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A new day for life after dark: Council approves local pol’s motion to create ‘Nightlife Mayor,’ agency

Flash dance: Justina Flash burns up the stage as part of the Red Burlesque at Sugar Lounge. The troupe returns to the Columbia Waterfront District bar on Nov. 6.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Talk about busting a move!

The city will get a new agency that governs life after dark following the Council’s vote yesterday to approve a bill to create an Office of Nightlife, a move that will bolster small businesses struggling to operate in the shadow of the moon, according to the Bushwick pol who spearheaded the legislation.

“I truly believe this bill will breathe life back into our city and foster spaces for culture to flourish in the after hours, while also protecting a vital piece of this economy,” said Councilman Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick). “We’re known to be the city that never sleeps and we must do what we can to support it.”

The bill creates a position for the United States’ first Director of Nightlife, or “Night Mayor,” who will be responsible for mediating between City Hall, the after-hours businesses that comprise the $10-billion industry, and the communities in which it thrives.

In addition, the moonlight czar will be charged with forming strategies to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods where venues operate, advocating for industry workers, and helping do-it-yourself performance spaces navigate the city’s complex codes.

The Night Mayor will oversee a 12-person advisory board including industry veterans, land use experts, and service workers. Each board member will server a two-year term, and eight will be appointed by the Council Speaker while the mayor will appoint four.

Espinal introduced the Office of Nightlife legislation in June, arguing the city needs to do more to protect small businesses that operate after hours from being suffocated by regulations that cater to big clubs with little diversity.

“Recently, [nightlife] has been seeing a trend of being too corporate, sparse, and inaccessible to everyday New Yorkers,” he said. “The diverse businesses that allow people of all colors to take part in New York City’s culture are at risk of becoming homogenous.”

He modeled the Night Mayor role after Amsterdam’s nachtburgemeester, a seat the Dutch capital created in 2012 to promote its nightlife industry that led to the introduction of 24-hour permits. Since then, other cities such as Berlin, Paris, and London have followed with similar incarnations of the office.

The councilman introduced a separate measure advocating for after-dark mom and pops in June, following his proposal for the nightlife agency, to repeal the city’s Cabaret Law — a Prohibition-era statute with discriminatory roots that forbids dancing in venues unless they have a difficult-to-obtain license. He’ll hold a hearing on that bill in September, but said he wants to establish the Office of Nightlife before moving on the legislation.

Filling the coveted gig of Night Mayor is up to the all-day mayor, who has two months to appoint the city’s promoter-in-chief once he signs the bill into law. Hizzoner — who announced the creation of a “nightlife ambassador” in June — has shown some support for the legislation, but a spokesman said he is still reviewing the latest version.

Espinal said those interested in the position should be well-versed in all types of after-dark entertainment, and directed applicants to send resumes to City Hall or his office.

“I encourage people who want to apply to send their resume in to the mayor’s office or my office,’ he said. “It’s important we have someone who understands all different types of nightlife, and figures out a way to make it easier for those involved.”

Activists cheered the bill’s passage, saying an agency that oversees after-hours activities will further legitimize one of the city’s oldest and most important industries.

“There are many misperceptions about nightlife. An office solely dedicated to being transparent and helpful could show that nightlife isn’t a scourge on society, but an integral piece of NYC that has always existed and should continue to thrive,” said Adam Snead of Dance Liberation Network, a group advocating to repeal the cabaret law.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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