Volume 77 / Number 44 - April 02 - 08, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Whips, cannolis, Pride Fest set to hit the streets

By Jefferson Siegel

A leather street fair that whipped up a frenzy of protest last October was again recently up for consideration by Community Board 2. But, this time, the leather fest didn’t come in for rough treatment. On the other hand, C.B. 2 found its decision on the starting date of the annual Mulberry St. restaurant mall to be a meatier issue — and one that is apparently still stewing with intrigue as to whether the city will follow the board’s recommendation.

Villager file photo by Jefferson Siegel
T. C. tried on a leather dog collar at last year’s leather festival on Weehawken St. “Is it me?” he asked a friend.
Last year, C.B. 2 took a beating from some community members after it approved New York Leather Weekend’s using the one-block-long Weehawken St. for one afternoon. Described by organizers as “an exercise in education and diversity,” the street fair featured bondage racks for sale, bullwhip demonstrations, bare-chested men in leather kilts and others sporting “geek”-style latex garb. Protesters complained that local children would be exposed to the S & M extravaganza.

This year, organizers plan to move the early October event to W. 13th St. between West and Washington Sts., the same location that the Folsom Street Fair — another leather affair — formerly used before moving to Chelsea. The announcement was made at C.B. 2’s Street Activity and Film Permits Committee meeting on March 17.

“Given the history of the West Village being a mecca for artists, it seems to have gentrified to the point where people feel like they’re in suburbia,” said Robert Valin, New York Leather Weekend’s president.

Valin added that participants would adhere to the city’s dress code and the event would be closed to anyone under age 18. 

Grant Anderson, an architect living in Chelsea who is president of Gay Male S/M Activists, spoke in favor of granting the permit.

“Where does a parent’s responsibility begin and the state’s responsibility end?” he asked.

Anderson noted the fest is on one day on one block.

“I’ve seen open sex on the streets the rest of the year,” he said. “To say that the neighborhood hasn’t seen this before is a fallacy.” 

That the fest is moving to a less residential area may have blunted opposition to the permit. Though several opponents were in the audience, none spoke against the fest. 

Philip Mouquinho, the committee’s chairperson, admitted the street fair had engendered “a lot of controversy” but noted the leather community had “a good record.”

C.B. 2’s full board voted on Jan. 20 to recommend approval for the leather festival. Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, noted that the site was appropriate given that it had formerly been home to the Folsom Street Fair. The fair had wanted “a connection” to the Village, such as near Christopher St., but the Meat Market location also worked for them, Hoylman said.

“It’s a breakthrough on a controversial issue and all sides are pleased,” he declared.

A more contentious matter was the 11-year-old summertime street mall held by the Little Italy Merchants Association. The mall closes Mulberry St. to car traffic between Canal and Broome Sts. between Friday evenings and Sunday evenings in the warm weather; restaurants are allowed to put their tables all the way out to the curb line.

More than half the standing-room crowd of 100 people at the committee meeting came to speak regarding the permit request. 

LIMA organizers presented the outdoor mall as a benefit to merchants and residents alike. But several longtime residents rose to disagree.

Victor Papa, a resident of Southbridge Towers on Fulton St., spoke in favor of granting the permit, saying the mall represents a tradition. Katherine Baxter, a Mulberry St. resident, was interrupted several times as she noted she was not asking that the permit be denied, but that late-night noise and activity prohibitions should be enforced.

Lillian Tozzi, one of the founding members of the Little Italy Neighbors Association, criticized a flier posted throughout the neighborhood that stated: “Stop the Few Radicals From Destroying Little Italy.” 

Tozzi asked the committee to guarantee that restaurants would not block residential building entrances when they put out street tables.

A mall organizer said private security would enforce such rules. 

Board members persisted in asking LIMA organizers for an accounting of revenue from the street mall. An attorney for LIMA politely declined to provide the accounting, saying city law doesn’t require it. 

Maria Passannante Derr, a C.B. 2 member, persisted, reminding mall organizers they had agreed to provide such an accounting when they signed their original request for a permit. LIMA’s lawyer again deferred to city law, declining to provide the accounting. Later on at the meeting, several committee members said they were taken aback by the LIMA attorney’s refusal to provide the agreed-to accounting.

The committee decided to recommend a permit with several alterations to LIMA’s original request. On holiday weekends the mall would have to close at midnight, not 1 a.m. LIMA had requested an earlier, May 2, opening of the mall, rather than late May or Memorial Day weekend. But the committee recommended a Memorial Day start, running through Labor Day.

On March 20, after some debate, C.B. 2’s full board voted to recommend a Memorial Day start for the Mulberry St. mall.

“I think it’s a very reasonable suggestion,” Hoylman said of the later starting date. “It’s clearly an issue that the local neighborhood feels strongly about.”

But Mouquinho predicted the city will ignore the board’s advisory resolution and O.K. the mall’s kicking off in early May, which would include Mother’s Day, which Mouquinho said is the year’s biggest day for restaurants.

“We’re in the worst year for small businesses,” he added. “You know it’s a contraction, not a recession. Seven out of 54 restaurants in Little Italy are up for sale.”

Asked how he knew the mall would have an early start, Mouquinho said, after being on C.B. 2 for four years, he knew the right people to talk to at city agencies.

“Thank God for the agencies,” he said, criticizing the board’s resolution.

The full board also approved the annual Pride Festival for Hudson St. between 13th and Bethune Sts. for June 29. Last year, the festival tying in with the Gay Pride March ran afoul of the Mayor’s Office after a last-minute attempt to move it to Chelsea, and the permit was denied. This year, the organizers decided to return the event to the Village.

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson




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