Associated Press, Saturday, December 4, 1999

By George Watson

Dung tossed at Giuliani portrait during protest of homeless policy

NEW YORK -- Hurling elephant dung just won't do when New Yorkers want to express their anger with Rudolph Giuliani's homeless policy.

Some people offered use of their own Saturday for "Doody Rudy" -- a Manhattan happening during which elephant feces that organizers claimed was real hit a protrait of the mayor, depicted as the Virgin Mary.

"A lot of people called and asked to donate their own dung," said Joey Skaggs, a self-proclaimed prankster who handed out surgical gloves to anyone who made a donation to the homeless while flinging their displeasure.

Dozens of people gleefully pulled dollar bills from their pockets, eager as children at a county fair to play this novelty game staged in Washington Square Park.

"I'm looking forward to this," said Ed Gottlieb, 39, moments before he fired a strike at the 10-by-14-foot canvas. "The meaning here is, [Giuliani] doesn't have a right to kick homeless off the street."

From a blue trash can, a well-dressed young woman picked up a handful, pitching it at the forehead. She seemed happier with her second toss, saying, "I hit him in the face!"

The use of alleged elephant dung was an obvious reference to another recent controversy entangling Giuliani. In the fall, he battled with the Brooklyn Museum of Art for displaying an artistic portrait of the Virgin Mary decorated with a clump of elephant dung. He called the work by African Chris Ofili offensive and anti-Catholic.

Saturday's protest was spurred by the administration's policy of arresting homeless people who refused to move from sidewalks when ordered, and a plan to take children from parents on welfare who won't work in return for their benefits.

The police crackdown on the homeless began just days after a woman was seriously injured in a brick attack last month on a Manhattan street by a man originally believed to be homeless.

A Giuliani spokesman declined to comment of Saturday's event.

At least one person was on the mayor's side.

Kevin James sparred verbally with the crowd, saying Giuliani had made New York better.

"It's cleaned up -- it's a lot safer," said James, 33, as he cradled his 6-month-old Chihuahua dog in his arms. "And who's it safer because of? Rudy Giuliani."

Several police officers watched from afar. One said they didn't plan to interrupt the protest unless the crowd got out of hand.

But calm prevailed as the dung balls exploded on the canvas, evoking cheers. Two men held the portrait, including the artist, Seven Powers, who had created it with paint spray. He was arrested Wednesday at his home.

Police said they had been investigating Powers, 31, for six months for graffiti vandalism; so far, he's been charged only with criminal possession of a weapon for brass knuckles he claims were a wall decoration. Powers said he believes police targeted him because of his involvement in Saturday's protest.

He said he was shaken by the surprise search, but not deterred from participating in the protest.

"You don't choose a time to be determined," he said. "The time chooses you."


© 1999 Joey Skaggs