Senator Charles Schumer was a little late, but he showed, as promised, at the Red Hook Ballfields on Sunday to protest the Parks Department's move to open concessions at the fields up to open bidding, a virtual death sentence on the small Latin food vendors that have made the place a foodie and ur-New York destination in recent years.
He was flanked by Cesar Fuentes, President of the Food Vendors of Red Hook, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, food historian Ed Levine and Andrew Carmellini, chef of A Voce. There was a crowd of about 50 people, matched by reporters, cameramen, bloggers, and folks from Schumer's office of about equal number. One could have hoped for more, but the press conference was only announced yesterday. What's more, many of the folks visiting the park were there because they heard the vendors were in danger.
"This is testimony to the expression `If you build it, they will come,'" said Schumer. "That was Iowa. This is our Iowa. This is our Field of Dreams." His speech hit all the right points, though it was diplomatic to a fault. The line that brought the most applause was the one that was most to the point: "Getting rid of all this, in the hope that it might make a little more money for the city, just makes no sense!" Fuentes emphasized the mom-and-pop status of the 13 vendors, and the fact that they not only operate on a very tight budget but, as part of their deal with the city, keep the soccer fields in good condition. Levine, jovial and forever chuckling, confirmed the deliciousness of all the food surrounding them, while Carmellini joked he was there out of pure selfishness: "I just want to be able to keep on eating good tacos."
Schumer said the law the Parks Commissioner was enforcing—the one that made sure concessions went to the highest bidder—was a good one generally, in that it helped rid the system of corruption. But, he said, "every rule has exceptions," and the vendors deserved to be an exception.
The next move appears to be the Parks Commissioner's.