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Mayor bows to nightlife industry on outdoor dining; We pay the price

BY GEORGETTE FLEISCHER | Dear Mayor de Blasio, privatizing public space through NYC Open Restaurants is not good for New York

On Sept. 25, our increasingly autocratic mayor issued a triumphalist press release in which he announced — with no public input — that the NYC Open Restaurants and the Open Streets: Restaurants programs will henceforth be “permanent.” This morning, while in the roadway in front the building that has been my home for the past 40 years, where I had gone to measure the siting criteria overextensions of our ground-floor restaurant, one of the owners yelled at me, “Get off my property!” Goodness. I thought it was a public street.

Would it be fair to say Hizzoner has leant both his large ears to the New York nightlife industry? Melba Wilson, president of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, and owner of Melba’s Restaurant, where de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray were photographed dining at the start of Open Restaurants in June, lends her voice to the press release rondelay. Wilson is followed by Robert Bookman, counsel of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which community activists will recall as the New York Nightlife Association, until its name was groomed.

And then, among the other usual suspects (Hizzoner’s deputy mayors and agency commissioners and city politicians equally blinkered or obedient to his will), we have de Blasio’s own creation, the senior executive director of the Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, former East Village nightlife owner Ariel Palitz, otherwise known as the “Nightlife Mayor,” giddily declaring “a new cafe culture.”

What has this all looked like in practice?

When she stepped out of her building on Cleveland Place on the evening of Sept. 12, the writer was immediately confronted by maskless revelers hanging out on the sidewalk. (Photo by Georgette Fleischer)

Ugly, really ugly. For instance, Petrosino Square, a small triangle that lies between Spring and Kenmare Sts., slivered between the border of Soho and Little Italy, between Lafayette St. and Cleveland Place, has eight licensed establishments, four of which take up frontage of four additional addresses and one of which takes up frontage of two additional addresses. That means that of 15 building fronts on our little “square,” 13 have outdoor dining in the roadway or sidewalk or both.

Even on a weeknight, the din is like a solid wall between me and my thoughts, between my little daughter and her sleep. The sidewalk in front of our building is greasy. The drone and rancid smoke of grease-trap cleaners is noxious daily. When their grinding garbage-truck compacters and warning beeps waken my daughter in the night, she declares yet another “big truck.” Some of her first spoken phrases have been “loud party” and “noise outside” and “loud music outside.” Yes, though the New York State Liquor Authority has officially prohibited it, we have a live jazz band playing each Saturday night from the CitiBike kiosk, and when it is not playing, three or four establishments compete with each other for the loudest amplified music, the establishment in our building hiding the speaker in a recessed planter inside the wall of their roadway cafe.

Press has sensationalized enforcement, mostly by the the S.L.A. But Petrosino Square has had none. After dozens of complaints through every channel offered to the public, we finally got one inspection by the city’s Department of Transportation, 50 days after the complaint was made, which declared that the licensee had been ordered to comply within 24 hours. Forty-eight hours later, D.O.T. declared the licensee to be in compliance. An hour after D.O.T. left, the licensee broke compliance. More than a month later, multiple attempts to get D.O.T. to take the further action of imposing a $1,000 fine have butted up against the doorstop of the mayor’s red-carpet treatment of the nightlife industry. He rules. Nightlife rules. The public? Drop dead.

Congestion on Cleveland Place. The writer charges that the required 8-foot-wide pedestrian space on the sidewalk is not being maintained, as seen in this photo on Sept. 12. (Photo by Georgette Fleischer)

Which is what is nearly happening to some. Never have I seen so many homeless on the streets, especially whenever I travel east and southeast. Not just a scattering of one or two, but whole “families,” groupings of three or more, mostly men, lying like corpses on the sidewalk in filthy clothing, under filthy “comforters.” The mayor, whose first election platform promised to heal the “Tale of Two Cities,” has presided over the worst income inequality in a century.

City services have never been more lacking in my memory. One of the sprinklers in the newly renovated De Salvio Playground has been broken since Tropical Storm Isaias at the beginning of August, and the scaffolding over the older children’s play features has been there for more than two years now, because de Blasio’s Department of Parks and Recreation defers to the long-delayed luxury housing construction abutting the playground to the south. Condos going for upward of $8 million rule over children’s access to a public playground.

