973, a Bronx man named Buster Green bought the small parcel of vacant land from the city at 119 West 138th Street. He paid about $750. The property lay nearly untouched as the decades passed—a narrow slice of real estate just down and across the street from Abyssinian Church, on a block named for Odell Clark, an early Abyssinian deacon. Then, says Green, in a lawsuit filed last year, ADC officials swindled him out of that land, which by that point was worth close to $1 million.

Now 80 and a janitor at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque on 116th Street and volunteer handyman elsewhere, Green alleges that in December, 2007, ADC filed a deed with the New York City Department of Finance that claimed ownership of his property. In a second filing that December, ADC reported that it had secured a $17 million loan from Wachovia Bank. It was only then, Green says, that ADC contacted him to ask him to turn over his interest in the property.

And so it was that on Jan. 25, 2008, at a mosque named in honor of Malcolm X's contributions to African-American civil rights, Green sat across a table from two ADC representatives. They wanted his land as part of a plan to build an apartment building there. The land isn't worth all that much, they told him. Maybe $2,500. Green didn't have a lawyer in attendance. He mulled it over for a moment, and then signed away the parcel on the spot. The document that Green signed—known as a quitclaim deed—had been prepared that July, six months earlier, court records show.

Two identical parcels directly adjacent to his, at 121 and 123 West 138th Street, were sold for a lot more money—$800,000 and $980,000, respectively. And ADC allegedly knew that, too. Both adjoining lots had been sold four months before he signed away his ownership, Green's complaint says.

Green's lawyer, Simcha Schonfeld, noted in his complaint against ADC and Wachovia that not only had ADC outmaneuvered Green, it borrowed $17 million from the bank without actually being the owner of the property. "ADC engaged in procedurally unconscionable practices by misrepresenting the value of the property, failing to disclose the value of the property," Schonfeld wrote. "The disparity is overwhelming and unconscionable. The conduct was fraudulent, willful, malicious, and oppressive beyond the bounds of common decency."

In a response, ADC's Simpson—who must be getting used to defending against fraud charges—denied the allegations. "There is a case pending, and I would need permission from my client to comment further," Simpson said. Apparently that permission is not forthcoming.

grayman@villagevoice.com

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60 comments
fafa090
fafa090

NOT A PEEP...

Mr. Rayman,

In its conception and execution, and in the response to it,
your excellent and credible investigative piece on
this Abyss of self-serving exploitation, insider politics and kleptocracy posing as a respectable, even righteous black institution
exposes, once again, how Harlem and most black communities in America are "third world" countries.

All the elements are here:

A history of socioeconomic exclusion and terror
producing a traumatized underclass that
the few who luckily escape it (in body and bounty, not mind)
exploit and step on
in pathetic mimicry and glorification of their oppressor.

And a captured (black) press (a shadow of its historical self).

Take, for instance, the Amsterdam News that,
in the first place, hasn't the commitment and integrity to conduct such an investigation and publish its findings
and, in the second place, hasn't commented a PEEP on your heavy lifting --
a reaction that will no doubt be repeated across
the"black" radio shows, talk shows, so-called leaders and community members
that don't outright shuffle to Butts' defense
like the captured minds here
who not only DO NOT question his support of Pataki/Bloomberg/Coca-Cola/Citibank, etc.
but who (like the dubious 'jamesacewinter') also don't/can't challenge you on the facts
and don't stop to wonder why
Butts and his cronies haven't yet sued you for defamation
if you're so wrong...

Please, keep up the good work.

Many thanks.

phvertex
phvertex

It’s unfortunate that so many people will read the Village Voice article and miss the real story: character assassination. It also seems to this writer that the article was constructed to make Sheen Wright look like she stole something along with Pastor Butts and then had one of the few Black leaders in NYPD Phil Banks fix a criminal act. It’s also unfortunate that many people who read the article will not ask themselves “why all of a sudden did Dr. Butts decide to start committing these alleged criminal acts”, why not 10, 20 years ago, whynow? Now, because real estate is booming and it’s all about the real estate and ultimately the money. Borrowing money on your home, even if only to put in your savings account is good business as is supporting the right candidate for office hoping their winning will be able to coincide with whatever you’re doing. I guess we will all have to wait to see who’s behind Dr. Butts’ character assassination and who Sheena Wright obviously pissed off, while clearly knowing Chief Phil Banks may be PC someday if given an honest opportunity to show his skills. In the meantime the Village Voice with its reduced advertising and smaller market of customers must do what they have to do to survive as a company.I will say this: everyone I know has bought the Village Voice within the last 2 weeks or so.

fafa090
fafa090

@phvertex Err...the Voice is free...(And it's not the only thing this post gets wrong...)

