Bloomberg privatizing Union Square?
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

May 8, 2008, 00:16

The issue at hand is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg turning over (privatizing) Union Square Park�s landmark pavilion into a ritzy 120-person restaurant concession, which would be operated by one of his millionaire buddies, Danny Meyer. By the way, the beautifully Spanish-tile roofed, colonnaded pavilion has traditionally been an indoor play-area for the surrounding neighborhoods� children, who have no excess of parks.

Residents claim that the Parks Department and Union Square Partnership broke state and city laws by not getting the legislature�s approval to change how parkland is used -- and by failing to get City Council approval. Also, somehow an anonymous private donor offered a $7 million contribution towards the restaurant project, which would include a huge underground kitchen, and which contribution smelled more like grease than generosity.

Funny how free parkland attracts the rats like restaurants� garbage. And it�s not like you have to go hungry in the area. There are about 150 food outlets within two blocks of the park, covering the spectrum of appetites and budgets, from proletarian MacDonald�s to the haute Blue Water Grille. But this isn�t the first time Bloomberg and his rubber-stamp Department of Parks and Recreation have tried to pull a stunt like this.

As the New York Daily News reported, recently, Bloomberg & Company gave away Mullaly Park in the Bronx to build the New Yankee Stadium. Mullaly Park was across the street from the still-standing Yankee Stadium, where kids from the abounding Hispanic and black neighborhoods came to play on its diamonds. Think of a young A-Rod or Manny Rodriquez, who both grew up in Washington Heights, swinging for the American dream in that park.

Ironically, the mint-condition, old Yankee Stadium has been pulling in four million people a season, a record all its own. And the new stadium is really all about having more swanky seats, private dining and viewing facilities, and higher prices. The bottom line�s not about baseball but bucks.

What�s more, when Mullaly Park is paved over with the new Yankee Stadium, the old stadium, the House that Ruth Built, now billed as the Cathedral of baseball in Yankee promos, will be torn down and replaced by a multi-story parking garage, a sacrilege. But that�s how business plays ball these days in New York.

On top of those real estate scandals, Randall�s Island, planted in the East River, was first handed over to developers to be a water park concession, but the deal sank. Then there was a deal floated to give high-end private schools dibs on using the island�s ball fields, like the Fauntleroys had no other place to go. Fortunately, a Supreme Court justice voided the deal though the city has appealed.

And for dessert, a few years ago the Madison Square Park Conservancy gave a restaurant concession to Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group, and Meyer served up the trendy Shake Shack. By the way, at the time, he also just happened to be founder and a director of the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Meyer, also owns the Union Square Grille and Gramercy Tavern, and is a major cheerleader for the overall $20 million renovation of Union Square Park. He did swear under oath he wouldn�t bid to run a restaurant in Union Square Park. But then what�s a little swearing got to do with it?

Fortunately on April 21, a Manhattan Supreme Court justice ordered a stop to construction temporarily. After a second hearing last week, Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon extended the ban. How long that lasts, or if it�s permanent, is anybody�s guess.

Some Union Square backstory

Union Square Park has a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers. It was built and founded in 1882 at the point where Broadway and what was the Bowery came together. Today, it�s boundaries are 14th Street to the south, Union Square West, an extension of Broadway, Union Square East, an extension of Fourth Avenue, and 17th Street on the north side. The Park serves neighborhoods from the Flatiron District to Chelsea to Greenwich Village (and New York University) and Gramercy.

Union Square Park is a boon of greenery and beauty to the surrounding neighborhood�s residents, the singles and families; and to the thousands of white and blue collar workers, who relax and play there, and even smooch there as spring sunshine spills cherry blossoms on them, a green island in a sea of concrete.

Today, there�s a great statue of George Washington on horseback watching over the park as he must be watching over America from somewhere, I hope. Other statues are of the Marquis de Lafayette, Abraham Lincoln, and a larger-than-life bronze of Mahatama Gandhi striding towards you, the symbol of non-violent resistance who died at an assassin�s hands.

