Oh, now we get it — the politicians saved the Red Hook vendors!
Even a veteran city reporter would be hard pressed to remember a better example of political grandstanding than Sunday’s press conference to “welcome back” the Latino vendors to Red Hook Park.
For one thing, the return of the vendors was taking place a good eight weeks — that’s 16 taco-selling days — after the normal spring opening, a delay caused entirely by the city.
Second, only six vendors out of the original 13 returned — in effect, the city bureaucracy had put seven hard-working people out of business, which is not something to be proud of.
In addition, each of the returning vendors was out tens of thousands of dollars in new equipment costs.
Despite all this, politicians like Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Borough President Markowitz and Sen. Charles Schumer stepped up to the podium to celebrate their unique role in “saving” the beloved Latino food vendors. They even joked about the red tape they put the vendors through.
But the pols who celebrated their role in bringing back the vendors did not “save” anything. In fact, they made the already difficult lives of these hard-working immigrants harder when they could have easily made things easier.
It was the Parks Department, for example, that implemented an entirely new system for dealing with these vendors, who had been operating perfectly well without significant city oversight for decades. The vendors were required to bid on the open market for their spaces and then each had to spend up to $50,000 on new food trucks and other equipment.
Some dropped out right away. But the others struggled — without nearly enough city help — to put together a bid by the February, 2008, deadline. Given that late deadline, the city clearly should have known that the vendors would not be able to reopen in time for their short taco-vending season because in order to do so, they would have had to have bought those expensive new food trucks before being told that they’d won their bid.
Of course we support the city’s effort to enforce existing health codes at Red Hook Park.
But the bureaucracy had a responsibility to ease the vendors into their new — and very expensive to meet — requirements. The city could have allowed the vendors to open on schedule in May with the understanding that health agents would do routine inspections, and, if a vendor failed an inspection, he would be given the same amount of time to fix the violation that everyone else in the food service industry gets.
But in this case, the city effectively shut down the vendors before any alleged violation. And then, the pols got together and joked about it.