‘Nightlife mayor’ asks for residents’ ‘trust’

Ariel Palitz, the city’s “nightlife mayor” — with city agency officials behind her — addressing the town hall on nightlife last week. Photos by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | East Village and Lower East Side residents dominated Manhattan’s Nightlife Town Hall on Wed., Nov. 28 — the fifth town hall on recently appointed Nightlife Mayor Ariel Palitz’s citywide “listening tour.”

Some questioned the need for an Office of Nightlife altogether, accusing Palitz of being biased toward the nightlife industry because of her past as a bar owner.

“I don’t think we need an Office of Nightlife,” declared Carol Puttre-Czyz, a creative consultant who has lived in the East Village for three decades. “We need protection from nightlife. Isn’t New York City enough of a party city?” she asked.

Palitz emphasized early on in the evening that she herself lives above a bar in the East Village and urged that she can see all sides of the issue, despite what some may believe.

Quality of life, she said, is a “top and equal goal” to supporting what nightlife contributes to the city, creatively, artistically, culturally and economically. Palitz’s office estimates that nightlife contributes $48 billion to the city’s economy, supports roughly 300,000 jobs, and generates $700 million in tax revenue, according to preliminary numbers from a study the office will release by the end of the year.

Palitz conceded that there are reasons why people might mistrust the office’s intent.

“Because of the perception of who I am,” she said, “who this office is, and the advisory board, the only thing that will clarify [the office’s intentions] is time.”

Bowery Block Association member Michele Campo lamented that her block has become an “alcoholic theme park.”

“I liked the way it was before,” said Campo, who said she has lived on the Bowery nearly her entire life. “People wouldn’t come to visit me because they were afraid. But now, it’s an alcoholic theme park with trolling drunkards, people pissing all over.”

Campo pushed Palitz to answer when the “dreadful” behavior would be stopped and stipulations on liquor licenses enforced.

Palitz shot back, “Listen, you say that friends didn’t visit you because it was too dangerous, and now you like it better when it’s less dangerous?

“The whole purpose of creating the Office of Nightlife and having these meetings is to assess these issues,” Palitz added. “I ask for patience and trust.”

When Palitz was first appointed “Nightlife Mayor,” Lower East Side and East Village groups were tentatively hopeful something positive could come of the new position. But others felt optimistic since Palitz’s boss would be Julie Menin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and a former chairperson of Lower Manhattan’s Community Board 1, with experience addressing quality-of-life concerns and dealing with film shoots on the streets.

Dale Goodson, of the East Village’s North Avenue A Neighborhood Association, asked Palitz and the other officials about the problem of liquor-license oversaturation.

Meanwhile, members of the underground nightlife scene, often dubbed the “DIY community,” called out the Police Department’s lack of transparency on its efforts to crack down on nightlife operating illegally — specfically, through the Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots, or MARCH, initiative.

“Some of these events can be attacked. And most of the time, these are events that are cultural hubs and observing creativity and honing diversity,” said Ian Orr, a promoter for ReSolute, who added that MARCH often also shuts down events that are operating legally.

Legislation to increase transparency in these sort of enforcement actions was recently introduced by Brooklyn Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Rafael Espinal. Espinal spearheaded the repeal of the Cabaret Law, which banned dancing in nonlicensed premises, as well as legislation that established the Nightlife Office.

Nightlife, others offered, can be ground zero for cultural change and public-health initiatives, too — like sexual-health education campaigns and efforts to end sexual violence.

Stephen Mills, program coordinator at the Mt. Sinai Men’s Sexual Health Project, said he works at sex venues and clubs, often in Chelsea, to provide free testing for H.I.V. and sexually transmitted infections, plus access to the H.I.V.-prevention medication PrEP.

“There’s lots and lots of us in this city, and nightlife places and spaces like that are a great way to cause a lot of social change, as well as education for a lot of different opportunities,” Mills said. He added of the Manhattan town hall that it “has been one neighborhood complaining most of the time.”

The Office of Nightlife was inspired, in part, by other cities that have established similar offices to navigate the battles between venue operators and residents. Nightlife Office members touted Amsterdam’s success in reducing noise and nuisance complaints as something that could be replicated in New York.

The office also aims to legitimize the “DIY” community and promote creative spaces that nightlife venues often provide, often for queer communities and people of color.

Palitz leads a staff of three along with a 14-person volunteer advisory board, whose members were appointed earlier this year.

Her office will act as a liaison between several city and state agencies — including the Police Department, the State Liquor Authority and the Department of Buildings — to bridge gaps and create a space for discussions that have often played out at community board liquor license meetings and politicians’ offices.

As Councilmember Keith Powers put it, “There’s really been no good landing spot to have a good, serious conversation about how do we help those who want to be in business here. [And] how do we also look at those who live in and around neighborhoods that feel saturated.”

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