Since Jerry Delakas' Astor Place newsstand was shut down in December, a small group of New Yorkers in the East Village have been holding vigils in front of his newsstand in the hope that someone from the city bureaucracy will act on the insanity of putting a 64-year-old newsstand operator out of business.
Jerry Delakas at his closed Astor Place newsstand in New York City's East Village
New York City's Department of Consumer of Affairs padlocked Jerry's newsstand in the early morning hours in December. On the front and side of the stand, which has been part of the East Village landscape for over 26 years, are official city signs declaring that his establishment has been closed because Jerry has been operating illegally. Those that passed by the day I was there wondered why politicians, journalists and neighbors gathered around a shuttered newsstand. They are fast disappearing in our digital age.
What kind of illegal operation was Jerry running? The story is convoluted and has been documented by filmmakers and journalists. To understand how Jerry became an illegal operator from the city's perspective, it starts with the original license holder. Stephen Rex Brown, a journalist from New York University's Journalism Institute, provides a good history of the story and outlines Jerry's court battles to keep his newsstand. In Brown's 2012 article, he explains that Jerry has been operating the newsstand for Katherine Ashley since 1987. Jerry paid Ashley $75 a week to work at the stand, and when Ashley died she wrote in her will that Jerry should inherit the license. The license was passed on to her husband and other family members and Jerry kept paying a fee to operate the newsstand. Not having the license in his name all these years has been an issue for the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Brown examined the court documents and found a dissenting opinion by two of the seven [Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court] judges, who strongly disagreed with the appellate court's decision to uphold the DCA and stop Jerry from operating the Astor Place newsstand. Here's an excerpt: "The denial of his application was an unjustifiable exercise of discretion that shocks the judicial conscience, given that it will deprive [Mr. Delakas] of the business that he has painstakingly built up over a period of more than 20 years." But the other appellate court judges said that Jerry "had to be aware of the illicit, under the table arrangement he facilitated by his payments to three separate owners beginning as far back as 1987."
The local and state politicians who have been pulled into this legal fight are also dismayed over the appellate court's decision. "All our arguments fell on deaf ears," says Rosie Mendez, New York City Council Member (2nd District), referring to discussions with the current administration. "At his age, what will he do now?" New York Senator Brad Hoylman (District 27), adds, "I hope the new administration will reverse this decision and restore Jerry to full ownership of this newsstand. It's not only right, but the moral thing to do." Both came to the corner that cold day to support Jerry and to find out the latest "unjustifiable" city maneuver.
Supporters including, left to right, Marty Tessler, New York Senator Brad Hoylman (District 27) and Rosie Mendez, New York City Council Member (2nd District).
Against the backdrop of his dispute with the City of New York, Jerry, a Greek immigrant, seems smaller than his slender frame. But this quiet man has come to capture our hearts. Jerry, who has been featured in several movies, has come to symbolize the American dream -- how America can offer a hard-working immigrant a better life. But his dream of finishing his life on the corner is in danger if New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs can't work out a reasonable solution.
The City has retained the services of Proskauer Rose, which the New York Post refers to as a "powerhouse international law firm." The Post pointed out that Proskauer Rose would be working pro bono on this case. "Jerry is eligible to apply for a new license, but he will not be able to get the same location," says Marty Tessler, who has also been at the vigils. "He has to pay thousands of dollars in fines and go to the back of the line." To help him navigate the court system, Jerry has had to hire attorneys.
Now neighbors and politicians alike hope that the new mayor-elect, Bill de Blasio, and his administration will be more reasonable and stop what some perceive as a shocking abuse of the city's power. Kelly King, who was posting "Save Jerry" signs and giving out information on how to help Jerry, says the city is being abusive and unconcerned for how Jerry will make a living.
She is on the corner every day trying to raise awareness and is not willing to let this story go away. Others, including Judy Rosenblatt, say losing Jerry and the Astor Place newsstand would be a blow to the community. "Jerry is a treasure to this neighborhood," says Rosenblatt. "One day, I realized I had no money when I went to pay for my paper and I had to dash to an audition in Brooklyn. Jerry gave me 20 dollars so I could make it, otherwise I would have missed it."
Jerry Delakas and Judy Rosenblatt, who lives in the East Village.
These days, people are giving Jerry money to help him. Because his cell phone was locked up in his newsstand, one patron gave him some money to buy a new one. Given the circumstances, I ask him what he now thinks of his America. "I still think America is a great country," he says. "It's given me a life and I would like to live my final days on this corner."
His supporters aren't so forgiving, especially of the Bloomberg Administration and its unwillingness to negotiate. They wonder if Jerry were powerful and rich, perhaps a solution would have been found. For now, the David and Goliath fight continues, with the hope that the new major-elect will have greater capacity to help those struggling to make a better life.
For more information about Jerry Delakas and his fight to keep his newsstand, check out the documentary The Paper House, made by Nicole Cimino and Jack Boar Pictures. Other related articles include a recent piece in the Village Voice and NY1's recent news coverage.