As the dorm turns… Old P.S. 64 lobbyist admits using actors

From left, Jorge de Yarza, Nicole Epstein, David Schwartz and Paul Engler at the front of the Nov. 17 rally at City Hall in support of developer Gregg Singer’s plan to convert the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St. into an alleged university dormitory. De Yarza, a local restaurateur, and Engler are East Villagers who want Singer’s project to move forward. Epstein and Schwartz are with a government-relations group that orchestrated the rally, which included paid actors. Photo by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON | After a week of vociferous denials, a lobbyist hired by developer Gregg Singer is now admitting his firm paid people to turn out for a City Hall rally they orchestrated to boost support for Singer’s plan to covert the old P.S. 64 school building, on E. Ninth St. near Avenue B, into a dormitory.

In a Thanksgiving Day e-mail to The Villager, David Schwartz, a founding partner at Gotham Government Relations, admitted his firm paid eight of the 30 people who came to cheer for Singer’s dorm scheme at the Nov. 17 demonstration.

More bizarre still, Schwartz claimed he intentionally leaked the casting call for the rally to the Daily News in order to gin up media coverage of the event.

“Thank you!!!!! As I thought you would, at least you covered our side of the story,” Schwartz wrote in response to The Villager’s front-page story: “Trumped-up dorm rally used hired actors” (news article, Nov. 23).

“We have been frustrated that we could not get any press for one of the biggest frauds in NYC,” Schwartz said. “A fraud that leaves a community with an empty building and it’s being perpetrated by our elected officials,” Schwartz explained, referencing Singer’s claim that his 15-year effort to remake the former school building into a dorm has been unfairly obstructed by the Mayor’s Office, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and other local politicians, who would prefer to see the building restored as a community arts center similar to CHARAS — the nonprofit group that occupied the building when Singer bought it at auction in 1998.

The old P.S. 64, the former CHARAS / El Bohio Cultural and Community Center, has sat vacant for nearly 20 years while owned by developer Gregg Singer. Villager file photo

“In order to get press, I knew if I purposely leaked the Extra Mile casting call to the Daily News, then members of the press would come down and at least cover the substance of the rally,” Schwartz said. “At least you covered the substance and the real issue, unlike the Daily News [reporter], who thought she had a hot story. We filled in the crowd with 8 people out of the 30, from Extra Mile in order to get the press out.”

The Villager reached out to the Daily News’ City Hall bureau chief, Jillian Jorgenson, who declined to comment on how she obtained the casting e-mail sent out by Extra Mile, which offered people “$50 CASH / 2.5 hour booking” to “beef up attendance” for the dorm rally.

But the notion that Gotham G.R. could have planted the e-mail is pretty hard to believe, especially since Schwartz is now admitting that he and his co-workers at Gotham G.R. lied to both The Villager and the Daily News when they insisted they had “no knowledge whatsoever” of the casting call or Extra Mile.

“I have no idea who that is,” Schwartz told the News after the rally — even though Gotham G.R. has worked with Extra Mile in the past — i.e. when Gotham paid the group to bring in actors to cheer for Donald Trump when he announced his presidential campaign in 2016.  

In fact, the same day that Schwartz admitted hiring actors to The Villager, his client Gregg Singer was quoted in a follow-up story in the Daily News calling the allegations that he paid actors to rally for his dorm project “fake news.”

Singer went so far as to suggest that opponents of the dorm could have put out the casting call themselves in order to undermine his campaign.

“You ever heard fake news? I think the people that are against us are twisting it — it’s probably the other side that paid the money!” Singer claimed.

Considering that Singer is paying Gotham G.R. $12,000 a month to lobby for his dorm scheme, you’d think they’d have their stories straight.

Singer did not respond to requests to clarify whether he was on board with the plan to hire people to rally for his dorm.

But Schwartz seemed undeterred — despite what seems to have been an epic face-plant in the realm of PR.

“We are going to have more rally’s [sic] in the community!!!” he wrote in his e-mail to The Villager. “Also, keep on the lookout for the lawsuits we will be bringing exposing the politicians for what they are. They are the real actors. Thank you again and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!!!”

Mendez says she’s not buying Schwartz’s latest spin.

“If only eight people were paid, then bring out the others to another rally, because I don’t believe it,” she responded. “To me, it’s clear that not many people support Singer’s dorm idea, because otherwise they wouldn’t have to put out a casting call or then make up a ludicrous claim that it was leaked to get more press for it.”