By Sabina Mollot
Anyone thinking of volunteering for candidates running in the fall state elections should take note: Due to no solicitation rules, Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village apartments are verboten to would-be door knockers.
A Stuyvesant Town resident who’d been volunteering for the Bernie Sanders campaign recently learned this as the presidential primary heated up.
The volunteer, retired teacher Ken Chanko (also at one time a film columnist for this newspaper), told Town & Village it was the Sunday before the primary when he was told by a volunteer supervisor that his own apartment complex couldn’t be visited. That is, not until the campaign acquired a permit from the NYPD. Not only that, said Chanko, but the campaign hadn’t been informed of the need for a permit until late on Friday, meaning the crucial weekend before the primary would be lost.
“You couldn’t get a permit over the weekend,” he said.
It was while visiting a volunteer location on Avenue A when Chanko said he was told by the supervisor that “’something came up.’ Apparently you can’t go door to door.”
Additionally, Chanko said he’d also been told by a Stuy Town Public Safety officer the previous Saturday, while making his rounds visiting known registered voters that he had to stop.
Chanko said when confronted by the Public Safety officer, he was told he couldn’t leaflet. This was in reference to campaign materials he had with him that he would hang onto apartment door knobs if no one was home. So Chanko then said he would agree not to leave those and just stick to speaking with people. But this apparently wasn’t enough either.
“I’m not soliciting. I’m not begging,” said Chanko, but at the time he stopped what he was doing since he was nearly done for the day anyway. It was only the following week when Chanko learned of the elusive permit that he wondered what the problem was, especially since he’d volunteered for campaigns before without a problem.
Chanko also wondered if this meant that campaign volunteers would continue to be stopped by Public Safety during the primary and general elections for local races this year.
As for the need for a permit, when Town & Village asked the police about this, we got an uncharacteristically swift response, albeit a typically brief one, via email.
“You do not need a permit to knock on somebody’s door,” the cops said.
T&V also reached out multiple times to the Sanders campaign’s press director, Karthik Ganapathy, but did not hear back.
However, when asked about Chanko’s experience, Rick Hayduk, the complex’s general manager, confirmed that due to the property’s no soliciting rule, door knocking for a campaign, much like blanketing a hallway with Chinese takeout menus, is in fact a no-no. He added that the policy was in effect for tenant safety and quality of life, and was not something specific to any group, be it political, religious or social.
Hayduk referred to the property’s “house rules,” which state that leaving behind pamphlets in buildings is against the rules as is putting up bulletins without the permission of the landlord.
That said, the property isn’t completely off limits to campaigning.
Earlier in the month, Stuyvesant Town’s community center was visited by former President Bill Clinton, who was there to campaign for his wife. But at the time, Hayduk noted that Clinton was there as a guest of a resident, Council Member Dan Garodnick. Garodnick had been the sponsor of the event at the center.
“If Trump called, I’d say get a resident (sponsor),” Hayduk told T&V after the event.
As for the official policy on political events, Hayduk added it couldn’t be just anywhere on the property, and he recently turned down a request from a campaign to have an event on the Oval. This, he explained, is to make sure tenants don’t have to listen to any political messages if they don’t want to.
So if any candidates want in at ST/PCV, they’ll have to rent a room, specifically the community center or another room used for private events on 14th Street.
The policy apparently isn’t a new one, although when asked if it was just starting to be enforced, Hayduk said he couldn’t speak for previous managers.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear how the message about a permit started. Paula Chirhart, a spokesperson for StuyTown Property Services, said management was never contacted by the Sanders campaign.
Later, when told of the official policy, Chanko said he was surprised, considering all the times he’d campaigned door to door without ever being stopped. He also said he didn’t see what the big deal was.
“Elections are every couple of years. It’s not like it’s so onerous like if it happened every other week or every month.”
Chanko also argued that unlike mailers or robo-calls, neighbors he’s encountered seemed to appreciate the in-person contact for more information on a candidate.
“To put up more roadblocks, to place more hurdles in front of candidates and voters seems not quite right in a democracy,” he said. “Considering that there’s 25,000 people plus, it’s a pretty big chunk of people to take out of the loop in terms of having access to the campaign face to face.”