Astor news vendor appeals to state’s highest court

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  Jerry Delakas is still hanging onto the Astor Place newsstand where he has been serving the neighborhood for more than 25 years.

For more than a year, he has been fighting to overturn a Department of Consumer Affairs decision to pull his newsstand license, and has lost twice in court.

If it were up to his neighbors and to the countless people who buy newspapers and magazines, or just stop to ask him for directions, Delakas, 64, would be there for life. More than 1,000 of them, including residents of Stewart House, at 70 E. 10th St., have signed a petition of support.

Hopes rose on Wednesday when Delakas’s lawyer, Gil Santamarina, filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals in Albany, the highest court in the state, that if successful would keep Delakas at the newsstand on the triangle where Astor Place and E. Eighth St. intersect with Lafayette St.

“We’re grateful that Consumer Affairs has agreed to sit tight until this is all over,” Santamarina said on Wed., May 30.

Jerry, who is supporting an ailing brother at their home in Sunnyside, Queens, has been selling papers on the site since the mid-1980s when he worked for the then-license holders, Abraham and Stella Schwartz. After they died in 1987, Katherine Ashley was the licensee and Delakas worked for her. After she died in 2006, Jerry ran the newsstand for her husband, Sheldon, until he died in 2009.

Before she died, Katherine Ashley wrote in her will that she wanted Gerasimos (Jerry’s real name) Delakas to run the stand after her husband died. But despite Sheldon’s estate lawyers’ application to renew the license in Jerry’s name, D.C.A. refused in April 2010. The department said the 24-year-old agreement that Jerry had with Ashley to run the stand was not legal.

Santamarina took the case to Manhattan State Supreme Court, which upheld the D.C.A., and he then appealed to the five-member Appellate Division panel, which on April 26 also upheld D.E.C.

“But a 3-2 decision gave us the automatic right to go to the Court of Appeals,” Santamarina said.

The dissenting opinion held that Jerry has a “pre-existing, established relationship” to the former license holders Stella Schwartz and Katherine Ashley. The dissent also held that Jerry “is the person to whom the grant of such a license would be in the interest of fairness,” and noted that Jerry rebuilt the newsstand around 1993 at a cost of about $55,000.

“I think we have a good shot at the appeal,” Santamarina said. However, he would not speculate on when the case might be heard in Albany or when a decision might be made.

Among Jerry’s friends and supporters is Bruce Cunningham, executive director of the Queens Interagency Council on Aging, who recently took a series of photos of Jerry at the newsstand.

And on Wednesday night, Nicole Cimino, an actress and filmmaker, showed “The Paper House Report,” a 25-minute documentary about Jerry, at WIP (Work In Progress), the artists collective at 34 Vandam St.

Cimino, who came to New York from Rome two years ago, met Jerry quite by accident when she was at the newsstand waiting for a colleague. She noticed news articles about him from The Villager on display at the newsstand, and dug into the story. She and her partner, Luigi Benvisto, decided to document her research.

“We interviewed Jerry, of course, and his customers, Community Board 2 members, Martin Tessler and Joan Schulz, who live at 70 E. 10th St.,” Cimino said. “We tried to get another supporter, Rosie Mendez, the city councilmember, but we ran out of time because we wanted to finish the film in time to do some good.”

Meanwhile, more supporters and customers were still signing onto the petition this week.

Jerry, born on Kephalonia, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, worked as a merchant seaman until he left his ship in Boston in the 1970s.

“I’ve been here more than any other place in my life,” he said this week.

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