[A little news of the weird.]

NYC graffiti artists target councilman

Associated Press Writer

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 2:06 p.m. ET


NEW YORK (AP) -- Pick a fight with graffiti artists and you can expect to 
see your name plastered around town.

New York's graffiti artists and their supporters have tagged City 
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. as their archenemy. And they are making their 
disgust plain by putting his name everywhere _ in graffiti, on Internet 
message boards and in court papers challenging his crackdown.

Vallone has made graffiti his signature issue since he was first elected in 
2001. He has pushed through laws that raise fines for graffiti offenders _ 
he calls them "punks" and "miscreants" _ and penalize landlords who do not 
clean the paint from their walls.

The former prosecutor also won passage of a law that bars the possession or 
purchase of spray paint, broad-tipped indelible markers and etching acid by 
anyone under 21.

"Art, I like. But this is not art _ this is vandalism," Vallone said one 
recent evening as he drove through his district in Queens, where 
spray-painted angular scribbles and multicolored block letters wrap around 
buildings and underpasses.

Several young artists who say they use the restricted art supplies for 
legal artwork filed a federal lawsuit over the new measure, saying it 
violates their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

It is a debate with a long history in New York. Those who have fought to 
erase graffiti over the years, including Mayors Rudolph Giuliani, David 
Dinkins and Ed Koch, say it is a symbol of blight and urban chaos that 
invites worse crimes and is often a tool of gang communication. During the 
1980s, the transit agency introduced paint-resistant subway cars, robbing 
graffiti writers of their preferred canvas.

Graffiti artists _ or graffiti vandals, as some call them _ say their work 
is a legitimate form of art intertwined with city history and urban 
American culture. They decry the attempt to associate graffiti with crime 
and gangs.

Graffiti is "the official visual dialect of a generation," and demonizing 
it "takes away their legitimacy," said fashion designer Mark Ecko, who has 
led the legal challenges to Vallone's laws.

In January, on a giant billboard near the Manhattan Bridge, graffiti 
artists spray-painted in enormous bubble letters a four-letter insult 
followed by the councilman's name.

Also this winter, a graffiti cleanup group's trailer _ which read 
"Sponsored by Peter Vallone Jr." on the side _ was stolen, robbed of its 
paint buckets and rollers, and abandoned miles away in Staten Island.

Graffiti writers on Internet message boards angrily vent that "this guy 
seems as if he's full of himself." Some listed Vallone's district office 
address and noted that "the door is pretty clean."

Last year, the well-known graffiti artist Cope2 called Vallone's council 
offices and spewed obscenities and threats on his voice mail. Cope2, whose 
real name is Fernando Carlo, was picked up by police but was let go when 
Vallone declined to press charges.

Vallone said he does not mind being the target of attacks.

"My first reaction is that if I'm making criminals upset, I must be doing 
something right," said the 45-year-old father of two.

Graffiti has irritated Vallone since he was a child _ the kind of 
rule-abiding kid who would glare at people for littering. Besides writing 
anti-graffiti laws, he rails against companies that use graffiti in their 
marketing, which he says romanticizes illegal behavior.

He wants to tighten the laws even further, and recently introduced a bill 
that would require a license to buy etching acid. The material, sold in art 
supply stores, is commonly used in artwork to etch glass, but vandals apply 
it to subway windows.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg created an anti-graffiti task force last year. A 
special police unit uses infrared cameras to catch vandals, and uses a 
database of photos and "tags," or graffiti artists' distinctive signatures.

The 38-year-old Carlo warned recently that Vallone is waging a losing battle.

"They're not going to wipe graffiti out. It's impossible. It's not going to 
happen, because it's a worldwide thing and it's never going to stop," he said.

George Antunes                    Voice (713) 743-3923
Associate Professor               Fax   (713) 743-3927
Political Science                    Internet: antunes at uh dot edu
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3011         

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