Monday, December 9, 2013

The War on Wieners

Yesterday, Cathryn Swan of the Washington Square Park Blog organized a rally in the park to save its hot dog vendors against the wrath of socialites. Thanks to reader Lois, a former vendor in the city's public parks, for sending in these photos from the event.

all color photos by Lois

As Swan first revealed on her blog (complete with secret documents!), a private group of "wealthy women" have incorporated themselves into a conservancy, a.k.a. "a little friends group," and are pushing to boot the “unsightly” hot dog vendors from the park, replacing them with more upscale food carts, along with a cart from celebrity restaurateur Mario Batali that will be allowed to remain. (Batali is on the board of the little friends group.)

The upper-crust cabal is run by John Leguizamo’s wife, Justine, and socialite Veronica Bulgari. John Leguizamo defended himself on Twitter, saying, “I wanna keep the hot-dog guy," and "We had nothing to do with it. The park did it on their own and we became the scapegoat.”

On the same day of the rally, the Post reported that the Parks Department was reconsidering its decision.

This isn't the first time that hot dog vendors have had to fight for their right to exist. Bloomberg got strict with them, his inspectors overcharging fines for various infractions. Also in the 2000s, the city tried to boot Vietnam veteran hot-dog vendors from in front of the Met. The vets won.

Rudy Giuliani tried the hardest to get rid of them in his 1990s Quality of Life campaign. As the Times wrote in 1998: "There is a difference between making the streets safer and cleaner and making war on the New Yorkness of New York City. In his zeal for order and obedience, he must not destroy the lively street scene that is part of the city's historic flavor. No one misses the squeegee men, but do we really want to outlaw the corner hot-dog stand?"

Ed Koch also cracked down, sweeping vendors from the busier streets for creating too much clutter. As the Times reported him saying in 1988, "This is not supposed to look like a souk."

Somehow, the hot dog carts and their vendors have come to symbolize disorder, disobedience, and the untamed spirit of the city. Maybe that's why many of us love them so much. They are among the last vestiges of the real New York, not controlled by big national chains and not branded "artisanal" with jacked-up prices.

The hot dog cart is utterly democratic. For over a century, it has been a low-threshold entryway to business for immigrants and others. There is nothing exclusive about the hot dog cart. It is not pretty and it resists control. That's exactly why it is problematic to the new urban elite, especially in today's luxury New York.

We've had enough of socialites dictating what the city is all about. Will Mayor de Blasio continue the war on wieners? Or will he give the humble and historic hot-dog cart (and its vendors) a break?

Hot dog vendor, 1910, via New York Times


maximum bob said...

Reminds me of the cruel war the city waged against the Red Hook food vendors. This shit has to stop.

Caleo said...

It's truly pathetic that a cabal of wealthy socialites with far too much time on their hands have decided to make a war on vendors. They need to get a job or something.
I'm not on Facebook or Twitter, but a good place to apply some push back would be an inundation of the Facebook/Twitter accounts of the guilty socialites.
It sounds like Leguizamo didn't like the negative reaction. That tells you how to fight these folks.
Hit them where it hurts... their social networking profiles.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

So we can have fiasco-ridden Googa Mooga events in our public parks ($50 a pop for food that included foie gras doughnuts) but no hot dog stands? Do we laugh or cry at the state of this city?

Anonymous said...

There is a deeper story behind this Conservancy.

The City has been pushing conservancies onto city parks for many years. Conservancies are then granted control over much of the Park, including vendor concessions, by means of a 'license agreement' with the City.

This group at Washington Square Park did not come out of nowhere. They spent several years in secret meetings with the Parks department getting all their legal documents together, making plans about their future activities, and coordinating what they would say to the public.

Then this last June they came before the public, at Community Board 2, and answered probing questions with denials which are now proving, on point after point, false. They said they would not take a licence with the city, they were already negotiating it privately with Parks department. They said they had no documents like mission statement, bylaws, or 501(c)3 nonprofit application available for the CB to inspect; they had all of these things. They adamantly rejected any suggestion that NYU could influence them or would have anything to do with them; they were already in secret discussions with NYU about a half million bucks donation to be managed by the Conservancy.

The hot dog vendor eviction is an act of hubris on their part which they also carried out as soon as they could start holding board meetings. Its well beyond the role they told the CB they would play. But the eviction is literally the tip of the iceberg of their questionable conduct and of the implications for the Park and the community.

Read the Washington Square Park blog for details.

Anonymous said...

Who knew John Leguizamo had gone all upscale with his second wife? John, don't forget your roots! Come back to us! Join the normal folks and protest this!

Michael Simmons said...

I've taken all I can stands and I can't stands no more!

Trying to rid New York of hot dog stands??? Sabrett's made me the man I am today. I'm mostly a pacifist, but my gut response is that we start hanging a few of these too-rich folks from lamp posts.

Michael Simmons said...

We need to let them know. Here's the dame in charge.

And here's what I wrote her.

Dear Sarah,

Please stop ruining my hometown. Sabrett's made me the man I am today. You and your fellow one-percenters can take your $4 ice cream sandwiches and shove 'em up your hedge fund.

Best wishes,

Cosmo said...

