To The Editor:
As an Upper West Side resident for over 50 years, and as former president of the 20th Precinct Community Council – at which I heard complaints about the situation on Broadway between 72nd and 74th Streets every single month for over a decade – I want to make it very clear that no one is denying Mr. Davidson or anyone else their First Amendment rights.
No rights are “absolute”: that is why you cannot shout “fire” in a theater in which there is no fire, and why you can be tried and convicted for “hate speech,” among other things. In this regard, the only “right” that vendors of First Amendment materials have that other vendors do not is that they do not need vendor licenses from the city, and there are very few restrictions on where they can set up. (Other vendors must have city-issued licenses, and are banned from certain areas.) Other than this, vendors of First Amendment materials are subject to all of the other Department of Consumer Affairs regulations for vending, which include (but are not limited to): limiting oneself to one 8’ x 3’ space, parallel to the curb on the curb side of the sidewalk; not having materials less than 24” above the ground (i.e., nothing on the ground itself); having all materials price-marked; and most specifically not interfering with the pedestrian thoroughfare. As the article points out, there is also the Sanitation Department regulation against leaving property unattended for long periods (i.e., creating “encampments”).
The booksellers along this strip have been in flagrant violation of every single regulation that they are required to follow – for decades: one person having multiple tables; tables perpendicular to the curb (seriously impinging on the pedestrian thoroughfare); books and other items on the ground (often impinging even further); and particularly creating a 24/7/365 “encampment” of unattended tables and property stretching for a block and a half.
The only thing that those who complain about these booksellers are asking is that they follow the regulations; nothing more. In fact, if Mr. Davidson were willing to share his income, he could have multiple tables, as long as there was a different individual “proprietor” for each table. (And where, by the way, is the outrage of Mr. Davidson’s supporters over his domination of a stretch of sidewalk that could support many other vendors vending other items?)
I don’t particularly like Mr. Davidson, who has threatened me personally at least twice. But I have no issues with his right – First Amendment or other – to sell books on that block as long as he abides by the regulations that apply to him. And, from my decades of living here and my personal knowledge as a former president of the Precinct Council, that is the basis of the overwhelming majority of complaints against him and the other vendors on that strip.
Upper West Side