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Saving Jerry’s newsstand: The story behind the story

Published: January 30, 2014

Publication: The Villager

By Martin Tessler

Standing in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s on E. 14th St. this past September, a few weeks after primary day, I looked over at the neighboring line and saw an old friend from the “neighborhood wars” of battling the N.Y.U. 2031 Anschluss of the Village and other land-use issues — Ray Cline. Little did I realize that from our Trader Joe’s queue to this point in time how the steadfast devotion by a number of people from the community would play out in this adventure.

“Ray — just the guy I want to talk to talk to.”

“What’s up that I’m on your Wanted poster?” he asked.

I proceed to tell him how we have been mired in the “no man’s land” of a city bureaucracy involving the Department of Consumer Affairs and Jerry Delakas’s newsstand, where Jerry was given a summons (two days after primary day) to appear before a D.C.A. hearing for operating his newsstand without a license.

This was after three court decisions. In the first trial, Supreme Court Judge Cynthia Kern in March 2011 ruled in favor of D.C.A. in denying Jerry a license. She ruled that it was within D.C.A.’s discretion to deny because Jerry had been operating illegally for 24 years and had an “under-the-table arrangement” with the stand’s actual licensee.

That decision was upheld by the Appellate Division in a 3-to-2 decision, though there was a strong dissent by two of the justices, who felt D.C.A. was acting in an overly narrow interpretation of the statute that permitted awarding the license if it was the applicant’s sole means of livelihood. The evidence pointed to the fact that Jerry’s job at the newsstand was the sole means of support for himself and two brothers. But the Appellate court did not agree with this interpretation, and its decision was next appealed to the Court of Appeals — the state’s highest court — which upheld the lower courts in October 2012.

I explained how I had reached out to City Councilperson Rosie Mendez, who arranged a meeting with Councilmember Dan Garodnick, chairperson of Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee, in December 2012. After a meeting with D.C.A., there was a verbal understanding that the matter of Jerry’s license would be left for the next mayor’s administration to handle. I told Jerry he was O.K. until the next election.

Thus, we were stunned when, following the mayoral primary, the summons from DCA for operating without a license suddenly was issued and Jerry’s newsstand was padlocked. It was totally incomprehensible considering the previous report of Councilmember Garodnick to Mendez.

After giving Ray my brief digest of the case, I told him that we had reached the end of the rope in the legal area and needed a legal counsel who knew the way around and through the political world. Ray told me to call Arthur Schwartz, with whom I had served on Community Board 2 for 13 years. Arthur was known to me as the chairperson of the C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee and as a top legal counsel for the Transport Workers Union, among his other legal endeavors.

There was a D.C.A. hearing before an administrative judge in early October 2013, also attended by Rosie, at which Jerry had to answer the summons of operating without a license. It was then that D.C.A. came out with their “deal” offering to allow Jerry to apply for a license in his own name. But this deal was contingent upon his payment of a $37,000 fine, for the 370 days that passed between the hearing date and the prior Court of Appeals decision, at $100 per day — plus, he would not get the Astor Place newsstand location. We immediately turned D.C.A. down.

Arthur immediately made use of his contacts, reaching out to Bill de Blasio’s staff to alert them to what was likely to be coming across their desk in the ensuing mayoral election he was favored to win. This contact with de Blasio’s staff helped immensely following the November election when we were still in limbo with Jerry’s license.

It was at de Blasio’s “public’s open house” following his inauguration that Kelly King — one of the stalwart community volunteers who drew up the signs supporting Jerry that were papered on the closed newsstand — encountered the new mayor in his receiving line after a four-hour wait with Jerry as her line companion. De Blasio recognized King from her previous volunteer work on his campaign, and after  lingering hugs and pecks on the cheek, she quickly briefed the mayor on Jerry’s case. The new mayor indicated he was aware of the situation and called over to his aides to “get on the case.” It was several days later that word came down from City Hall to D.C.A. to cut the fine from the punitive $37,000 to $9,000 and to proceed with licensing Jerry, and for the same Astor Place location.

As Jerry and I proceeded to Arthur’s office to sign papers the following Monday for Jerry’s license application, and to deliver a $1,000 initial payment of the fine to the Corporation Counsel’s office, we were walking along Park Row outside City Hall Park when I noticed a group on foot heading toward us. As my gaze raised upward to the height of the tall guy between two burly flankers, the tall man looked in our direction and in a loud voice said, “How ya doin’?”

My brain did not immediately assimilate what had transpired, and after a few more seconds, I turned to Jerry and said, “Jerry that was de Blasio and he recognized you from the open house.”

Here was the mayor who turned the letter of D.C.A.’s licensing law into the spirit of what licensing is all about — serving the public for 27 years without incident and not mired in trite legalisms — coming to the rescue.

There have been many people from the community that have reached out — and many who have shown up daily — to support Jerry in his fight to obtain the license. Here’s a special salute to Ray Cline and Trader Joe’s long lines; Arthur Schwartz freeing himself up from all his other pro-bono work to take on Jerry’s case; and Kelly King for volunteering to help Jerry and having the idea to take him to the mayor’s open house.

And we welcome the refreshing change coming out of City Hall of bringing the city back to its community roots. The city is the people, the people are the neighborhood, and the neighborhood is all of us. Above all, we are a city of neighborhoods — something that has been forgotten for the past 12 years.

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