Andrew Yang draws backlash after calling for more enforcement against street vendors

Andrew Yang during his Jan. 14 campaign launch for mayor.
Photo by Mark Hallum

New Yorkers gathered in support of the “Churro Lady,” otherwise known as Elsa, on Sunday after mayoral candidate Andrew Yang called for greater enforcement action against unlicensed street vendors.

The November 2019 incident in which Brooklyn cops seized Elsa’s churro cart in the Broadway Junction subway station broke hearts and provoked a decision in City Council in January 2021 to offer more permits and less enforcement of some of the city’s poorest entrepreneurs.

“You know what I hear over and over again – that NYC is not enforcing rules against unlicensed street vendors. I’m for increasing licenses but we should do more for the retailers who are paying rent and trying to survive,” Yang tweeted.

While a Yang spokesman did not elaborate as to what the candidate’s statement calling for enforcement entailed, he did explain that he was in support of legislation expanding opportunities for legit sellers and that he was endorsed by Councilwoman Margaret Chin who sponsored the legislation formally passed in January to hand out more permits.

“Andrew emphatically supports the latest legislation passed in January by Council Member Chin and advocated for by the Street Vendor Project that will help bring people into the legal market,” Jake Sporn, a campaign spokesman for Yang’s campaign, said. “In the spirit of the recent reforms, as mayor, Andrew will make sure that vendors and local businesses work together to revitalize New York City’s small business economy.”

While Chin expressed during the Jan. 28 City Council meeting that the bill was “not perfect,” it was celebrated as an end to punitive measures against unlicensed vendors which has often ended in their property being confiscated by NYPD or health officials never to be seen again.

Another added benefit to the bill is that it will end black market dealings in vendors permits in which holders are known to charge exorbitant amounts from those they are transferring their license over to.

Detractors to the bill included Councilman Mark Gjonaj who argued that increasing the number of street vendor permits would lead to conflict over sidewalk space between brick and mortars and kiosks as commerce makes its way outdoors due to the pandemic.

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