Never have our city streets been filthier, with illegal dumping everywhere, overflowing litter baskets everywhere — that is, where they even exist anymore, many having never been returned after the widespread vandalism in June. My repeated experiences indicate that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection no longer functions at all. And let me not get started on the New York Police Department, which even The New York Times has noted is on work slowdown. Of course, many have noted that Hizzoner and a full day’s work have never kept company.

So the mayor’s becoming court jester for the New York nightlife industry at the expense of the workaday public should not surprise. But it dismays, nevertheless. He dismays.

However, before the nightlife establishments, and those who enable them by permitting their building frontages to be used for nightlife extensions, sing “For he’s a jolly good fellow” too loudly beneath our bedroom windows, they might consider some of the fine print. Hizzoner’s “permanent” program anticipates “incorporat[ing] heating elements into the…outdoor dining setups”: 1) electric heaters in the roadway and on the sidewalk (who will be responsible, and potentially liable, for safety?), propane and natural gas heaters on the sidewalk (who will be responsible for safety?), 2) tent enclosures, to include electric heaters (who will be responsible?), 3) enclosed plastic domes for individual parties (will heating elements be allowed, and if so, who will be responsible?).

And that’s not all. When this “temporary” initiative goes permanent, so will the roadway barriers. Except that “significant snow events may necessitate the temporary removal of some barriers from the roadway.”

What is that going to look like?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that people who dine out — outdoor or indoor — are twice as likely to become infected with COVID. So nightlife’s entitlement to our public streets, and demands for 50 percent indoor capacity now and 100 percent indoor capacity by Thanksgiving, as reported by The Village Sun, constitute its greatest threat to the public good. It’s more important that individual restaurateurs can feed their families and feed them well than that other people’s families might sicken and die.

Around Petrosino Square, the restaurateurs are not the downtrodden “tired,” “poor” and “homeless” of the Emma Lazarus sonnet on the Statue of Liberty, but rather recent émigrés from privileged countries looking for the steep profits realizable in the richest city in the world, measured by the excessive wealth of its wealthiest. It is the wealthier and, in many cases, the idle offspring of the wealthiest, who people these eateries, not the lower- and middle-income residents of the walk-up tenements originally settled by Italian, Chinese and Dominican immigrants, who cannot for the most part afford to dine out. But it is those of us in the latter category, not those who live in Gracie Mansion or Gramercy Park, who pay — and will continue to pay — the heaviest price for the purloining of our city streets.

Thanks to Mayor Bountiful.

Fleischer is president, Friends of Petrosino Square.

22 Comments

  1. mary reinholz mary reinholz October 1, 2020

    More ugly attacks on Mayor DeBlasio from Georgette Fleischer, who seems determined to deprive thousands of New Yorkers from making a living in the restaurant industry, among them low-wage Asian and Mexican immigrants, all beset by the pandemic that has ravaged New York. Her arguments have no merit for people struggling to pay their rent and put food on their tables after they finish serving NYC patrons who seem to like dining out in the land of the free. If the long-suffering Fleischer is upset by outdoor dining cramping her walks on the streets, then maybe she just leave the big bad city.

    • Stuart Stuart October 3, 2020

      Like it or leave it, huh? That seems like a tolerant, civilized and thoughtful response.

      • mary reinholz mary reinholz October 3, 2020

        My response to Fleischer’s neo-prohibitionist rants is little more nuanced than like it or leave it. She obviously hates the bars and outdoor restaurants in her nabe but seems to have no solution for dealing with them, except to hurl verbal stink bombs at Mayor deBlasio. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that she might suffer less in another neighborhood or in the burbs.

    • Jean Standish Jean Standish October 2, 2020

      Not well said! The problems with the proliferation of outdoor restaurants that serve alcohol are destroying the quality of life in our communities. If these venues followed the protocols the Governor required of these establishments, there wouldn’t be these problems. These are residential areas, and these restaurants who have been bad actors should be shut down.