joysolo
joysolo

So what else is news.  This article is not too transparent.  What is apparent is this article is meant to harm Reverend Butts reputation in some way.  However, ANYONE who has done business particularly mortgage in real estate business with BOA , Citi Bank and Duetsch Banks , all of whom were instrumental in the  /Wall Street melt down of 2008,  has been harmed or at least garner irreparable collateral damage. ADC is no exception.   Wake up people.  An investment in Harlem real estate may be the ONLY way people of color will be able to retain housing  within the village of Harlem!

mobile50
mobile50 like.author.displayName 1 Like

the posts of jamesacewinter are tiring.  The responses of the editor are above and beyond what is warranted.  Of course, ministers often have almost  cult like followings of people who are so blinded that they will never be convinced of any wrongdoings.   These same people defended and reelected Charles Rangel - another black "leader".  

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter like.author.displayName 1 Like

@mobile50 Never been to the church, and am not black.


There is a huge difference between actually reporting wrongdoing, and bad journalism.

You shouldn't give ANYONE the benefit of the doubt. Including reporters. Always use your head when reading.

mobile50
mobile50

@jamesacewinter @mobile50 totally understand that but there is something very curious about how passionate you are about this article and Butts.  It just seem to suggest something's up. 

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@mobile50 PS - You should see me on the Huffington Post if you think this is passionate! This is just fun for me, lol.

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@mobile50 I am a political junkie. I think everyone would agree that political reporting is usually biased. So I'm used to reading things very closely to separate the facts from the spin. 

It's a hobby that makes articles like this (that are long on accusations, and short on proof) very easy to read through. I might have gone a little overboard though.

Everyone has a hobby, lol. :)

renecalvo
renecalvo

I have been a resident and small business owner in Harlem for over a decade and during that time watched ADC pry real estate from the hands of residents while bilking the government for millions. They are hustlers, scam artist and cheats. If that is the so-called "black leadership" of Harlem then we will be well rid of them. Hurrah for The Village Voice. Speak truth to power!

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

jp260477
jp260477

@spalmer105 While more families are finding themselves on the street this Rev. is making money. Is that what you call leadership? 

jp260477
jp260477

@spalmer105 This so called leadership is a sham. They take money and sell their communites out. They are tools of the Plutocrats. Wake up and smell the coffie. 

spalmer105
spalmer105 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

Last year, when the previous Editor in Chief, Tony Ortega, stepped down to write a book about Scientology, and to work on his blog "The Underground Bunker," I thought things would improve at this paper.


Apparently not.

"I plan to reinforce the paper's position as a showcase for progressive — but balanced, disciplined — journalism.." - Will Bourne


There is no discipline, or balance, in this article. Lots of innuendo. Lots of implied actions. Very little proof. Worse, are the unprofessional side tangents about the attractiveness of the article's subjects, and unnecessary forays into their personal lives. I have a hard time believing this would have gotten through the editors at any serious paper.

Glad I get this for free!



wbourne
wbourne

@jamesacewinter Sir, Your analysis is incoherent and ignorant of basic journalistic standards. We are not operating a court of law here. We are raising issues based on months of research and analysis. We are relaying information coming from INSIDE ADC. We are hearing a great deal of support in the wake of publication of this piece from INSIDE ADC and the wider community in Harlem. You have had your say and I have patiently listened to you impugn our motives and the quality of our work. Thanks. WB

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@wbourne Looks like this article was actually written to disparage a candidate for Charlie Rangel's congressional seat, and to intimidate them into not running.


There have been lots of people talking about this article in Harlem,  and lots of corroboration for my initial assumption that most of this is an outright lie at worst, and completely one sided at best.


Apparently this article didn't even get the pastor's age right. Someone else told me that the man in this article didn't even own the property you claim was 'sold' for $2,500. Property information is publicly available, there is no excuse to get that wrong. You should be ashamed.


Now we just have to wait and see if this paper has the integrity to issue some corrections.

PS - Looks like I was right about your motives as well.

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

As a long time Village Voice reader, I must say that I am disappointed in the quality of this article. I don't really care about the content.

There is an awful lot of innuendo, but no actual evidence of any of the things that are implied. This is just bad journalism.

Let's start with the captions under the pictures. Under Phillip Banks photograph, you say that he was called by someone, and that an arrest was voided on the same night. The implication is some form of nepotism, yet there is nothing in your article that provides any evidence for this. In fact, the article says there was a domestic violence incident with cross-claims filed by a man and a woman. The woman was let go, and the man (I can only assume as you did not list it) was held. Since I have no idea what transpired (because you don't tell us), and since I have lived long enough to know that men are at a disadvantage in every society except Saudi Arabia when it comes to domestic violence claims, it does not at all seem unique, or suspicious, that she was let go. In fact, I would be surprised if anything else happened. As a reader, I have no reason to believe that interference from a high ranking police officer was necessary for this to happen. Especially, since you don't provide any proof of him interfering.


