New York University CORE (pt. 2)

In late July, Kaplowitz was taken to court. He was convicted but slapped on the wrist with a $150 fine. In response, NYU CORE in August collected a truckload of garbage (including a bunch of dead rats) from the Eldridge street buildings and unloaded it at nearby City Hall. This technique was created by Brooklyn CORE a year earlier. 100 demonstrators chanting ‘slumlords must go!’ accompanied the action, two of which were arrested after scuffling with the police. Also arrested were chapter chairman Joel Freedman, Stephen M. Gordon, John K. Schaefer, George Cannon, Jeffrey Kalb, Antonio Vasquez, Eleuterio Gonzales and Alexander Sandy Boyer. They received 5-10 day jail sentences.

By mid-fall, NYU CORE had convinced tenants to start a rent strike by withholding their rent. It was collected by CORE and put into an escrow account. Pete Myers served as rent strike chairman. Activities were coordinated from an office opened up across the street at 198 Eldridge street.

But There's a Downside...
On November 19, John Pablo Rivera, a local from Eldridge Street who had joined NYU CORE, claimed he was attacked at the office by two men believed to be working for Hyman Kaplowitz. Rivera’s arms, which he said were raised to protect his face, were slashed with glass from the office windows the men broke.

Tenants were told about the attack which resulted in them forming a tenants organization. Among the members of NYU CORE such as Steve Gordon, the commitment to being non-violent became a big issue. Member Elliot Wurtzel had received an abusive phone call earlier and a bomb threat had also been made that night against NYU’s Loeb Student Center where NYU CORE had its home office. Within a few days, after radio, TV and newspapers had reported the attack, Rivera was committed to the violent ward at Bellevue Hospital. After talking to neighbors and discovering he had a history of mental illness, members of NYU CORE came to believe there was no attack, that Pablo lied and cut himself.

Despite this, NYU CORE succeeded in getting the city to take Kaplowitz to court again. He was convicted of over 200 offenses, but only fined $375 with the possibility of jail time if didn’t comply in the time given.

CORE came to regard the whole process of asking the city to prosecute the landlord as too slow and ineffective. The process gave the city an out by allowing it to say the landlords were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It was considered a last resort tactic compared to two others: having the city hold rents until the landlord fixed the buildings and demanding the city expand the limited receivership program.

By the end of 1963, John Kaufman had become chairman and Sandy Boyer was chair of the housing committee. Kaplowitz had lost two of the Eldridge street buildings to forclosure. Amazingly, he offered the others to CORE, buildings today that would be worth well over ten million dollars.

Within two months, however, CORE reported two NYU CORE members were arrested and charged with robbery ‘while attempting to deliver a show cause order to a slum lord named Gluck’. The charges were dropped after CORE lawyers interceded.

The Significance of What They Did
NYU CORE’s campaign came to be seen by CORE as crucial in terms of its growing emphasis on community organizing. One chapter after another followed suit and created their own rent strike campaigns, from Brooklyn to Harlem all the way to the Bronx. CORE noted that NYU CORE was largely inexperienced in the subject area and immature. It still, however, created techniques and a strategy that in many ways succeeded, so to speak, against Kaplowitz. What hurt NYU CORE’s efforts was its lack of numbers since it was a small group. CORE also discovered the city’s housing laws were ‘without teeth’ and there was nothing its members could do about it.

It should also be noted that even though the campaign was made up of a mixed group, it was led by mostly Jewish students fighting Jewish landlords. This is significant because Jews, as opposed to Black Power militants, were pointing to the racism of Jewish landlords as a real and legitimate concern. It also speaks specifically to the contributions of Jews to the civil rights movement.

Civil Rights historians Meier and Rudwick saw NYU CORE’s work as significant because it ‘prefigured’ the growing militancy in CORE, its involvement with rent strikes in 1963-64 and the rent strike movement itself. The historian Joel Schwartz argued that the claim to be the first to use direct action, such as picketing and rent strikes to confront landlords, ‘could have been made as much by the beleaguered New York University CORE on the Lower East Side as by Jesse Gray’, perhaps the most well known rent strike leader in the city.

The Last Metro
Alan Rausnitz followed John Kaufman as chapter chairman. Rausnitz had previously been arrested in a Trenton, New Jersey demonstration done with Columbia CORE against that city’s urban renewal program. By February, 1965, the chapter was being co-chaired by Gerald ‘Jerry” Bornstein and Judd Seskin. Other officers included Lois Broumberg, Vincent Martin Nell and Margaret Lansburgh.

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