The New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio have appointed members to a new nightlife advisory board.
Consisting entirely of volunteers, it's supposed to represent a "cross-section of stakeholders in both the industry and communities affected by it," says Julie Menin, who runs the mayor's office of media and entertainment. Members include a liquor licensing attorney, a drag performer, a percussionist, a representative from the New York Supermarket Association, an architect and a local bar operator, among others. Pioneering '80s rapper Kurtis Blow was also appointed to the group. They will be tasked with making recommendations to the city council and the mayor on how to make regulations and policies more favorable to the nightlife industry.
The mayor's office explains in more detail via a press release sent out this week: "The Nightlife Advisory Board will issue formal recommendations to the mayor and the council that will address the regulatory structure of the nightlife industry; common complaints about nightlife establishments; public safety concerns related to nightlife; zoning, enforcement, nightlife workforce conditions and the integration of nightlife into the city's various neighborhoods."
The news comes four months after the appointment of Ariel Palitz as the office of nightlife's senior executive director, who is colloquially referred to as the "nightlife mayor." They also recently finished hiring for all of the office of nightlife staff positions. "The stage is set to accomplish the very significant work ahead,” Palitz says.
Resident Advisor reached out to small business owners from the local nightlife community to get their thoughts on the list of appointees (which you can read in full below).
"After throwing events for more than a decade, it's amazing that we're finally getting a voice, but I've never met, seen or even heard of anyone on the advisory board," says Ric Leichtung, a concert promoter who works with venues such as Baby's All Right, National Sawdust and Union Pool. "The New York DIY community has no presence here and that's a problem." (By "DIY" he's referring to the network of grassroots, community-driven venues that often exist in a legal grey area due to the complicated bureaucratic nature of licensing and permitting in the city.)
John Barclay, owner of Bossa Nova Civic Club and cofounder of the nightlife advocacy group Dance Liberation Network, says he was "happy to see the names of Pedro Goico, Olympia Kazi and Susan Stetze" on the list. "They represent different professional backgrounds and neighborhoods yet are all seemingly well-intentioned, honest and dedicated towards a fair yet thriving New York City." He took issue with the appointment of Robert Bookman, a liquor licensing attorney who has worked in New York for three decades. "Bookman is most well-known for aggressively fighting to keep the infamous racist and authoritarian Cabaret Law on the books... He is in no way fit to serve on this board or with any group that claims to promote sensible or fair nightlife policy."
On the phone with RA, Bookman says he was never in favor of the so-called "no-dancing" law, which the city struck down last year. By speaking out publicly against the effort to repeal, he was "trying to make it clear that this was not a meaningful reform."
"By repealing the Cabaret Law, we won't increase by even one the number of businesses that can allow dancing," he says. "If we don't deal with zoning laws, fire laws and all those other laws that regulate these establishments, getting rid of the Cabaret Law does nothing." He defended his appointment, saying that "the point of the advisory board is you have to understand how to make the right recommendations to the mayor's office. I was appointed because I'm one of the few people who understands all of this."
Rachel Nelson, owner of the music venue Secret Project Robot where Palitz held her first press conference in March, also expressed trepidation about the announcement: "After a long process of meetings, hearings and interviews with officials from government," she says, "our gains came down to a photo-op with the mayor, a mostly symbolic 'nightlife mayor' and an ill-informed advisory board made up of mostly political favors and people who already wielded power within the establishment."
She explained that, while the Cabaret Law repeal means that the city has one less weapon to shut down music venues like hers, it's still impossible to comply with every regulation—meaning they're still vulnerable to violations. "The end result is still the same status quo," she says, "[where] rich investor spaces can comply, while small spaces struggle with the ability to keep their doors open."
Read the full list of board appointees, from the mayor's press release:
Robert Bookman, regulatory and liquor licensing attorney, partner Pesetsky & Bookman.
Marti Gould Cummings, drag artist and LGBTQ+ advocate.
Alvester Garnett, drummer, percussionist, arts educator and advocate.
Pedro Goico, representative at New York Supermarket Association.
Olympia Kazi, architect, arts advocate and urban design critic. Member of the NYC Artists Coalition.
Andrew Praschak, environmental attorney.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
David Rosen, Brooklyn and Queens bar operator and community organizer, cofounder of Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants (BABAR).
Susan Xenarios, director and founder, Crime Victims Treatment Center, Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals.
José Francisco Ávila, founder and managing member of Garufina Afro-Latina Entertainment, LLC and Chairman of the Board of The Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc.
Kurtis Blow, rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, DJ and chairman of the Universal Hip Hop Museum who has released 15 albums over the course of his career.
DJ Tikka Masala, who composes and produces music for the Obie and Bessie award-winning Brooklyn based feminist acrobatic dance company, LAVA, and is resident DJ at Henrietta Hudson, the oldest lesbian bar in the city.
Susan Stetzer, district manager for Community Board 3, Manhattan, where she has served for the past 14 years.
Luisa F. Torres, owner of Mojitos Restaurant Bar and community activist.