BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Ray Alvarez once had Curtis Sliwa’s back — saving him from possible death during a mob hit by a gang of goons. Now the Guardian Angels founder is returning the favor for the legendary Avenue A egg cream mixologist as he recovers from a vicious assault by an unhinged local man.
According to Sliwa, a total of 12 Guardian Angels per day will be keeping an eye on Ray at his hole-in-a-wall store near Seventh Street. Benjamin Garcia, Angels nickname “EQ,” is leading the early morning Ray patrol — from 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. Meanwhile, Mary Gethins a.k.a. “KC,” is in charge of the Angels’ nighttime patrol, starting at 5 p.m. Other angels who are currently assigned to Chinatown and the L train will also join the effort at times to help fill up the slack, but EQ and KC will each have their own dedicated team of Angels to patrol the area.
“We cover a pretty good portion of the day,” Sliwa said, “not 24 hours a day.
“They use Ray as the epicenter,” he told The Village Sun, describing how the patrols will work. “They’ll check in with Ray and his staff, then do a few rounds. Check in again, do a few rounds. They will go west on St. Mark’s and go east toward Avenue C and D through the park. They’ll patrol in and around the projects and then work their way back to Avenue A.”
The Angels, who are a civilian group, are not armed. They mainly focus on keeping a watch on the streets and, in their distinctive red jackets and berets, maintaining a visible presence to help deter crime.
The neighborhood was shocked when Ray — real name Asghar Ghahraman — on Jan. 31 was viciously attacked by a man who lashed out at him with a loaded belt, breaking bones in the 90-year-old’s face and dislocating his jaw, leaving him with a bloody gash on the side of his face and a black eye. The attacker, who lives in supportive housing on Avenue D, was allegedly infuriated when Ray declined to buy some sodas from him, declaring he would kill him before braining him with the belt.
Last week, police arrested two men in connection with the assault, Luis Peroza, 39, who is being held on $200,000 bail, and a sidekick, Gerald Barth, 55, who is reportedly known as “Insanity Claus” in Tompkins Square Park.
After the attack, a shaken Ray told the New York Post he felt it never would have happened if there were more police on foot patrol in the area.
Sliwa said that, from his understanding, the man who attacked Ray is “severely emotionally disturbed.” He said that someone in that condition could have assaulted anyone. Meanwhile, ironically, Ray is always giving a free hot dog or cup of coffee to anyone in need.
“We’ve known Ray for many, many years,” said Sliwa, who lived at 131 Avenue A, a block north of Ray’s store, from 1983 to 1993.
“The last person you would ever think would be a victim of attack would be Ray because he helped everybody,” Sliwa said. “It doesn’t matter — you could be a junkie with a hypo in your arm, Ray will help you. You could be a homeless person who soiled himself, Ray will help you. He’s almost like a male version of Mother Teresa. He’s been out there with all the people no one wants to deal with. But he’s also there with the hipsters and Millennials. They should make a movie, ‘Everyone Loves Ray.’”
Sliwa, meanwhile, was also the victim of a violent attack outside Ray’s Candy Store 30 years ago, when back in 1992 he was ambushed by a trio of bat-wielding Mafia thugs.
At the time, Sliwa was living with his then-wife, Lisa Evers, at 131 Avenue A and was the host of a popular morning talk show on WABC Radio. His routine, every morning at 4:30 a.m., was to buy the daily newspapers at Ray’s — so he would be informed when he talked about the news on air — then hop in a cab to go to Madison Square Garden, where the station’s offices were located. (Ray no longer sells newspapers.)
“I was on the station at 6 a.m.,” he said. “I had to read the papers first — the Times, the Post, the News, Newsday. Remember, this was before the Internet.”
John Gotti, the “Teflon Don,” was on trial and Sliwa, who was familiar with the Mafia from growing up in Canarsie, in deep Brooklyn, every day would speak at length on WABC about the godfather’s crimes.
“Every morning I would comment on the trial that had gone on the day before,” Sliwa recalled. “I was the only one who would talk about the trial. Howard Stern, Don Imus, they wouldn’t talk about it: They called it ‘Mafia talk.’”
But, as Sliwa tells it, the Gambino family kingpin was allowed to have a transistor radio in lockup and was listening to the show and not liking at all what he was hearing. John Gotti, Jr., subsequently gave the order: Sliwa had to be “shut up.”
The predawn attack occurred on the morning of April 23.
