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Hot Dog Vendors: Wealthy Neighbors Want Us Out Of Washington Square Park

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Hot dog vendors will likely soon be forced out of the iconic Washington Square Park, and the owners believe it is all because of a group of wealthy neighbors.

As CBS 2's Janelle Burrell reported Sunday evening, the Department of Parks and Recreation has decided not to renew the permits for the vendors.

Whether you prefer your hot dogs with relish or mustard, or even if you defy traditional hot dog etiquette and use ketchup, you can't get an experience more New York than buying from a cart.

"It's the only spot you get them," said Michael Casey, a tourist from Ireland. "You don't get them back home."

But the protesting vendors said the Parks Department is forcing them out.

"Next year, no more inside, you'll have to move outside" the park was what vendor Moon Mohammad said he was told.

The vendors said the recently-formed Washington Square Park Conservancy is behind the eviction. The conservancy is a group of neighbors whose president is socialite Veronica Bulgari, and whose vice president is Justine Leguizamo, the wife of actor John Leguizamo.

The vendors pointed CBS 2 to e-mails they obtained from back in March, where "moving the hot dog guy away from the arch" is listed as one of the items on their agenda.

The following month, the carts were pushed to opposite sides of the park.

Now, the vendors said they are being kicked out altogether. The vendors and their advocates protested the decision Sunday.

"The park is a public space. It's not their private backyard, and so they don't get to control who's here. The city does, and we think it's a city of immigrants, and workers, and regular folks like these hot dog vendors who have been here for a long time," Sean Basinski of the Street Vendor Project told 1010 WINS.

Basinski said the hot dog carts and nut carts will be banned from the park effective Jan. 1.

"It's only once this group of wealthy women, as Sean said, came into play, that this decision was made," said Greenwich Village resident and vendor supporter Catheryn Suuan.

And that is not the only beef that the cart owners have. They said while they are being forced out, other, more upscale vendors are being allowed to stay.

"You want to have $4 ice cream sandwiches, by all means. There are those of us who are working people who cannot afford these things, and we would like to be able to have our inexpensive street food," said Village resident and vendor supporter Joanne Milazzo.

Members of the conservancy declined an on-camera interview.

But on Twitter, Justine Leguizamo responded to the criticism saying: "the conservancy has no power over the park. If you want something done, go to manhattan parks dept."

But supporters of the vendors said there is a clear conflict, as the chair of the conservancy is a Parks Department employee.

And the vendors themselves said they are now struggling to figure out how they will survive without the income, which they estimated will be cut in half once they are kicked out.

"We are very working hard people," a vendor said. "We have families."

The Parks Department sent CBS 2 a statement in response to the controversy Sunday night:

"Parks will be assessing the public's desires for what foods they would like to see in Washington Square as we determine what mobile foods - including hot dogs - may be offered, and where in the park they will be located, moving forward.

"The Parks Department routinely repositions food carts in our parks, and at Washington Square, as in other parks throughout the city, we are introducing newer and more diverse food options.

"The Parks Department makes all operational decisions regarding Washington Square Park."

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