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San Gennaro Supporters Tout Victory in Festival Turf War

By Patrick Hedlund | February 17, 2011 12:51pm | Updated on February 18, 2011 9:18am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LITTLE ITALY — Supporters of the annual San Gennaro Feast say they are confident the 85-year-old festival will be allowed to run its full course after meeting with local officials this week.

The September event — which stretches along Mulberry Street between Houston and Canal streets — ran into opposition this year from area shop owners concerned about the rowdy atmosphere created by the 11-day festival and its impact on their bottom lines.

In response to the complaints, Community Board 2 passed a resolution requesting that the festival be cut short at Kenmare Street, drawing outrage from event organizers and longtime residents.

Vivian Catenaccio, vice president of the San Gennaro board, explained that festival organizers met with CB2 earlier this week to hash out some of the concerns. She claimed that the board now endorses the festival's original street plans.

Workers set up last year's San Gennaro festival on Kenmare Street.
Workers set up last year's San Gennaro festival on Kenmare Street.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

"They are in support of the feast going to Houston street as is," she said, noting that the full festival has received endorsements from Borough President Scott Stringer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Councilwoman Margaret Chin. "I think we met some kind of favorable compromise."

But while CB2 board members acknowledged the progress made between both sides at the meeting, they said the board is sticking by its recommendation that the event only run from Canal to Kenmare streets.

"I want to be optimistic," said CB 2 district manager Bob Gormley, noting that the Mayor's Street Activity Permit Office will make a final decision on the festival's parameters. "Hopefully it was a good first step."

A handful of San Gennaro proponents attended Thursday's full Board 2 meeting to continue fighting for the feast, even though the issue was not part of the official agenda.

"San Gennaro represents both a cultural and economic tradition that's sustaind the neighborhood," said Jen Grillo, a downtown district leader who represents a small portion of Little Italy, during the meeting's public session.

William Russo, of the Italian American Heritage and Culture Committee, said that the "history of Italian-Americans needs to be looked at in the context of this meeting," citing "direct assaults on their way of life," like Robert Moses trying to build a highway through Little Italy.

But at least one person took issue with supporters' characterization of festival opponents as bigots.

"Who can see into the hearts of men?" asked Sam Hurwitt, paraphrasing the fictional crimefighter "The Shadow" in questioning the charges of prejudice.

Nonetheless, many San Gennaro backers are now touting victory.

"I'm 100 percent confident that the feast will continue to Houston Street," said Ralph Tramontana, president of the Little Italy Merchants Association, who is one of San Gennaro's chief proponents.

"If there's a dialogue, things could be made happy for everybody," he added. "But you can't just come out and say we want the feast to end."

Opposition to the event has mobilized a large contingent of San Gennaro supporters through the 3,100-plus-member Facebook group "Little Italy and San Gennaro Under ATTACK."

"I want to thank all the people that think they are [sic] Nolitians for getting us so angry. You have done us a great favor," wrote John Fratta, a San Gennaro board member whose great-grandfather helped found the feast, on Facebook.

"If you think you can take us on you are dead wrong," he added. "You can try but we were born and raised in Little Italy and know how to deal with crap like you. One thing you never got in Kansas or Idaho or wherever you come from. We carry in our hearts a love for Little Italy that will never fade away."