C.B. 2 street fights with Stonewall Vets, trolley and Delta Phi


By Lincoln Anderson

Street fairs — with their funnel cakes, steroid-sized sausage sandwiches and tube socks sold by the six pack — are the farthest thing from most people’s minds right now, the city having just dug itself out from a bone-chilling blizzard. But not at Community Board 2, where applications for this upcoming spring and summer’s season of street fairs are being grilled, like said sausages.

Continuing its newfound tough stance on the street-shutting fairs, Board 2 is keeping up its effort to trim their numbers, by weeding out festivals with no clear connection to the community. Board 2 — covering the area between 14th and Canal Sts., west of Fourth Ave./Bowery to the Hudson River — has the most street fairs of any of Manhattan’s 12 community board districts, around 100 per year.

The fairs have earned the fury of local residents and merchants alike. Residents say the full-block fry fests are inconvenient and that “they all sell the same stuff anyway.” Merchants complain all the booths selling fruit smoothies and belts block access to their stores, robbing them of entire days’ profits. 

At its Dec. 17 full board meeting, C.B. 2 recommended that applications for three street fairs be denied, including two that have been held in the neighborhood for years, one of them a proverbial “political hot potato.” 

Also, in what could revolutionize the street fair landscape as it is now known, C.B. 2 approved a pilot-project design for September; the experimental setup will see the event’s booths lined up back to back down the middle of the street, rather than along its edges, so that local stores hopefully won’t be negatively impacted, or at least less affected. Fittingly, it will be the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce’s street fair, on Broadway between Waverly Place and 14th St. 

If the trial is a success, it will become the norm for street fairs on wider streets in the C.B. 2 area; some streets are too narrow to have the booths in the middle and still allow enough space on the sides for people to walk comfortably.

Say nay: S.V.A., trolley, frat

As for the denials, in a close vote, the board recommended to reject the Stonewall Veterans Association’s application for a multi-block street festival on Greenwich Ave. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. on Sept. 25, 2010.

C.B. 2 also voted nearly unanimously — with a lone dissenting vote — to nix the renewal of the permit application for the Village Crosstown Trolley Coalition’s street fair on Astor Place between Broadway and Lafayette St. on May 15, 2010.

And the board unanimously gave the bum’s rush to New York University’s Delta Phi fraternity’s application for a multi-block street fair on W. Fourth St. between Lafayette St. and Washington Square East on April 18, 2010.

This July, the board had narrowly voted to approve S.V.A.’s street fair for September 2009. However, in recent years, the board’s Street Activity & Film Permits Committee has put S.V.A. under scrutiny, with the committee’s former chairperson, Phil Mouquinho, challenging Williamson Henderson, S.V.A.’s president, in 2008 to prove that the money from the street fair wasn’t just going into his own pocket.

“This guy did not have any list of where the money [from the street fair] went,” Mouquinho told The Villager in July. “He got up and left the meeting and was shouting and very indignant.” 

Evan Lederman, the committee’s current chairperson, was skeptical before the vote in July, but eventually became convinced that S.V.A. was a legitimate organization with the board’s required “nexus with the community,” in that it holds regular meetings at the L.G.B.T. Center on W. 13th St. and puts out a newsletter, among other things. Lederman has repeatedly said the community board can ask to see S.V.A.’s books, but doesn’t have the power to force any group to show its financials.

This month, Lederman’s committee unanimously approved S.V.A.’s application. Lederman told the full board on Dec. 17 that local elected officials had written letters of support for S.V.A.’s application, adding, “We take those letters fairly seriously.” But, in an unusual move, the full board overturned the committee’s resolution.

‘City needs to help’

Brad Hoylman, former C.B. 2 chairperson and a Democratic district leader, who is openly gay, voted against Stonewall Veterans Association’s application. He said it’s up to the city to help screen the street fairs for legitimacy.

“The city is doing a very poor job in reviewing these street fairs,” Hoylman said. “These groups are using public property for private uses. There needs to be some kind of accounting at the city level.”

Lederman said he completely agreed with Hoylman and that the city must do more oversight.

Of the board’s vote on S.V.A.’s street fair, Lederman later said, “They feel it’s a group run by a handful of individuals for their personal benefit — it’s not my belief.”

Some critics have further charged that Henderson was not even at the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and thus isn’t a “veteran.” But Henderson, earlier this year, hinted to The Villager that his name is not in any of the arrest records because he was there under an alias.

At any rate, no street fair next September for S.V.A. would mean the loss of several thousand dollars in revenue for the group.

Later, returning a phone call from The Villager, Henderson left a message noting that S.V.A. is keeping very active.

“We had a busy day today, as you can imagine,” he said, “with an organization with over 10,000 subscribers and over 9 million verified visits per year” on the S.V.A. Web site.

