Biondi and Me

Many in the co-op world know something about the sad case of Nick Biondi. Over 20 years ago, his name became a word used to describe racism, much as “Pullman” (the surname of a nasty owner) became shorthand for objectionable resident who gets kicked out, while “Levandusky” (another surname, this time of a co-op president who lost a lawsuit against the board) was often invoked when courts and attorneys liked to say boards have a lot of leeway to exercise power. It’s a special language that most co-op boards eventually learn to speak: “We’ll Pullmanize him” or “That’s our right, under Levandusky.”

Nick Biondi’s situation seemed to be different. As I wrote in 2001, when I examined a case that everybody talked about but nobody really knew: “Most everyone in the cooperative housing world has heard of the ‘Biondi case,’ so named for Nick Biondi, the board president at the Beekman Hill House… What most know about the story is that someone named Biondi was a board member who turned down an African-American who wanted to live in his building. That, after the rejection, the African-American sued for discrimination, and that…Biondi and his fellow board members subsequently lost the case and had to pay damages out of their own pockets. Many who heard the story think of it in – if you’ll pardon the expression – black-and-white terms: Biondi was a racist who got what he deserved.”

The facts were less clear cut. I actually met with Biondi and talked with Gregory Broome, the would-be resident in the story. I found them both reasonable men, both highly credible. What others labeled racism, I saw as Biondi’s assertive manner. “We didn’t discriminate against this guy,” he said to me with conviction. “We had other black owners in the building. We know that we did not discriminate.”

An ex-boxer, Biondi would then spend the next 14 years fighting the wind, seeking vindication by crusading against what he called wrongful discrimination suits, which he came to believe were more about collecting “monetary damages” than obtaining justice.

Nick was pleased with my article – he felt I offered a balanced view – and he even talked to me about writing a screenplay of his story. Nothing came of that, however, and over the years, I would occasionally see him at events where he would always greet me warmly. But, as time passed, I came to hear from him more often through the increasingly rightward-leaning newsletters that he forwarded to friends and supporters.

I politely ignored them, until this past week when he sent me an e-mail that assaulted me with its assertive ignorance: “If you are White and don’t support the White cop in Ferguson and if you don’t support the White cop in Staten Island, you are an ignorant anti-White racist. Al the race card hustler Sharpton invited to the White House by our Mulatto President, are we kidding!”

Reading that, I felt like a rube at a carnival side show. After years of defending Biondi to whoever would listen, insisting that he was not a racist but a victim of circumstance, I sat there with more than egg on my face. It was hard to imagine the man I had met in 2001 labeling President Obama a mulatto (an ugly word, which he had to know was provocative and highly offensive to anyone but bigots). Further, after years of claiming that he was unfairly branded, Biondi has gone from victim to victimizer. An intelligent man, he must certainly have realized that one can choose to find police officers guilty of over-reacting and inadvertently killing someone, without being labeled an “anti-white racist.”

Or maybe not. Perhaps the years of being demeaned, pigeon-holed, ignored, and caricatured had done the trick. Could Nick Biondi, the man seeking vindication that he was not a racist, have become the thing he had decried, transformed by bitterness and hate into a different person?

Or maybe he was just a racist after all.   

Habitat, 12/19/14