Mayor’s Critics Sue to Protest Outside His Home
January 13, 2010, 2:03 pm Updated: 4:24 pm --
By SHARON OTTERMAN
NYTimes CityRoom Blog
A group that opposes charter schools and school closings filed a lawsuit against the city on Tuesday for “unconstitutionally and without any legal basis” denying its request to protest on the sidewalk outside the Upper East Side town house of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
The plaintiffs are two students from William H. Maxwell High School in Brooklyn, which is slated to close for poor performance, and a parent and teacher from Public School 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an elementary school that shares space with the PAVE Academy Charter School. The city has proposed to allow PAVE to remain in the school for five more years, as it grows to include kindergarten through eighth grade, and teachers and parents at P.S. 15 have been furious.
“Our voices haven’t been heard, so we thought that the best way for the mayor to hear us would be for us to take our voices to his block,” said Julie Cavanagh, a special education teacher at P.S. 15. “There have been rallies at Tweed, and the individual schools, and its been a complete deaf ear.” (The former Tweed courthouse is where the Department of Education’s main offices are located.)
The protesters want to march back and forth along both sides of 79th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, in single file, on Jan. 21, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mr. Bloomberg lives on the north side of the street. While the New York City police have frequently turned down permits to protest on the north side, in 2003, they allowed a group protesting the closure of firehouses to march on both sides.
The plaintiffs decided to press the issue as a civil rights matter. The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District, argues that just as protesters are able to march outside Gracie Mansion, where mayors normally live, so too should they be able to protest outside Mr. Bloomberg’s house, where he conducts political activities like receptions and fund-raisers.
On Tuesday, the Police Department offered a compromise: the protest could proceed on the south side of 79th street, Ms. Cavanagh said. The plaintiffs turned down the offer, saying the city should not be able to pick who protests on the north side.
A lawyer for the city, Gabriel Taussig, said in an e-mailed statement, “The Police Department’s refusal to agree to a demonstration procession on the sidewalk in front of the mayor’s residence and its proposal that the event take place on the street and sidewalk across from the mayor’s residence was a lawful and appropriate accommodation to the protesters’ desire to exercise their First Amendment rights while at the same time assuring that safety and necessary access can be maintained at the mayor’s residence.”
Norman Siegel, the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, is representing the protesters, along with Herbert Teitelbaum, the former executive director of the Commission on Public Integrity.
“The larger issue is clear: Can a public sidewalk be transformed into a private enclave because the mayor of New York lives there?” Mr. Siegel said. “The answer is no.”
Mr. Siegel said he expected a ruling from Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein on Friday.