In Harlem, Shrugs and 'Emergency' Rally After Rezoning Decision

Word that a key City Council subcommittee had approved the rezoning of 125th Street this morning had just started to make its way up to Harlem by the time an “Emergency Demonstration and Rally” organized by a group of neighborhood street merchants began at 3.

Vendors had been passing out fliers for the rally that advised local City Councilwoman Inez Dickens to “Do the Right Thing!! Vote No against the 125th Street rezoning” all morning and continued well after the subcommittee’s vote ensured the rezoning’s passage by the full Council.

The first protestors started to gather in the plaza at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 2:50, wearing sandwich boards with slogans like “Freedom is economic,” and “We have a right to earn a living.” A middle-aged woman railed against Mayor Bloomberg through a megaphone. “We are not going anywhere, Mayor Bloomberg. This is not your land.”

A young, male protestor began reading over my shoulder as I took notes.

“Who said that?” he asked of notes from an earlier interview.

“I wrote that this morning,” I said. “Besides, you can’t read my notebook.”

Big mistake. I definitely should have said "may not."

“Why? You’re writing on a public street, and they taught us to read years ago,” he said, and then turned to the handful of early arrivals who had clustered around the megaphone lady.

“This lady just told me ‘I can’t read you all. She said I can’t read," he said, raising his voice.

“Go home,” he told me.

The people I spoke to on 125th Street earlier that afternoon were much more welcoming, and not all of them were against the rezoning—though almost none of them were aware that the subcommittee was voting today.

A perfume vendor named Richie was handing out fliers for the rally behind his stall on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. When informed that it might be too late because Ms. Dickens had just voted yes to the rezoning, Richie said: “Well, we’re going to vote no to her when she comes up for re-election.”

An old man smoking a cigarette outside the Off Track Betting branch near the Apollo Theater worried the rezoning would not only make Harlem “lose its gloss,” but might cause the Island of Manhattan to sink.

“They keep building these big, tall buildings that are making Manhattan sink more into the ocean, I’m telling you,” he said.

Another vendor named Larry McClam said he was speaking on behalf of the “60 percent of the population” that is opposed to the city’s plan to transform Harlem’s main commercial corridor into a business and residential hub.

Midway into our conversation, Mr. McClam stopped a female acquaintance carrying a Bible and asked some seriously loaded questions about how she felt about the rezoning.

“I think change is good,” she said.

“I agree with it. Everyone wants to make money,” she shrugged, before hurrying off.

Young people also seem more open to the rezoning. John Lopez, a Harlem resident in his mid-twenties, made a sweeping motion over 125th and said, “This needs to change already… More stores mean more jobs, right? How many more jobs will a Home Depot create for the neighborhood than one of these small shops?"