By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
GRAMERCY — National Arts Club President O. Aldon James has declared war against board members who questioned him amid accusations he was running the venerable institution into the ground physically and financially by hoarding junk in club apartments and renting others to family and friends at cheap rents.
In a rambling letter sent to the board earlier this month, James singled out board members by name, made veiled threats against their positions and trashed their reputations and loyalties.
"I would be remiss not to point out that there are several governors who want to be the boss and not lead through constructive discussion," James wrote in a scathing Feb. 4 letter to the club's board members — also known as "governors" — written on official letterhead, a copy of which was obtained by DNAinfo.
He identified Cherry Provost, who chairs the club's literary committee, Marguerite Yaghjian, who chairs its Shakespeare committee and Daniel Schiffman, music committee chair. James wrote that all three had accused his twin brother, John, of being mentally ill.
"What outlandish nerve for Ms. Yaghjian, Mr. Schiffman, and Ms. Provost to label my twin 'sick' (without having any mental health qualifications)," James wrote. He said Provost and Yaghjian "have never forgiven the administration for not allowing them to control the program calendar."
Schiffman was blasted as being "so egocentric always" and someone who "loves to talk, and talk, and talk."
Though the trio might not have psychiatric credentials, John James did spend three months in a mental institution after pleading guilty in 2003 to using the club's nonprofit tax status to buy jewelry to sell for a profit.
James also mentions a dispute with Provost at the board's Jan. 28 meeting over whether artwork was being stored in the club's leaky basement, claiming Provost was "way off base" for insinuating that the club did not properly care for its collection.
He also referred to an alleged physical altercation between John James and Yaghjian. Yaghjian apparently tried to read a note at the same January meeting accusing John James of pushing her, but was cut off. In James' letter, he wrote that her charges "are false and totally disingenuous." He also said the club's Shakespeare Guild dumped Yaghjian because of "her destructiveness," and applauded the move.
"Interest in narrow political bickering, as opposed to collective team spirit for programs, membership development, and fund-raising is not an option for Governors," James wrote.
Several former members, employees and governors warned of James' iron-fisted management style and unbridled wrath against those who defy him, and say the recent letter to the governors is only the latest attempt to press his critics into silence.
The esteemed arts institution overlooking Gramercy Park has been roiled by the recent revelation that James, his twin, the lawyer who oversees their trust fund, honorary board member Steven Leitner, and former Mr. India New York Bobby Abid, who's also on the board, have been living in the club's historic residences while paying well-below market rates, as first reported by DNAinfo.
Insiders have also provided photos that seem to show the brothers using vacant apartments and office space in the club's 15 Gramercy Park South mansion to hoard flea market finds, art and papers.
Yaghjihan said she did not receive James' letter, and declined to address its claims.
"My loyalty is and has always been in serving the mission of the club and my love of the arts," Yaghjian said.
Provost said she also had not received James' letter, but called his accusations "totally inaccurate" and didn't elaborate.
Dan Schiffman did not respond for comment.
Representatives for Aldon James also did not immediately comment.