Mayor Vows He Will Try to Help Newsstand Operator Being Hit with $94,000 in Fines

Council member Gail Brewer, who represents the district that encompasses the newsstand on W. 79th and Broadway, said she plans to start a Go Fund Me campaign on Thursday to help embattled newsstand operator Sadik Topia pay off his fines. Mayor Eric Adams said at a Jan. 23 media avail that he will look into the situation to see what he can do.

| 24 Jan 2024 | 01:03

Mayor Adams said Tuesday he would do anything “within my powers” to get Sadik Topia back to work at his shuttered West Side newsstand, but there was no immediate sign that the city would forgive or reduce the $94,000 in fines that have led to the shutdown.

“We’re going to look into that,” Adams pledged at a news conference on Jan. 23. “You know, he’s a working-class person. It’s hard being out there throughout the weather dealing with this. And if there is something within my powers to get him back in that stand, I’m going to do it. We’re going to follow the law, but we’re going to make the policy.”

Adams said he had seen the stories about West Siders rallying in support of Topia, an immigrant from Gujarat, who for 23 years has run the newsstand at the corner of W. 79th street and Broadway under a subcontracting deal he has with the license holder.

“I clipped it out,” said the Mayor, who has made supporting small businesses a central promise of his administration. Topia’s plight was first reported by Straus News’ West Side Spirit.

Neighbors say Topia has been a steady and reassuring presence through the pandemic and other difficulties. But he also admits he sold e-cigarette products after the license to do so expired.

Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer noted that the fines are technically not on Topia but on Marylin Kaufman, who holds the license to operate the newsstand. Topia has rented from her for 23 years and has said he is committed to paying the fines.

The fines are imposed by a quasi-judicial administrative hearing process, so the mayor can’t simply rescind them

Torres-Springer pointed out that much of the fine was “for illegally selling e-cigarettes without a license and other flavored e-cigarettes,” offenses which the city has been cracking down on.

“But these are working class individuals,” she added, “and so we have to make sure that we lead with education and compliance and not penalties and violations. So, we’ll look into it.”

A key issue is that the hearing process imposed a fine for the entire period since the license to sell e cigarettes expired in 2021, some 500 days at $100 a day, rather than for the 13 days Topia says he actually sold the products. The hearing officer did not believe him.

He was separately also fined for selling products like a $30 phone charger, violating the $10 limit set for what newsstands can charge for most items.

Since the newsstand’s license was suspended in November, Topia has continued to serve his customers by selling newspapers from the steps of the First Baptist church adjacent to the newsstand.

Asked how he feels about the comments by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Topia replied: “Be patient.”

Gale Brewer, the neighborhoods council member, has been lobbying the city to make the penalties better fit what she argues are relatively minor offenses.

While she welcomed the mayor’s comments, she said that in the absence of a move by the city to reduce the fines she would hold a news conference Thursday at the newsstand to launch a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to help pay the penalties.

“We have no way to reduce these fines,” Brewer said.