The city that never sleeps may soon have a "mayor" that doesn't either, at least if one city councilmember gets his way. Rafael Espinal is currently drafting legislation to create an Office Of Nightlife, overseen by a "night mayor" who would serve both as an advocate for independent art spaces and a liaison between City Hall and New York's $10 billion nightlife industry.
"What I imagine the office doing is finding ways we can be helpful in creating a business friendly environment that supports nightlife," Espinal said by phone. "And I want to make sure that we're not a city where artists' ability to express themselves is hindered by bureaucracy."
While the position would be unique among American cities, the concept of a night mayor has been spreading across Europe since Amsterdam first introduced its nachtburgemeester in 2014—a move that's been "transformative" for the Dutch capital, according to the Economist. Among other achievements, the former party promoter is credited with delivering a new licensing regime to Amsterdam that allows some clubs to operate 24 hours a day, cutting back on noise complaints caused by crowds streaming into the streets at last call. Similar night mayors have since been established in Zurich, Paris and London, with varying mandates based on the idea that a thriving nightlife could be a good thing for a city's culture and economy.
In Espinal's proposal, the night mayor would also be focused on ensuring the survival of DIY spaces and smaller venues, which city has been cracking down on in recent years, according to the councilman. A March report from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office on the city's music industry found that, due to a host of reasons that are "more acute and worrisome today," these venues are at the greatest risk of closing. The day after the report was published, beloved punk venue Shea Stadium temporarily shut its doors in an effort to raise money for repairs amid "increasing pressure from the local authorities." After nearly doubling their Kickstarter goal, the landlord backed out of the plan to keep the venue open.
Councilman Espinal, who represents parts of Bushwick, East New York, Brownsville and Cypress Hills, said Shea Stadium's plight is a perfect illustration of why a night mayor is necessary. "I feel like these venues are facing a whole array of issues, getting up to code, and also dealing with pressures of real estate market here in New York," the councilman said. "We've gotten to the point where the only venues who are able to survive in this city are the high end nightclubs in the Meatpacking district, or places with similar business models."
"My main motivation to push for this office is to make sure that the DIY venues and the smaller venues that actually provide a hub for artists and musicians to come together and express their art are able to survive," Espinal added.
For some in charge of these precarious venues, Espinal's goal of enacting "sensible nightlife policies" is welcomed, even if the potential office's actual power remains unclear. According to John Barclay, the operator of Bushwick's Bossa Nova Civic Club, the current "interdepartmental regulations are absurd and thorough and their enforcement is arbitrary and at times bigoted." The result, Barclay said, is that "any harmless youth or subculture movement...is essentially declared illegal and either pushed out of the city or pushed underground into unregulated, unsafe spaces."
While there are plenty of mechanisms for pushing out undesirable venues, both Barclay and Espinal point to a Prohibition-era law requiring dance venues to have a cabaret license as the city's most egregious tool of enforcement. Nightlife advocates say that the license, held by less than 1 percent of the New York's food and beverage establishments, is used as a failsafe to shut down businesses that the city or the NYPD don't want to exist. Espinal has also introduced a request to draft a bill repealing the law, and hopes that the two pieces of legislation will be passed together.
As for what the actual structure of the office will look like, that decision will be figured out once the bill gets its first hearing, which Espinal is confident will happen sometime this year. The councilman doesn't have any candidates in mind yet, though says he'd like the night mayor to be someone "who has experience frequenting a DIY venue."
The real, day mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.