The Soapbox: My visit to Stuyvesant Town

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net or Town & Village, editor, 20 W. 22nd St., 14th floor, New York, NY, 10010. 

This column was submitted by Stuyvesant Town native and current resident of Minneapolis Richard Luksin.

Dear T&V,

It has taken me a while to write this because it was so painful. Where to start?

On 8/22/13, on the way to my summer camp’s 50th reunion, I managed to briefly visit my beloved Stuyvesant Town for the first time since 1995 and I still loved it. In 1995, it still looked and felt as it used to. Now it looks and feels very different.

As I meandered purposefully to see my old apartments, playgrounds, the Oval, the fountain, the most striking feature was that no one was smiling! Everyone looked drained of life. Sad. Mad. Anxious. Busy. Troubled. Exhausted. Even the dogs looked exhausted (and out of place). Not one person looked happy except me — I couldn’t stop smiling in the presence of far too much security, a lot of construction, the blight of the fences. Also the whizzing by of so many carts and other vehicles (the only vehicles we saw in Stuy Town when I was growing up were snow plows in winter and trucks in the spring to collect the prunings of the trees.)

All this did not make for a friendly atmosphere. It looked like Superstorm Sandy had hit ST about a week ago and they were in the process of cleaning up the devastation that it had left behind. Even the playgrounds looked less fun and more regimented. There was even a security guard posted at the entrance to Playground 10, not allowing anyone in to use its beautifully tended field. God knows why.

Still, it was glorious to be back in Stuy Town again and I would still rather live there than any place on earth, but it’s not what it was and that’s not just nostalgia talking. I must be correct because no one looked happy. No one had a bounce in their step and a lot of the natural warmth of the Stuyvesant Town community seems to have been lost. Stuyvesant Town itself seemed to be in pain. I’m not just an oldie longing for the good old days. My friend who was with me said ST felt nothing like I’d often described to him. Even he could sense the paranoia; it was palpable. It felt like Sandy hit and never left.

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Op-Ed: Obama’s cure for the common cold

Satire but true political commentary by former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Dateline Washington D.C. April 15, 2014…

President Obama announces that his administration working with the Center for Disease Control has found a cure and vaccine for the common cold!

The immediate response from Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is that the cure does not go nearly far enough. “Do you know how many other diseases this President has ignored? He should be ashamed of himself,” House Speaker John Boehner added. “This President continues to preside over a nation that spends too much and taxes too much. On this the day that we file income taxes, where is the tax cut in the President’s announcement?” Former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin proclaimed, “What a travesty that this failed President is wasting the time of the American people instead of working 24/7 to stop the onset of the common cold by keeping illegal immigrants out of the country who spread germs and sickness.” And finally Rush Limbaugh declared on his talk radio program, “Let them try to give me or one of my family members a cold shot, the only shots that are protected by the Constitution are those in the second amendment, which come a from a gun.”

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Hoylman: It’s time to rein in SantaCon

Revelers outside an East Village bar at last year's SantaCon (Photo by Allegra Kogan)

Revelers outside an East Village bar at last year’s SantaCon (Photo by Allegra Kogan)

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman, who has recently called on the mysterious figures behind the ever-growing bar crawl SantaCon to start policing its crowds, said this week he was able to get the group to agree to some of his suggestions on achieving this.

Though the conversation he had with the group was over the phone with individuals who would only identify themselves by first name, Hoylman said it was a positive talk since the group said it would take some concrete steps to keep the event under control.

“We’re reserving our judgment,” said Hoylman on Wednesday, in reference to himself and a coalition of other local politicians who also want to see the mass gathering become less of a disturbance to the neighborhoods it visits.

Last Tuesday, the group penned a letter to urge the anonymous organizers to work with police and community boards on curbing the crowding and rowdy behavior seen at SantaCon events in recent years. SantaCon, an annual event, encourages participants to dress like Santa or other Christmas-themed, and even Hanukkah-themed characters, as they head down a route announced only shortly before the crawl via social media, and hit various pubs along the way. As it’s grown, however, the event has been widely criticized by residents of neighborhoods that are included, due to the crowded sidewalks and the obvious intoxication of participants.

Last December, a Town & Village intern covering the event reported having to dodge male and female Santas yelling, fighting and even puking as they stood waiting to get into various bars or sitting on bus stop benches in the East Village and Union Square. After getting a few photos, the intern, Allegra Kogan, and a friend got into a cab and, before they could exit at Union Square, had the door flung open by more drunken Santas who tried to force their way in.

“Even the cab driver, probably used to New York City antics, looked shocked,” Kogan said.

This year’s SantaCon is set for December 14, with the route so far unannounced.

In their letter, the pols said the route ought be made public in advance to give the NYPD and local businesses time to plan.

“While SantaCon is an open event, the organization still bears ultimate responsibility for its participants,” the letter from the coalition of politicians read. “Every organization must ensure that it is not encouraging lawbreaking, which in this instance includes public consumption of alcohol, public intoxication, public urination, as well as disorderly and overly aggressive behavior.”

Along with Hoylman, others to sign the letter were State Senators Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron, Assembly Members Brian Kavanagh, Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick and Council Members Dan Garodnick, Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin.

Hoylman also noted that in a previous attempt he made to reach out via letter to SantaCon in October, organizers did respond, but it was “in a very cursory manner.”

He added, earlier this week prior to the Tuesday conversation, “They said they were looking at some options to police themselves and work with the NYPD, but it wasn’t sufficient.”

However, after the conversation, Hoylman said volunteers for the group said they would be willing to work with local community boards, precincts and elected officials and let the precincts know the route of the event ahead of time. There will also be volunteers to help maintain crowd control on the sidewalk “as well as weed out the bad actors, or rather the bad Santas,” said Hoylman.

Part of the event’s problem, he was told, was that anyone can participate simply by donning a Santa suit. “So there’s this flash mob mentality.

“At this point we’re reserving our judgment to see whether they follow through on their promises,” he said.  “The challenge will be whether they can actually control the people who participate.”

As for the organizers’ decision to withhold their full identities, Hoylman said, “It was the best we could do at this point, so I remain skeptical. Given that they’re a loosely affiliated group of people who want to remain unnamed, we all need to be watchful.”

In November, as T&V reported, police officers from the 13th Precinct announced that they were gearing up for SantaCon, following the unexpectedly large crowds last year.

Prior to the phone call with Hoylman, when asked for comment on the elected officials’ concerns, a spokesperson for SantaCon, who would only identify himself as “Santa” to T&V via email, insisted that the organizers have been trying to be cooperative.

“Once again, SantaCon organizers are in agreement with much of what Senator Hoylman’s office has stated,” the email said.

“We want to return the event to one that values the creative and charitable aspects of SantaCon over the consumption and over-crowding it is known for.

“This year we are reaching out to community boards, police precincts, Parks Departments and governmental agencies to coordinate our event. We plan to remain in contact with them in order to mitigate the negative effects SantaCon may cause on any community it passes though.”

On the event’s website, organizers note that the real purpose of the event is not boozing, but raising money for charity. Last year’s event raised over $45,000 for Toys for Tots and collected 10,000 lbs. of canned food for the Food Bank of New York City. This year, participants are being asked to contribute $10, which will be distributed to several charities.

On the site, “Santa” added that, “Santa agrees that there is no excuse for inappropriate behavior. Public drunkenness, urination or rude behavior is not only prohibited by the stated rules of the event, but actively discouraged by the crowds of Santas themselves, who are for the most part, responsible, creative community-minded New Yorkers.”