As for the community board’s vote, Henderson said, “It was obviously the work of some haters.”

The board’s opinion is advisory only, and the Mayor’s Office has the final say on whether to issue a permit to a street fair.

Lederman said he planned to call Emil Lissauer, director of the Street Activity Permit Office, or SAPO, of the Mayor’s Office, to stress that C.B. 2 has recommended denial of S.V.A.’s street fair application, as well as those for the Village Crosstown Trolley and Delta Phi.

‘A little disappointed’

“Needless to say, we’re a little disappointed,” George Haikalis, president of the Village Crosstown Trolley Coalition, said of C.B. 2’s recommendation to put the brakes on the group’s annual Astor Place street fair.

Lederman said the committee found the trolley coalition had done little over the past year except hand out fliers, not enough to merit a street fair in C.B. 2’s district. 

Ian Dutton, vice chairperson of the board’s Traffic & Transportation Committee, was the lone vote in support of the trolley group.

“He has been active, getting studies, showing it’s needed,” Dutton said of Haikalis.

The coalition seeks to pedestrianize Christopher and Eighth Sts. and St. Mark’s Place and run a light-rail trolley down them — a modern version of the trolley that operated there from 1876 to 1936.

Haikalis blasted C.B. 2, charging they are against converting streets to pedestrian spaces, are pro-car and fear mobs of “undesirables” will flood Christopher St. if it becomes a mall. A street fair itself is a step toward a more pedestrian-friendly city, he added.

‘These are public streets’

“They would prefer to see cars moving down streets rather than have people enjoying walking around on the street,” Haikalis said. “These are public streets. They don’t just belong to members of Community Board 2. 

“I think if the community board really liked the idea of what we’re doing, they would have supported it,” he added.

Haikalis, former research director for the now-defunct Tristate Regional Planning Commission, lives in Washington Square Village. He admitted his group could be more active locally. He said some of his members have instead been focusing on trying to get a light rail on 42nd St., a project approved under former Mayor Dinkins but then scrapped by former Mayor Giuliani, who disliked the idea.

Haikalis said the trolley group was hoping to build up enough money to do a study of the Eighth St. project, and would gladly open its books to C.B. 2.

“We’ll prevail,” he predicted confidently. “Christopher St., Eighth St., St. Mark’s Place will be made car-free; and a streetcar will be put down in the middle of the street — just as it once was.”

Responding to Haikalis’s shots at C.B. 2, Lederman said the rejection was based on the applicant’s lack of activity in the board district, nothing more.

To Haikalis’s claim that his Astor Place street fair is an improvement over car traffic, Lederman said, “We think it inconveniences the public and it affects small business owners. There is an overall bias against street fairs [at C.B. 2], because we think there are too many in our district.”

C.B. 2 ‘hazes’ frat

As for why the board recommended denial for Delta Phi, Lederman said the consensus was that the fraternity already gets enough funding from N.Y.U., student membership dues and its national organization. 

“While Delta Phi is a public service focused student organization that provides valuable services to the community,” the committee’s resolution noted, “members of the…fraternity can continue their public service activities in the community without the necessity of closing down public streets and inconveniencing the public.”

Promoters clean up

Also, Lederman noted, about 70 percent of the proceeds from the fairs go — not to the nonprofit organizations whose names headline the events — but to either of the two promotional companies that run most of the multi-block festivals in the C.B. 2 area — Clearview and Mardi Gras — with Clearview running the lion’s share of the fairs.

Bob Gormley, C.B. 2 district manager, said about 50 percent of the district’s 100 or so street fairs each year are the multi-block type run by promoters. The rest are single-block festivals, mainly run by local block associations. The board is trying to encourage the block association festivals, while paring down the number of multi-block street fairs. Helping matters somewhat, the city currently has a moratorium on issuing permits for any new multi-block street festivals.

Gormley said, three years ago, the then-director of SAPO told him C.B. 2 had the most street fairs of any community board district in the city.

Gormley said he personally thinks the Bedford-Barrow-Commerce Block Association runs the best street fair in the city.

“You don’t get the Italian sausages and the sweat socks, for the most part,” he noted, of the B.B.C. fest. “It’s very well run. It’s not the standard vendors — they have interesting craftspersons. The money goes into the area — like [sprucing up] tree pits. That’s the kind of street fair we’re trying to encourage.”

Other street fairs C.B. 2 recently has voted to deny include the Sierra Club, since it has national funding and its office isn’t located in C.B. 2, and a women’s Democratic club, since it didn’t seem to be particularly active locally.

At its Dec. 17 meeting, the board did approve applications for 20 other street fairs, and a second round of applications are on tap for the board’s consideration in January.