The second questionable photo is the one with the "attractive 43 year old woman" (why you said this, I do not know - what that had to do with rest of the article, i do not know) Sheena Wright. The caption says she quietly left ADC for the United Way of NYC. After becoming upset with the rest of your article, I typed this woman's name into Google. According to Google, she was on Good Day New York, Fox 5 News, CUNY TV, and ABC News days after starting at United Way. I clicked on these video links and they are all of her talking about starting at United Way, and how she had to jump right into Hurricane Sandy relief work in her first week. I do not know in what world going on Good Day New York to announce your new position is quietly leaving, but somehow that's what's insinuated under her photo.

The third picture, of the vacant lot, is just as strange. You say that the seller sold a property for $2,500 and that now the seller is suing for fraud. I assume the article says the seller was a janitor as a way of telling us he was uneducated and easily taken advantage of. This only makes sense for two seconds until you reread the selling price...$2,500. There are zero people in this world, no matter how uneducated, that think any property in NYC is worth $2,500. There is obviously more to this story, yet there is no information in the body of the article. We are just left, once again, to make assumptions.


This is getting long as it is, so I'll continue this below.

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

Ok...now that we've got the pictures out of the way, lets talk about the rest of the article.

After a six paragraph introduction to this man Butts and his non-profit, you start going into your story on paragraph 7. This first paragraph is bad enough.


The paragraph says that Butts lobbied to prevent a building from being 'landmarked' so that he could tear it down to build 116 units of housing, 20% of which would be "affordable housing". Said another way, he created 24 units of affordable housing by tearing down an old decrepit ballroom. This doesn't seem that bad. If those 24 properties are purchased by families, then that's at least 75 people (or maybe 100) that are provided with affordable housing. I don't know about you, but I would much rather have a house, than dance.

The 7th to 9th paragraphs are what made me realize that this article was just bad journalism. This was especially annoying because I am a white guy that lives in Harlem. I am constantly hearing about the politics of 'urban renewal' and how evil 80/20 buildings are because the evil white man moves in. I know for a fact that many condos in Harlem are sitting empty on the market. I bought a condo six years ago, and the glut on the market is ruining my property value. I don't really care about the people in this article, but it's not exactly their fault that the financial crisis happened. Which, by the way, absolutely did affect the Harlem real estate market, regardless of what you may have heard.

I have something I need to get back to, but I'll be back later to finish my critique of this article.

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harlemhealthglobal
harlemhealthglobal

@wbourne @jamesacewinter Will I am an OA and LONG time reader of the VOICE! I just might know your mama and daddy! (Old Ass). I hope I DIE with the VOICE in my hands. Let us BALANCE the stories. Ms K Harlem Griot.

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@wbourne@jamesacewinterAnother interesting article, this one from the Washington Post.


Headline: YouTube account that belongs to a person named Tamerlan Tsarnaev had bookmarked videos on terrorism.

"As the world scours the Web for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston marathon who was killed, looking for any clue of what may have driven him to such a horrific act, someone has unearthed a YouTube account that appears under that name. The videos suggest a man who was deeply pious, but held a stern view of his own faith.

The Washington Post has not confirmed that the account belongs to the suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev."

Look at that second paragraph! Look at that headline! Excellent journalism. Noticing anything different about this article? :)

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@wbourne In fact, in this article you offer as proof of impropriety a source saying that one can "read between the lines" to see influence peddling.


Reading between the lines is just a way of admitting that neither the author, or the source, know what happened, and are just making assumptions.

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@wbourne@jamesacewinterJust saw something interesting on CNN.


"Boston (CNN) -- The suspects involved in the Boston Marathon bombing were brothers from the Russian Caucasus who moved to Kazakhstan before coming to the United States several years ago, a source briefed on the investigation told CNN.

One of the brothers, identified by several sources as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, had studied engineering at Bunker Hill Community College but had taken off a year to train as a boxer, the source said.

The source said that a posting on a social media site under his name included the comments: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."

He was wounded overnight and taken to a hospital, where he died.

Police: 1 suspect dead, 1 on the run

Several sources identified his brother, who remains on the lam, as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19.

The source added that it should not be assumed that the brothers were radicalized because of their Chechen origins."

The last sentence in that article is true journalism. While anyone is free to make the assumption that their Chechen background is the reason they were radicalized, the author stopped very short of making that implication himself. In fact, he even went out of his way to make sure that his readers knew that there was no proof (currently) that their Chechen origins had anything to do with the attack.

Polar opposite of this article.

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@wbourne You know. The original thing that made me upset, was that the author was peddling the same "white people are invading Harlem" tripe that I hear all the time in the first few paragraphs.

