"Satmar Slumlord" or "The Livelihood of the Synagogue?" Menachem Stark's Mixed Legacy
Surveillance camera footage shows Menachem "Max" Stark forced into a Dodge Caravan outside his office late Thursday night. On Friday afternoon, Stark's badly charred body was discovered in a smoking trash can at a Long Island gas station.
With that information in hand, two local papers dispatched reporters to learn more about Stark. The New York Times found a family man, a pillar of his community whose death drew more than 1,000 to a local synagogue. The New York Post found a scumbag landlord with a long list of enemies -- so many enemies that the paper ran its story with the headline "Who didn't want him dead?"
Here's an excerpt from that Times story:
The authorities did not release information about a motive for the crime, or any word about arrests. A police spokesman said Mr. Stark was known to carry large amounts of cash with him.
On Mr. Stark's street in Williamsburg, neighbors said they were shocked that a man who was known for his generosity could meet such an end. They said Mr. Stark and his wife regularly held parties at their home to raise money for charity."
And, the Post's version:
'Any number of people wanted to kill this guy,' one law-enforcement source said.
'He's a Hasidic Jew from Williamsburg, and we think he's a scammer,' another investigator said of Stark, who had defaulted on more than $30 million in real-estate loans in recent years and owed tens of thousands in penalties for building violations.
'He f-ked over a few people,' the source added.
The characterization of Stark painted by the Post's anonymous sources was swiftly condemned by local politicians.
At a press conference on Sunday, newly-elected Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilman Mark Treyger, Councilman David Greenfield, and newly-elected Public Advocate Tish James called on the newspaper to apologize.
"[W]e are disgusted, outraged and appalled that the New York Post would celebrate on their front page the murder of an innocent New Yorker," Greenfield said. James suggested the city boycott the Post by refusing to place public notices in the paper until it apologizes.
The Post did not apologize, but it did run a story about the politicians' press conference, which included this statement from the paper's spokesperson. "The Post does not say Mr. Stark deserved to die, but our reporting showed that he had many enemies, which may have led to the commission of this terrible crime," the spokesperson said, adding, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time of loss."
The two papers are not alone in their disagreement about Stark's legacy -- the debate is also raging on the Yelp page for Southside Associates LLC, Stark's property management company.
On the day that news of his kidnapping first emerged, the Yelp page for his property management company received a spate of four and five star reviews.
"I have dealt with Max Stark in business and he is a good man. A loving and kindhearted, honest human being. Very respectful and true to his word. Max is all about courtesy and professionalism. Definitely a pleasure getting to know him and I look forward to doing future business with people like these!," George F. wrote.
Jesse Z. added, "Very nice ppl in the management team. Especially Mr. Stark. He was very good to me when I had financial difficulties. Good company to do business with!"
Those reviews might have blended seamlessly if Southside Associates LLC had a mixed reputation, but the five reviews stood out because until January 3, the page had logged exclusively negative write-ups with the lowest possible score: 1 star.
"Think of every terrible stereotype and characterization you can possibly imagine when the phrase 'New York City slumlords' enters your head," Jay F. wrote in December. "Be comfortable in the fact that Southside Associates embodies every single one of these attributes."
The four and five star reviews have been flagged for removal from the website.
Send story tips to the author, Tessa Stuart
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.