Marcia Lemmon lives on the Lower East Side. Steve Gluck works there. The two, to put it nicely, don’t see eye to eye. Central to their rift is the future of the neighborhood that brings them together. And they have taken a decidedly old-time Lower East Side approach to expressing their mutual discontent—an approach that last week earned Gluck a a conviction on two counts of aggravated harassment in Manhattan criminal court.
Gluck, a salesman with Sion Misrahi Realty, was convicted of harassing Lemmon via the telephone—an Omnipoint cell phone, to be precise—annoying her with late-night hang-ups and weekend rings. In court, Gluck admitted he made the calls but denied that he meant to harass Lemmon. On the stand in Judge Neil E. Ross’s courtroom, Gluck testified that Lemmon has some pretty annoying habits of her own.
“If I was bringing a client around, she’d want to know who they are and what are they opening up,” testified Gluck, whose employer has been a key broker behind the explosion of bars, clubs, bistros, and salons that Lemmon says have invaded her neighborhood, particularly on Ludlow, Rivington, Stanton, East Houston, and Orchard streets. Complained Gluck, “A lot of things happening on the Lower East Side are the result of my office, and she didn’t like one of them.”
Gluck cited one of Lemmon’s locally familiar strategies: walking the neighborhood with a video camera, aiming it at construction in new bars or restaurants where she suspects work is being done without required permits. When Lemmon’s suspicions are right, work must stop until permits are granted, which can take months. “She causes headaches for people who are trying to put $50,000 to $250,000 into an old-world building,” testified Gluck. “She’s caused some clients to walk away and rent in other neighborhoods.”
Which suits Lemmon just fine. As chair of the Ludlow Block Association and a member of the Community Board 3 committee that deals with liquor licenses, Lemmon has steadily battled what she calls “a nighttime-driven economy based on the sale of alcohol, loud music, and people who don’t live in the neighborhood.”
Lemmon, who moved to Ludlow Street nine years ago, says her concern is not just the noise and public urination (also videotaped) that come with the street-as-party scene. “This kind of development means that people who have lived here a long time, Dominicans, Chinese immigrants, people with kids, can’t afford it anymore,” says Lemmon. “And it kills the commercial rents, too. The bodegas get driven out, and there’s no more diversity.”
Seeing Misrahi’s firm as a vehicle for that loss, Lemmon has struck out against it. Last year, she cybersquatted the Web domain name Misrahi.com. In May 1999, she complained to a state agency about a $5000 fee the Misrahi firm was charging for an apartment. On the stand, Gluck said the high fee was deserved because the apartment—rent-stabilized and renting for less than $600—was “very special.” Last week, the state declared that there was nothing improper about the fee.
The criminal case against Gluck stems from 11 phone calls Lemmon received at home from June 9 through August 11, 1999. The calls, traced to Gluck’s cell phone, were made on the weekend or in the wee hours, including one placed at 1:03 a.m. Most were hang-ups. Gluck says he generally doesn’t leave messages, and once hung up because he got “nervous” when someone answered Lemmon’s phone. He said he placed the calls because he was trying to “reach out” and arrange a meeting between Lemmon and Misrahi to “bring peace,” but admitted that calls made at 1 a.m. could be construed as something less than an olive branch.
Gluck said that he meant no harm, but Detective Kenneth Silvia, who arrested Gluck on August 16, testified that Gluck “admitted to me that on a few occasions he called, but only to annoy” Lemmon, adding that Gluck acknowledged that it was “rather childish and stupid and that he was sorry for it.” Gluck was convicted on two counts of aggravated harassment and acquitted of two lesser counts. He says he plans to appeal.
Lemmon’s activism has given her a reputation as fierce. “I won’t say anything against her on the record because she terrifies me,” says one bar owner. “She has the power to really screw up some young people just starting out. But she’s absolutely right about what’s happening to this neighborhood. If I lived on that block, I would be happy to have her advocating for me.”
Gluck, who lives in Brooklyn but who has worked on the Lower East Side for more than 20 years (five with Misrahi, the rest in women’s apparel), is dumbfounded that Lemmon isn’t “thrilled” with what he calls the “betterment of the neighborhood.”
Lemmon dismisses Gluck’s enthusiasm: “That’s just another craven statement by someone who is making their money in the neighborhood and taking it across the bridge. The fact is, there’s really very little benefit in this for the people who are living here. There’s very little sharing.”