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Fashion’s Night Out can be a great event for New York City, but last Thursday’s incident in Noho shows it can also get out of hand. The mix of free alcohol given out by the fashion boutiques and the excitement of the evening can, under the wrong circumstances, turn ugly.
That’s unfortunately what happened at Broadway and Bleecker St. last Thursday when a street party grew too big, and a cyclist with a bad attitude — clearly emboldened by the crowd’s numbers — decided to victimize a local resident.
Mitchell Levine, a brain surgeon in a local hospital, was simply trying to drive home from work. The street party had gotten so massive that it blocked all but one lane on Broadway. We don’t know for certain whether or not there was some sort of altercation between the driver and the cyclist. Levine said there was none.
But from the video of the incident, the cyclist is clearly uninjured, looks relaxed, is smiling and keeps gesturing and pointing at Levine’s car, as people from the crowd start to hop on it, then run across it and dance on it, and finally kick in its front and rear windows. Clearly, Levine did nothing to deserve this.
We were a bit disappointed after calling some of our cyclist activist friends and asking for their take on the incident. They said, in their view, the cyclist did nothing wrong. But clearly, this guy escalated the situation. Police are now looking for him and have issued a “Wanted” poster with his face on it. The cyclist and other individuals who precipitated the incident or were involved in it are being sought for criminal mischief and inciting a riot.
The Soho Alliance is calling for a meeting with various relevant city agencies — including Sanitation, Police and SAPO (Street Activity Permit Office) — to create some policies so that another riot doesn’t occur, and also to address ongoing problems, such as noise and garbage, with Fashion’s Night Out. There should be more security and people should be carded before receiving free alcohol at the fashion boutiques, they say. These are reasonable ideas.
Was police manpower too light? That question is now being asked. By chance, we strolled by the street party about 15 or 20 minutes before Levine drove into it, and we have to admit, we were a bit surprised that police had not already responded. The party was already spilling into Broadway at that point, taking up one or two lanes, and the sidewalk was completely packed with people. People were having a great time, sure — but the numbers simply got too large.
This wasn’t the first time issues have been raised about the event. In the past, ACE has complained about what a chore it is to clean up Soho’s trash-strewn streets after Fashion’s Night Out. ACE cleaned the streets again after this year’s event.
Councilmember Margaret Chin is calling last Thursday night’s incident “totally unacceptable,” and this week talked with Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn about the mayhem surrounding Fashion’s Night Out. The councilmember was planning to follow up with an official letter to the mayor.
Chin is reportedly considering closing side streets to traffic and employing a wristband system to prevent underage drinking.
Clearly, as Fashion’s Night Out’s reputation has grown it is getting more unmanageable. Better safeguards need to be put in place. Again, this can be a wonderful event for the city and the fashion industry — or it can be a quality-of-life nightmare. We’re looking forward to what improvements Chin, the Soho Alliance, Community Board 2 and city agencies can come up with and implement to ensure this remains a fun, peaceful event. If that can’t be done, then many Downtown residents, no doubt, will ask that this event go elsewhere.