First get rid of the hot dog vendors. Once the outcry has died down, resume the war on musicians, performers and artists. Once the park is thoroughly cleansed of these blights, get ready for the inevitable Christmas market that will no doubt take over the entire fountain area for two months a year (see Bryant Park and Union Square), but will look oh-so festive beneath the arch.

The rest of the year will feature art installations and musical/theatrical performances that have been pre-approved by the conservancy because they know what's best and most tasteful.

Tompkins Square take note: the film crews that take over the park regularly in summer and the dog birthday party that blocked off the east end of the park for a day was just testing the waters.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the concept that a park is a self-programming place, a blank canvas upon which a community weary of being pushed around can go to relax free form and create their own environment, this has to be pushed aside so that a privileged group, and corporations, can use it to create THEIR environment.

It has to be, dont you see. They have the power to grab it, therefore it inherently is better and more valuable than the mere public use as a space to enjoy life. IT MUST BE IMPROVED UPON. How could anyone not see that ;-)

Dan C said...

I was a street vendor in the 80's (Larry's ices). It not only was a great job for those of us with other projects on the creative side, it also employed a lot students. I always liked being part of that larger diverse group of vendors and everyone looked out for each other. And EVERYBODY went to us for food. I had a slew of regulars. We were an ingrained part of the the city fabric. And you could get a hot dog, an ice and maybe a pretzel or chestnuts for almost nothing. The most upscale" vendors were Chipwich and Blazing Blenders.

That being said, we were also targets for police sweeps during their usual quota fills. If they found one "wrong" thing with your cart or license, it was impounded and you were forced to pay a huge fine.

And no carts near parks? Man, life HAS changed here....

Giovanni said...

It's not a CONservancy, it's a CONspiracy being run by a bunch of rich CON artists with the dream of turning Washington Square and all other parks into the Winter Wonderland spectacle that has taken over Bryant Park, and would have overrun Union Square if not for the Farmers Market.

Cosmo is correct, Tompkins Square is surely next, and events there like the private dog birthday party where they yellow-taped a large area and kept out anyone not invited, and SantaCon which erupts and makes Tompkins Square zero for all manner of vomit and public urination this Saturday, is a sure sign of the impending real estate developer apocalypse.

Thankfully these duplicitous fakirs trying to privatize Washington Square were exposed by their own emails (hello Edward Snowden). Apparently they had never heard of a Freedom of Information request, which simply means if you do business with the city and then tell us one thing but do another, we are going to find out about it.

If this so-called "conservancy" has its way, we can fully expect the very worst kind of elitist privatization takeover, and the kind of haughty high-handed attitudes that go along with it, and the ruination of a treasured public space that belongs to all New Yorkers, not just the privileged few. Catherine Swan did a great job exposing their duplicity, I bet Julian Assange would be impressed. The question now is what will everyone else do about this?

They want to run a film festival in the park? We already have TriBeCa and the NY Film festival and dozens more. What's next, a locked gate like Gramercy Park, where you need to be a millionaire or a nanny to get in? How about a Bloomberg Pavilion where the fountain stands, with valet parking and wedding events for Russian billionaires? How about a helipad for NYU's administrators, or a four star restaurant to replace the playground?

These may sound like exaggerations, but do you want to take the chance that I'm kidding? Would you have believed just 12 years ago we would have 2-4 bedroom apartments selling for anywhere from $10-$100 million? The foreign money pouring into the city combined with the collapsed value of the dollar have conspired to make us as cheap to foreigners as Mexico is to us.

I have been in WSP over a hundred times this year, and I almost never see anyone buying from that little Mario Batali gelato cart that looks like a prop in a movie, yet people are always buying from the hotdog stands.

But don't be fooled, the fancy new food carts are just the first step. Just look at how they have turned Bryant Park into Disney On Ice with the restaurant and bar and sponsored pavilion all the holiday gift shops and wall to wall tourists and the merry go round. Now tell me you'd like to see the same thing happen to Washington Square Park?

These conservatory people need to get over themselves. This is New York. We still eat things like hot dogs and hot pretzels and Good Humor bars even if they do not. we don't need someone to conserve what we already have, it's been working fine for a hundred years without a babysitter to take care of it.

Ever since they shut down the park for what seemed like forever just to prettify it, and move the fountain a few yards over just to adjust the sight-lines (which made no sense at all) it is becoming more obvious now that the whole point was to prove that you can shut down and rebuild a major NYC public park in preparation for the real rebuilding plan. And the real plan seems to have something to do with NYU demolishing the central village, and the real estate developers cashing in on their next big land grab.

It's time for incoming Mayor de Blasio to step in and stop this before its too late, or we really will become a Tale of Two Cities, with us looking in at all the lucky children playing inside Camp Washington Square Park for Overprivileged Children.

Anonymous said...

Yo John Leguizamo who the fuck are you to say you want the hotdog guy to stay or not? Little punk bitch. You're down with the cause or you'd tell your wife to leave the hotdog guy alone and she'd do it as part of the pact of marriage which says obey the husband.

I don't ever wanna see you talk about how "New York" you are again if these guys can't sell hotdogs in or alongside the park (whichever) because YOU would be partially to blame. Tell your wife to lay off and hopefully she'll get the other women to lay off.