News & Politics

Gotham Government Relations cuts ties with former Obama administration official caught harassing halal cart vendor

“By the way, I’ll represent the food vendor pro bono if he wants to bring a lawsuit,” Gotham Government Relations president David Schwartz said.

A screenshot from a video shared on social media shows a man, later identified as Stuart Seldowitz, harassing a halal cart vendor on the Upper East Side.

A screenshot from a video shared on social media shows a man, later identified as Stuart Seldowitz, harassing a halal cart vendor on the Upper East Side. X/@itslaylas

Manhattan-based lobbying firm Gotham Government Relations cut all ties with Stuart Seldowitz on Tuesday after a viral video emerged showing him harassing a halal cart vendor in the Upper East Side. “I did have an argument with a food vendor,” Seldowitz told City & State. “It is quite possible that it's me. I mean, I've not seen the video, but I believe it's probably me.”

Seldowitz, who worked in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs and then served as Acting Director of the National Security Council South Asia Directorate in the Obama administration, was named Foreign Affairs Chair at Gotham Government Relations last year.

“Gotham Government Relations has ended all affiliation with Stuart Seldowitz,” the lobbying firm announced in a statement. “The video of his actions is vile, racist and beneath the dignity of the standards we practice at our firm.”

David Schwartz, the founder and president of Gotham Government Relations, told City & State that Seldowitz was never an employee of Gotham Government Relations, just an affiliate. “By the way, I’ll represent the food vendor pro bono if he wants to bring a lawsuit against Stuart Seldowitz,” Schwartz said. “I’m absolutely outraged by this video.” 

Seldowitz said he was blindsided by the statement from Gotham Government Relations. “I haven't done work with Gotham for a very long time,” he told City & State. “I had a high opinion of the people at Gotham up until I found out that they had issued this statement. I considered the people at Gotham to be friends, and I haven't had a chance to speak to them, or to try to speak to them as to why they felt the need to issue this statement.”

Gotham Government Relations is not the only company that quickly tried to distance itself from Seldowitz. On his LinkedIn, Seldowitz claimed to work as a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual. But in a post on X, Northwestern Mutual denied that the man caught on video was an employee or affiliate of the company.

The video in question shows Seldowitz asking the food vendor racist and Islamophobic questions, including “Did you rape your daughter like Muhammad did?” and “What do you think of that – people who use the Koran as a toilet?” When the vendor responds that he doesn’t speak English, the man identified as Seldowitz laughs and says, “That’s why you’re selling food in a food cart, because you’re ignorant.” Seldowitz also threatens that the vendor will be deported to Egypt and tortured by “the Mukhabarat,” a reference to the Egyptian intelligence agency. A different video shows Seldowitz telling a halal cart vendor, “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It was enough. It wasn’t enough!” 

In all of the videos, the vendor can be heard asking Seldowitz to leave and generally trying not to engage with his provocations. The activist who originally shared the videos wrote on X that Seldowitz has repeatedly harassed the halal cart vendor for weeks. An NYPD spokesperson told City & State that the local precinct is aware of the videos and is monitoring the situation.

In an interview, Seldowitz offered a muted apology. “I regret the whole thing happened and I'm sorry,” he said. “But you know, in the heat of the moment, I said things that probably I shouldn't have said.”

Seldowitz said that he regularly passes the halal cart vendor and wanted to engage him in a discussion about current events in the Mideast. He said he became offended when the vendor did not condemn Hamas. “I went to the food cart expecting to buy a soda and I had an understanding that most of the food cart guys in New York are Egyptian,” he said. “So I said to him, ‘this is a tough time to be an Egyptian in New York’. And he said ‘why?’ And I said, because of what happened on October 7, with Hamas. And he said, ‘well, I approve of Hamas’ or ‘I like Hamas’ or something like that.” 

“If I had to do it all over again, I would not have raised the religious aspect,” Seldowitz said, insisting that he was not bigoted against Muslims. “I don't think I'm an Islamophobic guy. I've spoken up for equal treatment of Muslims on numerous occasions with numerous different people.”

Seldowitz said that he’s been in multiple arguments with the same vendor, but denied allegations that he has had confrontations with other vendors around the city. “Yes, I went back because I pass that food cart regularly and I went back and had other arguments,” he said.

New York City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers, who represents the Upper East Side, condemned Seldowitz’s harassment. “This xenophobic and disgusting behavior has no place on the Upper East Side or New York City. No one should be harassed because of their religion or identity,” he wrote in a post on X.

Assembly Member Alex Bores, who also represents the neighborhood, visited the halal cart on Tuesday night to show his support for the vendor. “Hate has no home on the UES. I visited the vendor that has been harassed & gave him my # in case (Seldowitz) comes back,” Bores wrote in a post on X. “He showed me texts from neighbors supporting him & offering to come down if he feels threatened again.”