The park has a tradition of patriotic to radical protest rallies dating back to 1861, after the fall of Fort Sumter. On September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day celebration was held for some 10,000 workers who paraded past its reviewing stand. Union troops gathered there in 1861 as well. May Day rallies have championed workers, women, gay and lesbian rights since then, as well as antiwar rallies throughout the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Many a brilliant head has been busted there by police nightsticks to remind us of the dark side of the American Dream.

In the 1960s, too, city neglect made the park a gathering place for the homeless, the least of the problem. Unfortunately, it became a haven for druggies, dealers and winos as well. It was subsequently cleaned up, but the spirit of the down-and-out as well as the upwardly mobile, including working and middle classes was never lost, nor should it be with Bloomberg and his elite, exclusionary gang.

In 1976, the Council on the Environment of NYC created a Greenmarket program in the northern end of Union Square, whereby small family regional farmers could come and sell their wonderful produce to New Yorkers. They draw 250,000 customers a week to buy 1,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables and other delectables. How�s that for walk-in traffic? There are kiosks for 100 or more artisans. And there are holiday markets before Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Greenmarket gives our giant city a small town feel and taste.

Following 9/11 in 2001 and its false-flag operation, Union square became a major gathering place for mourners, all those who created spontaneous candle and photo memorials and vigils to the lost. This in spite of the �frozen zone� lower Manhattan became directly after 9/11 -- police often stopping non-emergency vehicles and/or ordinary pedestrians.

This May Day a Mayday to America?

This May Day, Union Square Park, true to its roots, was home to protestors of various causes. Cordons of young black students were there to urgently protest the lack of a conviction for the three cops who pumped a hail bullets into Sean Bell�s car, body, and friends. But these kids, rapping and rhyming slogans against racist police were a joy to behold, sounding their voices, waving placards, and talking back to power, shades of the '60s South.

There must have been a thousand cops gathered there, mostly white, with more black than I would have liked to see, surrounding the park, fencing it in like a pen, underscoring the police state atmosphere we live in. Of course, the corporate media were there, Fox News, CNN, NY1, CBS, et al, just waiting for something to happen. Of course, the real May Day to America that these protests represented would go right over their talking heads.

Latinos gathered, as well, to protest the discrimination against �illegal aliens,� poor people from Mexico and other places south, not the moon, banging the drums for fair treatment. One line, written on a Latino�s placard summed it up: �Who�s an alien, pilgrim?� How quick we forget where each one of us came from and whose land this island of Manhattan and America really belonged to and was stolen from.

Regrettably, there was a small antiwar presence there, which led me to believe that the issue has moved in the minds of New Yorkers and other Americans beyond legal means of dispute; that even street protest is futile to the deaf, dumb, and blind administration of George W. Bush & Company. So other avenues must be explored: impeachment, arrest, a general strike, a revolution?

Also in Union Square Park, there were members from the New York City 9/11 ballot initiative to vote for a new 9/11 investigation. They were gathering signatures from voters to get this issue on the ballot in November. After all, if the tragedy began here, it should be investigated here, and by a non-partisan commission, not a Commission of Omission, a cadre of administration puppets.

As someone said and I hope you see, �all politics is local,� begins and ends at the local level, with our local good and bad guys, working their way to the top or the bottom. So, this is not just a story about what�s happening in Union Square Park, but what is happening in America and the world: privatization, a police state, blinded media, class war, racism, discrimination, the haves and have-nots, and so on. It�s all here, and I�ll bet, in your hometown, large, medium or small.

In fact, as I walked from Union Square Park last week, west on 14th Street, past the throngs of shoppers, I passed the workingmen�s Irish pub where several months ago I had dinner with author and friend Danny Estulin and some of his cronies.

Estulin wrote the book on what this is all about, The True Story of The Bilderberg Group, the folks who like to pull the strings of our politicians, media, finance, etcetera -- and manage or even end our very lives. If I were still a drinking man, I would have stopped for a tall one with the political savvy pub proprietors. But, having hopped on the wagon years ago, I hopped on the subway home to piece together this tale, hoping it would wag the dogs of despair to hell.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writing living in New York. Reach him at

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor