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Extra! Extra! Astor Place vendor returns to newsstand

Published: January 16, 2014

Publication: The Villager

By Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Updated Wed., Jan. 15, 11 p.m.  |  Great news! Longtime newsstand vendor Jerry Delakas is back at his kiosk on Astor Place.

A press conference with Delakas, his attorney, Arthur Schwartz, and supporters was held at the stand on Monday afternoon to announce the settlement.

Schwartz, of the law firm Advocates for Justice, who represented Delakas pro bono, declared it a victory for the 99%. And while the stand is admittedly small, its reopening — with Delakas manning it — represents a sea change at City Hall, he said.

“Jerry Delakas’s license stands as the first action by the de Blasio administration to reverse one of the abusive actions of the Bloomberg administration,” declared  Schwartz, who is also the Village’s Democratic district leader. “Jerry Delakas stands for the other New York, particularly small businesspeople who have been drowned over the past several years with escalating rents, increasing bureaucratic red tape, and overzealous enforcement in the form of increased fines.

“Bill de Blasio said he was running to make sure that the constituents of the non-1% New York were treated with respect,” Schwartz said. “And by reversing four years of policy aimed at destroying the life of one 64-year-old Greek immigrant, Bill de Blasio has taken an important symbolic step in the right direction.”

Phil Walzak, de Blasio’s press secretary, told The Villager, “We are glad we could reach an outcome that ensures Jerry’s will remain a part of this community for years to come.”

Under an agreement that Schwartz worked out with the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, Delakas will receive a license — in his own name — to operate the newsstand. But he’ll have to pay a $9,000 fine, to be done in installments through next November.

Delakas was required to make a $1,000 payment at the time of the settlement, to be followed by $3,000 in May, $2,000 in August and $3,000 in November.

In November, in the final days of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, D.C.A. suddenly padlocked the newsstand, charging Delakas had been running it illegally without actually holding the license. All of the newsstand’s contents were removed to a warehouse.

But the community came to the support of the beloved vendor, holding weekly rallies outside the stand and plastering it with fliers and posters advocating for his cause.

The day after Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration, Delakas, accompanied by Kelly King, an East Village visual artist who has championed his cause, attended a “public’s open house” at Gracie Mansion, and were able to briefly meet with de Blasio. They carried with them a small-scale model of Delakas’s stand.

Told of Delakas’s plight, the mayor reportedly told them, “I know the stand, it’s great. And I know the issue well — it’s a great injustice.” He then told an aide, “It’s most important. Get on this right away.”

Schwartz said King and Delakas’s interaction with the mayor was critical, and really started the ball rolling with the city.

“It took three of four days, and it was a lot of back and forth with the city,” he said of the negotiations.

The judged signed the order later on Monday and on Tuesday morning a D.C.A. inspector arrived to remove the padlock, and give Delakas a new one.

As for how the vendor will pay off the $9,000 fine, Schwartz said, “I think people are going to do fundraisers. His supporters are going to raise money. They have a Facebook page set up. Also, the son of the last license holder will give some money.

“If he misses the payments, the city will have to give him 30 days notice and 30 days to cure.”

However, the special agreement pertains specifically only to Delakas’s case. While operating the stand for 27 years, Delakas was only a sublessee, paying the actual license holders $75 a week.

The last license holder passed away a few years ago, but not before willing the license to Delakas. The city, though, maintained that wasn’t a legal transfer. So Schwartz, in a new strategy, decided Delakas had to apply for a new license on his own.

At first D.C.A. staffers were loath to take the application packet, but, as Schwartz told the agency’s attorneys, “You’ve got a new boss now.”

“It’s not precedential for anyone,” Schwartz explained of Delakas’s agreement, meaning it only applies to the Astor Place vendor’s particular situation. “They don’t want people willing city licenses and passing them down in their will,” he noted.

The agreement states, in part, “This stipulation shall not be admissible in, nor is it related to, any other litigation or settlement negotiations… Nothing contained herein shall be deemed to constitute a policy or practice of the City of New York… Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit in any way the authority of D.C.A. to exercise its enforcement powers under…the New York City Administrative Code.”

As Marty Tessler, one of Delakas’s biggest advocates, put it, “The de Blasio spirit of the law overruled the letter of the law. Jerry had a relationship with the original licensee — he entered into it innocently.”

“Speedy,” a barber at Astor Place Hairstylists down the block, was happy to hear of the settlement. He said he would always buy Delakas a coffee every morning.

Told of the press conference on Monday at the newsstand announcing the news, Speedy said, “I’ll be there.”

Tuesday morning, after the newsstand had finally been reopened, Delakas told The Villager, “I thank the media. God bless America. I thank everyone in the city from the bottom to the top. Thanks for my nest,” he said, referring to his newsstand.

King was there, too, to welcome him back to the kiosk.

Explaining how she came to take up Delakas’s cause, she said, “When Taylor Mead got put out on Ludlow St. and died the week later — I said, if they ever strong-arm an old man again… . I felt he needed someone to stand beside him.”

She noted that Delakas, who lives in Sunnyside, is also the sole provider for his twin brother and an older brother.

People kept stopping by to offer the vendor congratulations.

“You see. The atmosphere on the corner has changed,” he said. “It’s a new atmosphere.”

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