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Streetfood Fight

Hot-dog vendor, elbowed out by Greenmarket, sues city.

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This year, when the Liberty Plaza Greenmarket reopened, near the corner of Cedar and Church Streets, its organic overlords told the local streetfood sellers that they couldn’t share sidewalk space with arugula peddlers on Tuesday and Thursday from August to December. Then things got ugly: One of the vendors, Bangladeshi immigrant Mohammed Ali, 44, who’d been selling hot dogs on that stretch of Cedar Street for seven years, refused to move, and a Greenmarket manager called the cops. Ali was ticketed twice, for vending food “when ordered to move due to a market event” and not having twelve feet of path around his cart. Then, six officers seized his cart and everything in it. By the time an administrative-law judge dismissed the summonses later that afternoon (the city still insists the vendor was in violation of the twelve-feet rule), Ali’s Gatorade, Cokes, and hot dogs—buns, relish, and all— were gone. “I go to police station and I’m told it’s garbage,” he says. “They probably ate the hot dogs.”

In hock $1,300 for the food, Ali filed suit against the city and the police—with the help of the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project. “Everybody, politicians especially, loves the Greenmarkets—with their fashionable clientele and organic heirloom tomatoes—and bends over backwards for them while not supporting regular vendors,” e-mailed Ali’s lawyer, Sean Basinski.

“It’s not a contest, us versus them,” says Michael Hurwitz, executive director of the city’s Greenmarket program. It’s just about space. Still, he adds, “I do wish their food was a little bit healthier and was locally grown.”

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