After reading the rest, I am not  just disappointed in the Village Voice, I am ashamed. 

I have no idea how to contact you, but I wish you the best.

wbourne
wbourne

@jamesacewinter @wbourne Feel free to get in touch, as I said at the top of this. You are entitled to your opinion, but frankly it doesn't seem based on a very close reading of the article. To take just this specific example, Banks's conduct was called a "form of influence peddling" by one source inside the NYPD. That's not us talking. Best, WB

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

@wbourne @jamesacewinter I actually have something that *I* would like to discuss.


Why is Phillip Banks picture in this article?

This article (using my own common sense) will have a negative impact on this police officer's career. The immediate question you should ask yourself (as someone responsible for publishing this article) is do I have any PROOF that his conduct warrants the negative impact on his career that I have caused?


This is a very simple question. And one that ties directly into the concept of ethics in journalism.

After reading your article, I can come to some conclusions. First, according to the lieutenant commander, his behavior was not at all reason enough be included in this article. LET ALONE having his picture featured on the front page. Second, according to the writer of this article THERE. IS. NO. PROOF. that he did anything wrong!

Absolutely none. The only way you can read this article and come to the conclusion the author wants you to come to is if you take his clever and sneaky wording as gospel, and never ask yourself where the proof is for those allegations.

Once again. This article (I am sure) will have a real and appreciable impact on this young man's life. This article however, provides NO proof that this effect is warranted. NOT. A. SINGLE. THING. in the article says that the man deserves the punishment the Village Voice is meting out on him.

You need to prove he did something wrong, before you can blame him for it. You need to be sure that your proof is unassailable before you put it on the front page.


Can you explain this to me? Give me a single ethical reason that would cause you to harm this random person's life in the name of this story. Especially when you have absolutely no proof that he did anything at all. I would honestly love to hear it.

At the end of the day, this article is SO bad, that you should immediately issue a retraction and apology. Anything less would include you as an editor in the perpetration of a gross violation of journalistic integrity. I don't know if the Village Voice is like Newsweek and is going all out with the theatrics to try to save it's print edition, but this is just ridiculous.

Let's have a conversation about that first, before anything else. Since you asked.

wbourne
wbourne

@jamesacewinter I was simply responding to your statement that you would feel better if you knew someone was reading your response. I said I was reading, and offered to discuss the story with you should you so desire. We stand by the story and appreciate your interest. WB

wbourne
wbourne

@jamesacewinter So you're concerned enough to spend your time accusing the Voice of being unethical, but not concerned enough to actually discuss it. That seems almost...unethical. 

Anyway, we had numerous people quoted in the article answering, or at least offering possible answers, to both questions. Thanks for your interest. WB

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

I accidentally deleted all my comments, when I was just trying to edit them. So I have re-posted them above.


I am not concerned enough to have a conversation about it, but I stand by my statement that it is unethical.

When reading CNN, for example, they take great pains to only report on what they can prove. Even when the implications are obvious, they are very careful to write things like "this information has not been independently verified", and the very common, " ________ was not able to be reached for this story." 

There is a huge difference between saying someone could not be reached, and implying that someone is refusing to answer two specific questions because they didn't get back to you. Even worse, is implying that their failure to respond means that with a wink and a nod, you know the answer to those two questions. 

Two very different things. One acceptable, and one not. I have only seen that in rags like the Daily Post, or on FoxNews.com. That is also why I don't read them.

wbourne
wbourne like.author.displayName 1 Like

@jamesacewinter I am certainly reading your response, sir, although I disagree (strongly) that there is anything "unethical" about our asking a couple of rhetorical questions. Those were questions we tried--repeatedly--to ask Rev. Butts, to no avail. And they rise directly from Rayman's extensive reporting. If you would like to discuss your issues with the piece, please feel free to contact me.

Will Bourne

Editor in Chief, The Village Voice

hotinharlem
hotinharlem

i agree with mstillman. there are COUNTLESS stories of ADC negligence all over harlem but they seem to have a powerful pr machine in place despite the fact that they are clearly uninterested in anything other than profit. butts is an opportunist who uses his congregation to advance his development agenda. take some time to research how poorly they maintain their buildings, how many buildings they've developed that are either unfinished or being woefully mismanaged and how many lawsuits have been filed against them by longtime residents...

mstillman
mstillman like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thanks for this article. I live on 123rd st and the block association was arguing with CB10 for ages about ADC and their plans to build a huge out of scale extension to the Ennis Francis Houses that we said they couldn't pay for or manage. But ADC and its political clout ran around the standard ULURP process and started building this huge monstrosity in the middle of our block that is now not being worked on because ADC ran out of funds. 

We are stuck with an unfinished building and ADC keeps hurting Harlem like a bumbling giant.

 
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