An open letter to NYC’s first nightlife mayor

NYC Mayor Blasio signs legislation to repeal the Cabaret Law requiring small businesses to have a dancing license in Brooklyn on November 27, 2017.
NYC Mayor Blasio signs legislation to repeal the Cabaret Law requiring small businesses to have a dancing license in Brooklyn on November 27, 2017.
Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
NYC Mayor Blasio signs legislation to repeal the Cabaret Law requiring small businesses to have a dancing license in Brooklyn on November 27, 2017.

An open letter to NYC’s first nightlife mayor

5 suggestions for Ariel Palitz from those people responsible for creating her new job.
March 8, 2018

City Hall announced on Wednesday that the Nightlife Mayor, a position created to support nightlife businesses and address quality-of-life issues in communities, is Ariel Palitz, a former bar owner and member of Community Board 3. Ms. Palitz will head the Office of Nightlife, the first of its kind in New York City, which is designed to serve as a central point of contact between city agencies, the nightlife industry, and city residents. It will promote a safe and vibrant nightlife scene that benefits businesses and residents alike. As the people responsible for creating the role, we have composed an open letter to her with suggestions on how to make her tenure successful and inclusive:

Congratulations Ariel, you landed one of the most desired positions in the history of New York City government. Cities across the country and globe are watching your next steps in excitement. A bit of fun, but also important responsibilities await.

The Office of Nightlife was born out of legislation sponsored by Councilman Espinal to stop the bleeding of the cultural spaces responsible for our diverse art, culinary, and dance scenes. More importantly, it was raised by a local grassroots movement. Hundreds of people, mostly young and new to politics, attended hearings at City Hall and met in local bars to fight for a voice in the governmental process. We fought to retain the spaces that provide jobs, enable free expression, and provide cultural outlets. Most recently, we successfully repealed the cabaret law.

Many of our iconic nightlife establishments and small businesses have been closing their doors because of government red tape and adversarial community relationships. A study done by the mayor’s office noted that NYC lost over 20 percent of its music venues in the past 15 years. Meanwhile, cities like Pittsburgh have growing nightlife scenes, attracting young people who leave the five boroughs. We hope the Office of Nightlife will serve as a much needed intermediary to the city and establishments, while maintaining high quality of life standards for neighborhoods.

Here is what we believe will make a successful office:

Please be true to the movement. Continue to engage those who inspired the change and hear their concerns. The Do-It-Yourself venues who are trying to come up to code, the LGBT and minority-owned bars who have dealt with heavy enforcement, established and new nightclubs and the people who patronize them, all play a role. As architects of the law, we designed the independent twelve-person Nightlife Advisory Board to represent the diversity of these communities. It is essential to work with the board to build balanced new ideas.

Don’t dance around zoning. NYC’s zoning ordinance has not been comprehensively amended since 1961. Even after repealing the cabaret law, dancing is still technically illegal in most parts of the city. That should change. While nightlife activities are unique, strategic planning can expand where those activities should exist and how it should co-exist with life around it.

Community boards have rightfully been frustrated with some unruly bars and nightclubs. But unfortunately, appearing before a community board for a liquor license recommendation is currently a death sentence for many businesses. There is a fine line between protecting communities and unfairly stifling small business growth. At times community boards have been anti-nightlife and opposed to-restaurants serving alcohol and thus against the granting of liquor licenses for invalid or questionable reasons. It is the job of the borough presidents and city Council members in consultation with your office to see that their community board members act responsibly when tax revenue, employment, and tourism are at stake.

This will require relationship building and dialogue between these groups. People involved in nightlife and restaurateurs who take on the responsibility of owning a liquor license generally want to be in compliance and to have good relationships with their communities and precincts. This office can help establish more positive relationships.

Be a bold advocate for the nightlife industry as a whole. This includes: the DIY community, LGBT members, immigrant communities, business owners, and local neighbors, artists, musicians, workers, consumers, and the city writ large. One particular place that can use your activism is the State Liquor Authority. The SLA has three commissioners who make up the full board with one vacancy. Currently, none are from New York City. We recommend that you advocate for the vacant appointment be in consultation with the Office of Nightlife. The state-run SLA sets policy for city establishments and it should represent the experiences of the state’s largest city.

You are now the face of nightlife management for New York City entering the world stage in the company of great city planners. The industry brings in over $ 10 billion of revenue per year and produces priceless cultural capital for the “City that Never Sleeps.” As New York City continues to grow and face new challenges, nightlife will need to come out of the shadows to reach its full potential. We look forward to the light you will shed.

Rafael Espinal, Jr.
is a councilman from Brooklyn whose district includes Brownsville, Bushwick, Cypress Hills and East New York.
Rachel Nelson
is a small business owner and artist in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Allen Roskoff
is an LGBT activist and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.
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