BY SAM SPOKONY | As Mayor Bill de Blasio remains silent on the issue, a coalition of park advocates and politicians gathered near the Union Square Park pavilion on March 9 to call again for him to kill the Bloomberg-era plan to place a seasonal, high-end restaurant in the public pavilion.
The advocates recently lost their legal battle against the plan, which will allow the Chef Driven Market bistro to open as early as a month from now. But the court decision that greenlighted the scheme also states that the city can terminate that contract at any time. So the restaurant’s opponents want de Blasio to block it now, before the public space — which has long served as a recreation area for local residents, especially children and seniors — can be privatized.
State Senator Brad Hoylman attended the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, Sylvia, declaring that she and other local children should not lose a valuable playspace in an area already oversaturated by bars and eateries.
“That’s why we’re asking Mayor de Blasio to put an end to this farce,” said Hoylman, “and make certain that the pavilion is returned to the people, and to park users like Sylvia.”
Citing a severe lack of parkland around the Union Square area, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney called the restaurant plan “one of the dumbest ideas I have ever seen.”
Also at the rally, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel highlighted the pavilion’s history as a gathering space for labor leaders and other activists. He claimed that privatizing the property would deeply dishonor that history — while possibly also infringing on free-speech rights. Referring to de Blasio, the attorney said that the advocates’ request to keep the space public should not be a difficult task for a “progressive” mayor.
“So, Mayor de Blasio, this is a test for you,” Siegel exclaimed, “to see whether your actions will meet your rhetoric.”
One of the people who has, in fact, used the pavilion as a site for labor activism is George Altomare, a longtime East Village resident and a co-founder of the United Federation of Teachers.
Speaking after the rally, Altomare, 82, fondly recalled speaking in Union Square in the 1960s and ’70s alongside legendary U.F.T. president Albert Shanker, among others, as they fought for teachers’ collective bargaining rights. He explained that he has already written to de Blasio, urging him to keep the space public.
“I would be deeply disappointed in [de Blasio] if he doesn’t stop this,” said Altomare. “I’d honestly have to re-evaluate my opinion of him, as well as my vote for him.”
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.