News General

Groundhog Day in NYC: All Politics is Local

For the fourth year in a row, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 in the morning and made the trek over the Verrazano Bridge to see New York City’s only weather predicting rodent, Staten Island Chuck.

Usually it is Mayor Michael Bloomberg who listens to Chuck and decodes his Groundhogese, and for the previous three years, the translation has been an early end to winter.  In 2009, Chuck gained national notoriety for truculently biting Bloomberg on the finger, and the incident has been a seemingly bottomless well of jokes for politicians ever since – and today was no exception.  In 2010, Bloomberg was gifted a pair of boxing gloves at the ceremony; this year, someone made mention of Chuck’s diet of “mayoral fingers.”

Happy Groundhog Day
Happy Groundhog Day

But this year’s medium for the language of burrowing rodents was instead City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  In years past, the mayor has made strong suggestions that Chuck better not see his shadow; these suggestions became stronger after the Christmas blizzard of 2010, and the snow removal debacle that followed.  Quinn demanded warmer weather as well, but instead cited the hardships that cold weather would bring to Staten Islanders with homes damaged or lost during Sandy.  And she appealed not just to Chuck, but to recently passed former Mayor Ed Koch, who, she said, “will give some angel up in heaven a little hip check to make sure we get the sun we need.”

Spring is coming!

Everyone got their wish, as Chuck was not scared by his shadow, and an early spring is on its way.  This is in line with Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, but nearby Connecticut Chuckles and Long Island’s Malverne Mel both called for six more weeks of winter.

The mayor may have sat out this year, but he still cast a long shadow over the proceedings.  From now until November, everyone will be trying to read the political tea leaves of the mayoral race, and one has to wonder: if Bloomberg has imparted the secret knowledge of Groundhogese to Speaker Quinn, could an endorsement of candidate Quinn be far behind?

In addition to Quinn, the crowd of mostly young children (and reporters) heard a battery of speeches from city officials and local dignitaries.  After Staten Island Borough President and the morning’s emcee James Molinaro told us for the third time that someone would be the “last speaker,” radio DJ Elvis Duran lightened the mood by adding, “If Chuck sees his shadow, it will be six more weeks of speeches.”  Wrong on both counts, Elvis – it will be nine more months of speeches regardless.

Back to Speaker Quinn.  Whether she becomes mayor or not, there are still pressing issues to be dealt with in the City Council, and I had the opportunity to ask her about that. After Chuck was put back in his lodge and the crowds began to disperse, she was nice enough to stop and speak to me about the issue of lowering fines for street vendors, an issue very important to us at Turnstile Tours.  Two bills that would reduce the fines and make the penalties fairer for street vendors have been languishing in the council since April 2012, and our friends at the Street Vendor Project have been pushing hard to get them put to a vote.  But there is hope – Quinn told me, with fingers crossed, that the council was close to a final draft of a bill to lower the fines, and it should be completed in a week or so.  We’ll see what happens, but that is good news for vendors (read more about this issue in our previous blog post).

Chris talks to Chuck. Chuck says, “Lower the fines!”

We live in a huge city, and it is easy to feel like your voice is just an insignificant one in eight million.  But New York is a city of neighborhoods, and if you want to make it as a politician, you have to go out, press the flesh, listen to people, and sometimes even talk to groundhogs.  We go back to the Staten Island Zoo every year because you feel the real sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find.  It is nice to be part of that, and it is nice to be heard.

Turnstile Tours offers weekly tours of food carts and trucks, every Wednesday at 12pm in Manhattan’s Financial District, and every Friday at 2pm in Midtown.  These tours include tastings from six different vendors, and visitors learn about the history of vending in New York City, the rules and regulations affecting vendors, and they even have the opportunity to meet the vendors themselves and ask about what it takes to run one of these small businesses.  At least 5% of all of our ticket sales goes to support the Street Vendor Project.  To join us, visit our tickets and information page.

This post was authored by Andrew Gustafson.