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Uptown Police Diverted Residents from Dueling Precinct Council Meeting

By Nigel Chiwaya | November 21, 2013 3:48pm
 Precinct head Barry Buzzetti said all council members were notified that Wednesday night's meeting was at the 34th Precinct.
Precinct head Barry Buzzetti said all council members were notified that Wednesday night's meeting was at the 34th Precinct.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Will the real 34th Precinct council meeting please stand up?

The commanding officer of the precinct laid down the law against the embattled head of the community council Wednesday night, assigning two officers to divert residents away from a meeting held by his rival to another one several blocks away.

Instead the officers sent the residents to a separate meeting held by 34th Precinct Commanding Officer Barry Buzzetti, despite bother gatherings calling themseleves the official meeting for the precinct.

During the bizarre evening, George Espinal, the council's president, held one meeting at the Fort Tryon Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing on 190th Street, while Buzzetti held a second meeting at the 34th precinct headquarters on West 183rd Street. 

"Enough is enough," Buzzetti told dozens of residents and business owners who assembled at the precinct on the heels of a tumultuous month for the council. "The definitive source for information on the council in this district is me."

At the October precinct council meeting, Espinal defended a precinct council secretary who opened the meeting with a prayer to Jesus Christ, an action that Buzzetti apologized for on Wednesday.

Buzzetti also said that the council failed to schedule a meeting far enough in advance, so the precinct did it for them.

"Everyone on the board was notified that the meeting is here," said Buzzetti, who noted that only one board member, Steven Feldheim, showed up to the 34th Precinct stationhouse.

Buzzetti sought to quiet concerns that the precinct was losing control of the council, telling the audience that the NYPD's community affairs office was revising the council guidelines.

Espinal did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

Critics, including restaurant owners who see Espinal as a threat to their ability to operate in the neighborhood, have called for his resignation, as did Susan Ryan, who wrote letters to police commissioner Ray Kelly asking for Epsinal's dismissal.

However, Inwood resident Laura Ayala defended Espinal against charges that he spearheaded a letter-writing campaign against the Dyckman Street restaurants.

"He's being accused of soliciting our letters when it's just the opposite," Ayala said. "I went to him and I want make sure that everyone in this room knows that. Did he try to help us so that we'll vote for him? It doesn't sound like such a bad thing to help your community so they'll vote for you."