Mayor Bloomberg Beats Norm Siegel, Decrees North Side of 79th Street a 'No Free Speech Zone'
Norm Siegel was not quite where he wanted to be today. On Saturday, when he
spoke at the School of the Future to a group of activists planning to
protest school closings, the civil rights attorney was riding pretty high.
Last month, he'd successfully beaten back Columbia's eminent domain ambitions.
Just the day before, he'd won the right in court for the assembled group to protest on the sidewalk right outside of Mayor Bloomberg's home.
Siegel saw taking the protest to the Mayor's doorstep as a milestone. As he told the Voice, "Groups have gotten permission to protest on the south side of 79th Street, across the street from the Mayor's house, but never directly in front of it."
The feeling did not last long. Earlier today, mere hours before the group planned to picket the Mayor, an appeals court overturned their right to do so, relegating Siegel and company back to the south side of the street.
"The Mayor uses his home for official business, but he's decided the public sidewalk outside of it is his private property," said Siegel. In his eight years as Mayor, no group has won the right to picket directly in front of Bloomberg's townhouse.
Looking on the bright side, Siegel wryly noted, "we made incremental progress." Instead of being fully confined to the south sidewalk, they moved slightly more north and were "allowed to protest in the gutter."
The protest was a demonstration against Chancellor Joel Klein's and Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to close large public high schools they deem to be failing. They plan to re-open smaller schools in their place. But advocates charge that the answer is not to replace the large schools with privately run charter schools, or with boutique public schools, but to adequately support the troubled schools. The assembled protesters included parents, teachers and students from schools that may be closed at a Department of Education meeting at Brooklyn Tech next week, but also protesters from
schools that are doing well academically but are under assault of losing real estate to charter schools.
From the gutter across the street, it is questionable how much effect the protesters had. The Mayor was at the Jets rally during the protest, and did not return home. There were more than 200 demonstrators, but the NYPD limited how many could be herded into the free speech corral at a time. The overflow was kept in a holding pen around the corner, out of sight of the mayor's residence.
The Mayor, who has billed himself as a champion of public education, lives next door to the tony Rudolf Steiner School. The posh private school was apparently more than happy to help their neighbor exercise his first amendment rights, while he was limiting others', as NYPD officers could clearly be seen doing surveillance from their roof, taking photographs of the protesters.