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CB6 clashes with church members - Vitriol flies as district manager tangles with advocates of traditional feast

A recent Catholic street feast in Carroll Gardens is continuing to leave a bad taste in the mouths of locals — made even more bitter by what some have called “anti-Semitic venom.”

Organizers say Community Board 6 was playing politics when it didn’t give its blessing to an annual procession in which worshipers carry a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows through the streets to Sacred Hearts and St. Steven Church, at Summit and Hicks streets.

Louis Pepe, a member of the church, blasted CB6 district manager Craig Hammerman at the board’s Oct. 7 meeting, alleging Hammerman made sure to it that the annual feast, Sept. 11-14, would be curtailed.

Why? Because the procession’s organizer, John Heyer, will be running against Hammerman manager for Bill de Blasio’s City Council seat in a 2009.

“We were slighted by the actions of the district manager,” Pepe said. “When he brings his political plan in the board office — that’s a problem.”

Pepe said the “whole Italian-American community” was stung by the district manager.

“There’s no way they would have tried to stop it if it was Jewish function — and that’s a fact,” Pepe told the community board.

“We all know it is a fact,” he added, later clarifying that his main objection was political, not religious.

Heyer, a special assistant to the borough president, could not be reached at press time. A message on his answering machine said the 25-year-old was on his honeymoon.

Hammerman, in a four-page letter sent out to all board members after the meeting, said he was simply responding to a recent complaint that the church had in the past obtained a permit to close down Summit Street for a multi-day event.

The board last year adopted a set of guidelines prohibiting the closure of streets for more than a day.

Hammerman said that in the permit filed at the CB 6 office by Heyer’s wife, board member Maria Reca, made “no mention of, or any other application for, a street closure for the ‘feast’ portion of the multi-day event on September 11-13.”

Instead, Hammerman alleged that feast organizers had misrepresented the size and scope of the event to local police, and that he had in fact intervened on their behalf.

He said he called Deputy Inspector Michael Kemper of the 76th Precinct to see if he knew anything about the event, and the top cop said he did.

“He said he did know, and that a representative of the church (specifically John Heyer) had represented to them that the church was going to have a few booths on the street in front of the church, and some rides in their private side yard next to the church.”

But when Hammerman, Kemper a community affairs officer walked over to Summit Street on Sept 11, they found “a total of roughly 14 booths taking up both sides of the street for the entire length of the block.”

“The booths were facing into the moving traffic lane, which meant the organizers intended to close down the street. To do so, of course, would have required a street activity permit,” he continued.

“Kemper made it clear to me that what we found in the street was not what was represented to the police by John Heyer, whom the 76th Precinct believed was acting on behalf of the church. The inspector was upset, and was ready to pull the plug on the entire event. He was prepared to force all of the booths off the street entirely.”

“I suggested that since the church was an important community institution that we instead put our efforts into coming up with an acceptable alternative,” Hammerman said.

“We made them turn the booths around and face the sidewalk,” Kemper said in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, Hammerman said he has no authority to approve or disapprove a street closing, or the granting of a permit. His signature on an application is simply advisory,

Hammerman said that what followed was a surprise.

“For the next few days several people who identified themselves as members of the church called to suggest things like ‘this wouldn’t have happened if it was a synagogue’ and ‘this wouldn’t have happened if it was in Park Slope’ and ‘the cops and borough president were willing to look the other way’ and ‘you should have looked the other way too.’ Most of the calls took the form of anonymous, venomous voicemails,” he said.

Hammerman said he has yet to be in touch with the leadership of Sacred Hearts.

At press time, Father Anthony Sansone, the church’s pastor, did not return a call for comment.

Hammerman’s letter concludes, “I know that Mr. Pepe’s public remarks tonight, particularly his anti-Semitic venom, represents only his opinion. His bias-related harassment, however, is something I do intend to pursue on my own.”

Board chair Richard Bashner said he had not heard of the issue before the board’s October meeting.

He said he asked Pepe to “describe the situation more fully and direct it to me so that we can make sure any complaints are treated seriously and appropriately.”

Bashner said that his understanding of one of Pepe’s complaints is that “he is unhappy about selective enforcement of our rules against the church, which we wouldn’t do against a synagogue.”

Board member Debra Scotto agreed that politics may be at play.

“It is very difficult to have a district manager who wants to run for political office. He may have been right, but there is this constant perception that because he is running for office it affects his decision and the positions that he takes,” she said. Scotto, a local developer, is the daughter of funeral director Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto — who employs Heyer and Heyer’s father, John Sr., according to the funeral home’s Web site.

After Pepe spoke, board member Jeff Strabone asked the chair “not dignify people who spew hatred at our meetings.”

But Pepe insists is words were misinterpreted.

“I am not anti-Semitic. I love all people,” Pepe said. “Our religion does not teach hatred.”

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