Saturday, March 17, 2007

Peddler Patrons

Clearly, as the mini furor this week over our leaked memo underscores, there is a great deal of underlying sympathy for the street vendor. Some of this sympathy comes from the righteous New York support for the hard working underdog, but it is also true that a good amount of the support that vendors garner comes from a deep level hostility in the political class for the rights of businesses.

From what we've seen over the past five and a half years is that the mayor has absolutely no concern for the needs and interests of the store owners who are probably the single largest employment sector in the city. This absence of concern is seen in Mayor Mike's consumer affairs department that to this very day still is trying to enhance its enforcement power over neighborhood retailers. This zealousness is exacerbated by the fact, that when Chairman Comrie asked Commissioner Mintz whether he would support the establishment of a dedicated enforcement unit on vending at the DCA, he was immediately rebuffed.

So Mintz, and his predecessor Dykstra, want to go hammer and tongs against the store owners of this city and are unwilling to unleash a similar bureaucratic zeal against folks who don't pay any real estate taxes or rent as they compete with the city's retailers. Mayor Mike remains mute in all of this, but when he was running he told the Korean Small Business Service Center that the city needed to do more about the plight of small retailers who were struggling after 9/11.

So what did he do when he took office? He raised real estate taxes by 18%, a tax that increased the rent for every single store owner in the city. He also passed a 1800% cigarette tax increase that removed $250 million a year from the bottom line of the city's bodegas, delis, green grocers and newsstands. In addition, his economic development czar went and evicted all of the minority merchants from the BTM.

On the council side we did see a more concerned attitude to the mayoral regulatory overreach. The council wouldn't support the aggrandizement of DCA power. At the same time, it resisted the push for food waste disposers that would have alleviated the garbage disposal problems of the city's food stores. And under current leadership, there is an aggressive push for green markets that do compete with area food stores and a lukewarm attitude to peddler enforcement.

The problem here is that contemporary urban liberalism is activist-oriented and more concerned with social service and union issues than with the legitimate needs of local businesses. This is why it becomes so important for merchants and labor to be part of a coalition on peddler enforcement; there is simply no natural sympathy for the tax payers-whether citizens or store owners.