City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, spoke out this morning about the resurgence of Occupy Wall Street, suggesting that the city may want to rethink how it oversees public park spaces.
Quinn, as Capital noted this morning, has generally been cautious about expressing her opinion on Occupy Wall Street. She has frequently aligned herself with the Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s politics — though has also recently tried to distance herself from him as she gears up for her mayoral bid.
Either way, we know how Bloomberg feels about OWS: He has continually clashed with the protesters and in public comments has generally been dismissive, most recently stating that it seemed like they were “just trying to cause chaos.”
The recent rebirth of Occupy Wall Street — with large numbers of arrests over the weekend, an energetic march for Trayvon Martin bringing Union Square into the picture, and a potentially big rally tomorrow around police brutality — questions are coming to the forefront again about the New York Police Department’s handling of the protests and demonstrators’ rights to use public space.
One of the debates that has cropped again this week is about whether the city can legally close Zuccotti Park, which is privately-owned by Brookfield Properties but is zoned as a public space that is supposed to be accessible to the public.
This question and larger issues surrounding OWS are topics Quinn may have to address more vocally as she looks toward her mayoral campaign.
Speaking to John Gambling on WOR this morning, she said she had various concerns with the current state of OWS and its relationship with the city.
“I guess in a way this was to be expected when the weather got warmer,” Quinn said after Gambling asked her what she makes of the return of the protests.
“I’m concerned in a number of different ways. One, we have a great history and tradition — I’ve been part of it in this city — of people protesting. And at times, that protest is very effective, and we want to be mindful of not ever impinging on people’s First Amendment rights. But it’s a balance, particularly in a congested city. How do you make sure the neighbors and the residents and the businesses don’t have their rights overly impinged upon either?” she said.
“One of the things I think we really need to work to get clear on, is what exactly are the rules in parks. What are the rules in the different types of parks that we have? So we all at least know the facts about what is and isn’t allowed in different places. And it may makes sense for us to think about as we do these new parks created by zoning like Zuccotti, maybe we should just put them all under the Parks Department rules, so there isn’t confusion,” she said, as Gambling added, “Well of course, absolutely.”
The radio host asked if she would be willing to make the move to get Zuccotti Park under the city’s jurisdiction, and Quinn responded with this long, somewhat complex answer about the city’s deal with Brookfield, which included a stipulation that the company build the public park space: “It’s a very complicated legal question. They went through many, many years ago, the full land-use process, ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure]. In that process, I guess they wanted a bigger building, or a taller or bulkier building, or whatever, so the concession was the park. In that ULURP, which is in essence a law, they stipulated to being open 24 hours a day.”
She added, “So it’s a complicated legal process to go back and take away that requirement and it would take a while.”
Through the Parks Dept. the city could potentially enforce its own specific rules and regulations which might lead to less confusion around what demonstrators legally can and cannot do.
The Voice followed up with Quinn’s team after the radio show, asking them what the process of getting Zuccotti Park would be, and how that would change regulations and the public’s access, but a spokesperson declined to comment further.
We also touched base this afternoon with Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union — which has gone after Brookfield Properties for evicting the public — to get his take on Quinn’s comments. Like the Voice, he said he wasn’t exactly sure what the broader implications of Quinn’s points were, but said that fundamentally, people’s rights to protest need to be protected and that it doesn’t matter where those rallies are happening or what kinds of rules are or aren’t in place. In other words, any kind of shift in jurisdiction, he said, shouldn’t really impact the public’s right to access public spaces for protests.
“Whether it’s defined as a public park or a privately-owned public space like Zuccotti, people’s right to protest is equally protected in both spaces and has to be respected by the government and the NYPD,” he said. “People engaged in First Amendment activity have a right to do so without unconstitutionally being subject to arbitrary arrests…We don’t need any additional rules to make that any clearer than it already is.”