  2. lily carver lily carver October 1, 2020

    While I understand some of your frustrations it does not help to use fake statistics. There is no proof dining outside makes one twice as likely to contract Covid. The study in question interviewed people who got Covid , it did NOT differentiate between inside and outside dining and it is just plain stupid to assume outside dining is anywhere near as risky as indoor dining. More over people eating inside likely did a lot of OTHER things inside besides dining. If outdoor dining doubled one’s chances of getting Covid, as you falsely assert, the rate in my hood, the West Village, which is filled with outdoor dining, would have significantly increased but it has not. Personally I have only been able to afford a couple of outdoor meals but I love it and can live with less sidewalk space.

  3. ------m ------m October 1, 2020

    Despite what Ms. Reinholz states, many, many residents of our city – newcomers and long-term residents and native New Yorkers alike – agree with Ms. Fleischer. Please be aware, Ms. Reinholz, we are ALL struggling. We do not want to deprive restaurant employees of making a living, but rather that the business owners should obey the rules and regulations AND stipulations placed on their SLA licenses. Hard-working residents also have the right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Too many of these business owners have shown themselves to be bad operators. Shame on you Ms. Reinholz for seeing only one side of the situation.

  4. Jean Standish Jean Standish October 2, 2020

    I agree with Ms. Fleischer. Some of these exterior restaurants, especially those serving alcohol, are destroying the quality of life in our community. The patrons are loud and noisy, and having a front apartment with one of these establishments out in the street below my window is extremely disturbing. It should be the restaurant’s responsibility to have the customers be considerate of the residents that live above these venues.

  5. mary reinholz mary reinholz October 2, 2020

    There’s no shame in responding to unfair attacks on Mayor DeBlasio’s Open Restaurants Program.

  6. Beset by the Besotted Beset by the Besotted October 2, 2020

    Mary Reinholz: Have you no shame?

    It is certainly clear you have no empathy – empathy for families who must suffer loud, raucous, maskless revelers partying under their bedroom window all night long, seven days a week..

    On Ms. Fleischer’s block, 13 of the 15 buildings have bars or restaurants.

    Yet you live on quiet tree-lined East 17th Street off quiet Irving Place, near gentrified Gramercy Park – with not a single restaurant on your block

    In fact, there are more trees on your block than there are restaurants and bars in your entire neighborhood

    Your hypocrisy is galling.

    And your lame attempt to play the race card, clearly shows your base instincts and below-the-belt approach to true discourse.

    However, the piece-de-resistance is your jingoistic, hoary mantra of those without a single reasoned argument to support their biased views: If you don’t like it, move out of the city

    Ms. Fleischer is a native New Yorker. She loves and fights for her community. Only crappers leave. Fighters fight.

    You, on the other hand, are a do-nothing nobody, who can only respond negatively to the good deeds of neighborhood activists.

    Stay up there in Gramercy Park – and in your waning years try to develop some empathy.

    • mary reinholz mary reinholz October 2, 2020

      Gosh, I’d love to respond to your personal comments in more detail, but I don’t know you and you obviously lack the spine and simple honesty to identify yourself. Suffice to say that you appear to be a pompous windbag who seems to know little about Gramercy or the outdoor restaurants on my block. I face one of these eateries in a first floor apartment. There are quite a few on Irving Place around the corner if you care to check and then maybe give vent to more hot air and ageist commentary. They don’t bother me. In fact, I welcomed them when they reopened on dark streets after the pandemic hit. Maybe you’ve heard that the city shut down many establishments in March. Too many remain shuttered, including Pete’s Tavern, which is still closed. I have sympathy for restaurant workers and have interviewed them as a freelance journalist. What do you do to pass the time?

    • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz Post author | October 2, 2020

      The spineless anonymous writer attacking me for the crime of being old and living in Gramercy doesn’t seem to realize this community is loaded with outdoor dining spots, including one directly across from my apartment, which takes up a quarter of block.
      If I could, I’d attach a picture I took of Gramercy Kitchen, an outdoor venue on E. 17th Street, with eaters and their pooches enjoying food and beautiful autumn. Must say, those canines are a lot nicer than Georgette Fleischer’s attack dog, who doesn’t know what she/he is barking about.

  7. Carl Rosenstein Carl Rosenstein October 2, 2020

    Beginning with the renovation of Petrosino, Ms. Fleischer has lorded over the gritty plaza as if it were her own manor.

