Vendors Seek Apology For ‘Terrible Citizens’ Comment

A group of street vendors demanded an apology from the president of the 34th Street Partnership for his offensive statements. (Photo by Carolina Ledezma/EDLP)

The battle between street vendors and the 34th Street Partnership business improvement district continues. In response to comments made by the organization’s president, a group of vendors — many of them Latino immigrants — joined the Street Vendor Project to stage a rally outside the Partnership’s office on Mar. 15, demanding an apology. Below is a translation of a Mar. 16 article by Carolina Ledezma of El Diario La Prensa, which covered the demonstration.

Boni Hidalgo, a 36-year-old Mexican street vendor, owes $7,000 in fines the police have cited him for, telling him he cannot be where he is because he’s an immigrant.

“I can’t renew my license unless I pay them, and how am I supposed to get the money if they won’t let me work?” said Hidalgo, whose business is now in jeopardy because of his lack of papers.

Threats of prison, legal obstacles, police harassment and all kinds of aggression are daily bread for Hidalgo, he said, as he and other street vendors demanded an apology Thursday from Dan Biederman, president of the business and real estate alliance 34th Street Partnership, for his recent offensive statements.

Biederman was quoted referring to the vendors as “terrible citizens,” on the web site DNAinfo. He particularly criticized the “miserable-looking” food carts, arousing the anger of the 1,200 members of the Street Vendor Project, which organized the demonstration.

“We are outraged,” said Mexican Heleodora Vivar, 67, who works in Washington Heights. “We work very hard to survive, and we pay our taxes, but we live under constant stress because people like this man and the police are always attacking us and discriminating against us.”

Marcelino Guzmán, 45, thinks people have an incorrect image of him and his colleagues.

“His statements are offensive against other human beings who don’t have a secure future like he does,” Guzman, a Mexican craftsman who supports a wife who is ill with cancer and two children.

With a sign in hand, Guzmán asked passersby to support his cause, while he pointed out that efforts are made in the Street Vendor Project to educate the vendors and make sure they comply with the city’s regulations, especially regarding the disposal of garbage.

“He knows nothing about our history of sacrifice, nor should he judge us by the mistakes of a few,” Guzman said. “We know we can’t just come to another country and make a bad impression.”

Sean Balinski, the director of the Street Vendor Project, commented that this was an unprovoked attack on the community of street vendors, and the group is considering filing a discrimination suit.

In a statement – which was not apologetic in tone – the president of the 34th Street Partnership said that his organization maintains high operating and aesthetic standards in this business district.

“Our association would like to see a better regulated program for street vendors, which would include food health inspections, financial monitoring of the owners of these  carts, and regulation of their appearance,” Biederman said.

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