Too much Garlic (Run) in Little Italy, critics say

By David H. Ellis

Several residents of Little Italy revisited an ongoing quarrel with organizers of an annual charity motorcycle rally, calling on local city officials to take action on the event.

The Gooch’s Garlic Run rally, which saw nearly 2,000 motorcyclists drive through Little Italy along Canal St. to raise money for children afflicted with an illness, drew criticism from some residents who were frustrated by the cacophony of motorbikes and visitors that crowded the narrow streets of the historic neighborhood on the evening of Wed., June 16.

At the June 17 Community Board 2 meeting, Councilmember Alan Gerson indicated that he had received complaints and would look into the event and attempt to remedy the situation.

At the same time, charity organizers such as Robert Ianniello, Jr., president of the Little Italy Merchants Association and owner of Umberto’s Clam House, defended the event, which was primarily made up of members of the New Jersey chapter of the Blue Knights, a nonprofit organization of current and former police officers who are motorcycle enthusiasts.

“If we did this every weekend I wouldn’t want it on my block either, but it’s one day a year and the people that are complaining — it’s the same thing every year,” said Ianniello, whose organization helped sponsor the event. “No matter what we seem to do, we don’t seem to please them. They [motorcyclists] come in, have dinner and go home and they’re police officers so its not like the Hells Angels. It’s a pretty decent crowd.”

This year’s Garlic Run, which marked the 17th anniversary of the event and involved a 35-mile drive, started at the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Morris County, N.J., with riders passing through the Holland Tunnel before ending in Little Italy on Mulberry between Canal and Broome Sts.

The rally, which has raised as much as $53,000 in previous years, this year raised funds for a 4-year-old girl undergoing open heart surgery in Morris County, N.J. Even though Ianniello insisted that most members of the Blue Knights who stayed in Little Italy to dine at local restaurants had vacated the neighborhood by 11 p.m., area residents claimed that the noise and clogged streets and walkways were the biggest problem with the event.

“It was unbelievable,” said one resident about the throttling engines and the number of bikes lining the sidewalks. The individual declined to be identified, claiming to have received previous threats. “If it’s to raise money for local children that’s fine. But it’s not for kids with needs in our neighborhood, so why do we need to be disrupted?”