    In fact, her highjacking of the design process resulted in the ugliest pocket park in the city. The plaza is 90% paving stone void of plantings and bushes that would have better sheltered the small space from traffic and provided more oxygen.

    Several years ago she is asked me to sign a petition against a proposed restaurant that has never created a public nuisance and benefits the community. When I declined, she castigated me as an ally of the Councilmember of the Real Estate Board of NY, Margaret Chin.

    Ms. Fleischer’s focus should be against ending Cuomo and de Blasio’s tyrannical lockdown that has crushed our city, destroying so many lives and dreams. After the last restaurant closes — Ms. Fleischer’s dream come true — she can put on her regal robes and command over the abandoned, garbage-strewn pavement beneath her.

  8. STEVEN G HILL STEVEN G HILL October 2, 2020

    Positivity rate up 3% Now…as I pass outdoor dining 99% diners Maskless

  9. Beset by the Besotted Beset by the Besotted October 2, 2020

    “…quite a few on Irving Place around the corner… They don’t bother me”

    Of course they don’t bother you because they are far from you. Moreover, they are quiet neighborhood restaurants, not destination points for bridge-and-tunnel revelers.

    “I have sympathy for restaurant workers”
    We all do. So enough of your “holier than thou” attitude…

    But I also have sympathy for people trying to sleep. Sleep they need to productively perform their work at school and jobs the following morning. Sympathy you clearly lack.

    Why don’t you take a stroll, Ms. Freelance Journalist, (aka, Unemployable Journalist) down to Petrosino Square one evening and see for yourself what these poor residents have to face.

    But that would require activation and not the bloviation of which you have ample excess.

    • mary reinholz mary reinholz October 3, 2020

      More presumptuous claptrap from the spineless and ignorant troll who doesn’t have the nerve to use his/her own name. You know almost nothing about my neighborhood where I have been mugged twice and burgled once over the years, As mentioned previously, I now directly face a large outdoor dining space on my street. A sushi spot is two doors down from my building. There are about five venues on one block of Irving Place within seconds of my apartment and they make for a lively scene. Gramercy is loaded with outdoor dining, particularly on Third Avenue. It’s great seeing these eateries back in business after the lockdown and keeping restaurant workers employed. I’m more interested in them than pretentious twits like you who probably have never put in an honest day’s work in your life. If you did, you’d mention what you do. So stuff it, if you find it.

  10. Beset by the Besotted Beset by the Besotted October 3, 2020

    ” Gramercy Kitchen, an outdoor venue on E. 17th Street, “

    Gramercy Kitchen is a neighborhood diner on Third Avenue. Furthermore, it is a full block-and-a-half from your residence.

    The joints on Petrosino are not neighborhood diners serving comfort food. They are noisy destination points for bridge-and-tunnel crowd.

    Fake news from a fake journalist.

  11. mary reinholz mary reinholz October 3, 2020

    Add dummy to your no name status. Gramercy Kitchen is on corner of E. 17th Street and Third Avenue, and the space for outdoor eaters is on 17th Street. As previously mentioned, I live directly across the street from a similar and larger outdoor dining space on my block. Next to it is The House, It’s been shuttered since the lockdown. Check it out, and then go back to your crawl space.

    • Beset by the Besotted Beset by the Besotted October 4, 2020

      What part of “the few restaurants on E 17th Street are quiet neighborhood spots, not destination points for bridge-and-tunnel revelers like the bunch near Petrosino are” don’t you understand?

      Didn’t do so well on Reading Comprehension, did you?

      • mary reinholz mary reinholz October 5, 2020

        What an ass you are, looking down your nose at bridge and tunnel revelers. Go talk to them directly if you have any guts, which you clearly don’t. Get lost.

  12. Stuart Stuart October 3, 2020

    I think we are all (including the writer) supportive of these suffering businesses in this tough time. I sure would like the city to rise to the assistance of the scads of other businesses that could use help. And it must be considered that the successful restaurants are often golden gooses. They should not be considered in the same vein as struggling independent restaurants. And, finally, bars should be reconsidered. Yes, we want to save them, but we must also recognize that bars, drinking and the behavior associated with drinking at bars is a perfect recipe for Covid spread.

  13. Jacob Wood Jacob Wood October 6, 2020

    Goodness indeed, Geogrette… goodness indeed.

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