“They had followed me,” he recalled. “They knew I went to that candy store before I went to WABC. It was right after I had purchased the newspapers. They jumped out of a car. They were chopping me down like a tree. I was able to fend off some of the blows. Ray came out, distracted them. I was able to jump over the car, ran across the street to Tompkins Square Park, which had a huge, 20-foot-high fence around it at the time. I scaled the chain-link fence while they were still hitting me. They split, jumped in the car, popped a donut and took off in the car.”
In the early 1990s, Tompkins Square was ringed by a tall fence after the city cleared out the homeless Tent City and was renovating the park.
Sliwa, who says he was hit 32 times, was taken to Beth Israel Hospital and treated for a broken elbow and concussion. He said he remembers seeing Ray — who was around 60 then — come out of his store during the assault, which helped Sliwa slip away from his attackers.
“I remember seeing him out of the corner of my eye,” Sliwa said. “His action kept me from being a vegetable, if not killed, because I had already been hit 30 times. Who knows what kind of shape I’d been in if he hadn’t come out of his candy store?”
He said it was also Ray who called the police, using the phone in his store (no one had cell phones back then, of course), after the incident.
“Ray called it in,” he said.
That attack, though, was followed by an even worse one just a few months later, on June 19, when Sliwa, again, after purchasing his morning daily newspapers at Ray’s, as usual, jumped in a cab, intending to go up to WABC at the Garden. However, instead the driver suddenly veered deeper into Alphabet City, which back then was full of open drug dealing, with buyers lining up on the sidewalk outside the drug dens in tenement buildings.
“Instead of going left on 13th, he went east — and then I realized,” Sliwa recalled of the phony hack. “He accelerated on the gas. There were a lot of potholes. It was like [the car had] hydraulics. A gunman was underneath the dashboard and then he just started shooting me.”
The first shot went through the rear window. Then the two started grappling over the gun. Five more shots were fired and Sliwa was hit several times in the groin and legs. He couldn’t get out through the back door because, he said, the cab had been prepared for the planned hit, with the handles having been sawn off and then glued back on with Krazy Glue. But he somehow managed to jump through the open passenger-side window and escape.
“The plan was: Shoot me up, bleed me out and drive me to a chop shop in East New York and they would incinerate me there in acid — no bones left,” he said.
Sliwa said he was close friends with Abe Lebewohl, the owner of the famed 2nd Ave. Deli, and that, when he was recovering at 131 Avenue A after being shot, Lebewohl would often personally bring him strained chicken soup, which was the only thing he could eat.
“Abe Lebewohl was like the godfather — in a good way,” he said. “He was the man of the L.E.S. We’d sit and talk about the settlement houses and how hardcore drugs were destroying the neighborhood.”
Sliwa has advocated on his current “Curtis Sliwa Show” on WABC that more effort should be put into solving Lebewohl’s 1996 cold-case murder. The beloved deli owner was fatally shot while on his way to make a $10,000 bank deposit. It was a time before widespread use of surveillance security cameras, but most assume it was an inside job.
Twelve years after Sliwa was nearly whacked, the guys in the fake cab were convicted. The bat attackers, though, never were brought to justice. Basically, the F.B.I. likely had bigger fish to fry and apparently didn’t want to give up a confidential informant to nail them, according Sliwa.
For their own safety, Sliwa and Evers left the East Village shortly after the second attack, moving to Battery Park City. Sliwa had previously lived in the Bronx before moving in with Evers in the East Village. They got married at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village.
Sliwa agreed with Ray that police manpower on the streets is down, noting that the number of officers on the force has dropped from 40,000 during the era of former Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani to 34,000 today. The Guardian Angels founder said a lot of the officer drain is due to police departments outside of the city aggressively luring away cops — particularly Latino ones — for better-paying jobs.
However, Deputy Inspector Ralph Clement, the commanding officer of the 9th Precinct, countered accusations that police don’t have a visible presence on the East Village’s streets.
“We definitely have foot patrols five days a week and we have sector cars for the days they’re off,” he said. “We have people on foot patrol from 12/12:30 p.m. to 4/4:30 a.m. — St. Mark’s, Avenue A, 14th Street.”
He added that, as of around a month or a month and a half ago, the precinct actually has had a beefed-up presence on the streets, thanks to a contingent of 17 new “field training unit” officers, or F.T.U.’s, who are recent Police Academy graduates.
Clement also praised the 9th Precinct’s officers and detectives for nabbing Peroza in the assault on Ray, noting, “We did a good job arresting and identifying him.”