BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The Village Sun visited George Capsis at his West Village townhouse Friday afternoon, and his anger and dismay at the defection of his staff and their having launched a breakaway newspaper had not abated.
Wearing a white button-down shirt, black pants and black Crocs without socks, the WestView News publisher sat in his swivel chair in his office by a window overlooking Charles Street. Outside in front, a plaque notes writer Sinclar Lewis once lived at the address.
Asked again how he felt about the community newspaper “coup,” Capsis said, “Do you know what you’re witnessing? A nightmare. I’m 95 years old. You’re witnessing a nightmare.”
On Dec. 2, local District Leader Arthur Schwartz, who was formerly a columnist for WestView, along with Kim Plosia, WestView’s former managing editor, and others published the New WestView News, which replicates the design of the original paper.
Schwartz has said he had an agreement under which he was given a 1 percent ownership stake in the paper (Capsis retained the other 99 percent ownership), allowing him to assume control of the WestView corporate entity under certain conditions relating to Capsis’s health.
However, Capsis told The Village Sun that Schwartz never fulfilled the initial conditions of that Oct. 1, 2013, agreement, which required Schwartz to buy a series of full-page ads in WestView during one of his political campaigns.
Capsis and Dusty Berke — who is Capsis’s caretaker and also was listed as managing editor for the first time on WestView’s November print issue — showed The Village Sun a subsequent letter from Schwartz to Capsis from Oct. 8, 2020, signed by Schwartz, that states that the earlier agreement “shall be voided.”
“In return, I will resume writing for, and be published in WestView,” Schwartz says in the letter.
Asked for comment about the apparently agreement-voiding letter, Schwartz did not immediately respond for this article.
Berke, who lives in the building, was in the room during the first half of the interview with Capsis on Friday. But she left after Capsis emphatically said — at one point, also loudly pounding his fist on a table — that he wanted to speak to the reporter one on one. Berke, who is an engaging talker, had had plenty to say about the newspaper situation and her role in it before exiting the room, but stressed that it was not for publication.
For some years now, it was known that Berke and Schwartz were each vying to take over the paper. On Friday, Berke said her plan would be to buy the paper and then put it in a trust and establish a legacy foundation to fund its future publication.
Capsis said he does have a copy of the original agreement with Schwartz, but it was not shown to The Village Sun during the visit. Capsis and Berke noted that there was also a long e-mail “thread” pertaining to that original agreement. Perhaps the thread, in fact, constituted the agreement — it wasn’t exactly clear.
Capsis contended that some of his former writers had been “duped” into contributing to the New WestView News.
One of them “will not pick up the phone,” he said, adding, “He’s completely in Arthur’s camp.”
“We’ve been talking to two lawyers,” he noted, adding one is pro bono and that the other he has paid a $5,000 retainer.
“Arthur doesn’t need a lawyer,” he shrugged of the Village activist attorney, noting that a legal battle will definitely cost money.
A note on the front page of the inaugural issue of the new paper (“Why the ‘New’ WestView News?”), states, “We continue to respect George, who, we hope, will join his old staff once again, absent the distractions.”
“They give me permission to come back to my paper,” Capsis said, sarcastically.
A reason for the break is said to have been a power struggle over who would edit the paper, with Berke coming out on top.
“I told George that everyone would come back [to WestView] if Dusty had no role in the paper,” Schwartz previously told The Village Sun.
However, whether Capsis would join the New WestView or the former WestViewers would return to the old WestView, Capsis appears too outraged to even consider it.
As for Capsis, the man, he appeared mentally sharp and articulate during the conversation. He made strong eye contact, peering in and sometimes grabbing the reporter’s arm when stressing a point, or giving a little kick in the leg for emphasis with one of his Crocs. He spryly spun about in his chair when answering a handful of “robo’s” (robocalls), as he called them, during the two-hour meeting. He had fun with them, saying he couldn’t talk because he was in the middle of stomach or leg surgery, before promptly hanging up. When someone called from direct marketing, Capsis quipped that he preferred “indirect marketing.”
He excitedly said he was actually expecting a phone call from one of his favorite supporters, local A-lister Sarah Jessica Parker. She did not call during the interview, though.
“She loves the paper,” he enthused.
However, at other points, mulling his newspaper crisis, he would rub his forehead with concern or cradle the side of his head in his hand, as if in thought.
It appears that he needs Berke’s help to get around. At one point, he asked her to get him his walker so he could go into the other room. Clearly, he relies on her and she is a key figure in his life.
“Being my age is difficult,” he said. “I could live alone, but it would be difficult.”
His grandson and granddaughter live upstairs in the building but they are not his caretakers.
He acknowledged that the shakeup atop the paper’s masthead sparked the split. Probably the lead-up to it did, too.
“It’s partially my fault — it’s all my fault,” he said.
Part of the original agreement with Schwartz apparently stated that if Capsis was “incompetent,” then the former could take over the paper. Asked if he is competent, Capsis did not answer the question directly. Instead he spoke proudly of some of the things he achieved — namely, property — through his prior career in corporate public relations.
“My grandchildren live upstairs,” he said. “My daughter lives in a house in the Hamptons. I didn’t get that without working hard — very hard.”
Capsis said he is not afraid of fighting to retain control of the newspaper that he founded nearly 20 years ago.
“You think I’m afraid of Arthur Schwartz?” he scoffed. “There are stories I have about confronting the secret police in Iran.”
The direction of WestView had become a concern over the past two or three months, Capsis conceded. Asked if he supports having articles about conspiracy theories in the newspaper, he responded, “I want no conspiracy theories.”
Another eyebrow-raiser for some was an article about Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor. But Capsis downplayed it, shrugging, “He wasn’t going to win.”
“I’m an F.D.R. Democrat,” the nonagenarian declared. “I campaigned for him.”
As for Berke’s role at the paper, Capsis said he would like her to focus on selling ads.
Although WestView has not published a December monthly print issue, Capsis said he intends to put one out.
Eventually, one of the two attorneys showed up to continue ongoing discussions with Capsis and Berke about the newspaper situation, and the interview with The Village Sun wrapped up.
According to a source, shortly after the reporter departed, Capsis suffered a health emergency.
“There are E.M.S. at George’s house right now and he is having a heart episode,” the source wrote in a text, adding, “I was worried that this drama would compromise his health.”
The Village Sun could not immediately confirm the report.