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Occupy Wall Street Claims Victory as Zuccotti Park Cleanup is Scrapped

By DNAinfo Staff on October 14, 2011 6:37am  | Updated on October 14, 2011 1:44pm

By Marina Lopes, Julie Shapiro, Jill Colvin and Adam Nichols

DNAinfo Staff

ZUCCOTTI PARK — Plans to clear Occupy Wall Street protesters out of Zuccotti Park for a cleanup were scrapped at the last minute Friday as the group's makeshift camp swelled with hundreds of extra protesters braced for a confrontation with police.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told protesters Wednesday night that they would have to be prepared to leave the park temporarily starting at 7 a.m. Friday morning so the park's owner, Brookfield Properties, could clean the space where they have been encamped for more than three weeks.

The protesters warned that they would resist efforts to force them to leave, setting up a potential showdown.

But less than an hour before cleaners and cops were expected to move in, the cleanup was called off.

"Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park — Brookfield Properties — that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park and, for the time being, withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance," said Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway in a statement released just after 6 a.m. Friday.

"Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown."

The news spread like wildfire among the protest's general assembly within minutes of the city's announcement.

"We have breaking news," an OWS speaker said, interrupting a debate that had been going on about what to do if protesters were arrested.

It was met with ecstatic cheering from protesters — and sparked impromptu marches including one more than 200-strong that went up Broadway to City Hall. Marchers were flanked by police in full riot gear.

Police confirmed that 14 people were arrested in scattered clashes around lower Manhattan, including five at Maiden Lane and Water Street and others on Beaver Street.  Charges against them were not immediately known.

According to the New York Post, protesters charged barricades, flipped over a scooter on Broadway and got into a confrontation with an officer on a scooter on Maiden Lane and Water Street.

Video surfaced on YouTube showing a police scooter sitting on top of the leg of a man who was screaming in pain. 

According to the National Lawyers Guild, the man was one of its legal observers, whose job it is to observe arrests and record the identities of those taken into custody, according to spokesman Nathan Tempey.

The hurt man's condition was not immediately clear, although he was hospitalized and in police custody, Tempey said. 

According to the spokesman, legal observers "go through a strict training program" and are supposed to remain separate from protesters but "often police actions are such that it's hard to remain apart from the crowd."

Police did not immediately respond to an email for comment.

Overnight, the number of protesters had swelled to more than 1,000 people. Among them were groups including the United Auto Workers union and the New York County Democrats.

Demonstrators had vowed to link arms and encircle the park, blocking cleaning crews and police from entering.

"I'm going home," said Ben Truehaft, 64, Friday. He'd come to the park early Friday morning to offer solidarity to the protesters. "This is good because I have a lot to do today."

Arsenia Reilly, 33, arrived at the protest at 5.30 a.m., her 13-month-old son Declan Collins strapped to her chest.

"I am here for him," she said about her child. "I feel like everyone's here for him. If I had stayed at home, I would be doing a disservice to him."

Brookfield's cleaning crews, with police escorts, had been expected to arrive at 7 a.m., moving protesters out of sections of the park while scrubbing the place down. The park's owner had promised they could return, on the condition that they not attempt to bring sleeping gear, tarps and other items along with them.

But in an email sent at 11:33 p.m. Thursday, Brookfield's chief executive officer Ric Clark told Holloway, "Based upon input from many, we have decided to postpone the cleaning operation for Zuccotti Park which is currently scheduled to commence at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. 

"We now plan on deferring this work for a few days while we attempt to work out an arrangement with the protesters."

Though Zuccotti Park's owner Brookfield Properties is a private company, which counts Bloomberg's girlfriend, Diana Taylor, among its board members, it is required to keep the park open 24 hours a day under a zoning agreement with the city.

But Downtown residents have complained that the park was filthy, overrun by sleeping bags, tarps, trash and human waste.

Bloomberg has spoken out against the protesters but, until Wednesday, had said the city and Brookfield had no clear legal right to evict them. On Wednesday night, he visited the campsite and called the conditions unacceptable and announced the cleanup.

But he said on his Friday morning radio sit-down with WOR's John Gambling he'd given his staff "strict instructions" not to pressure Brookfield into making any decisions on how to act.

"In the end it is Brookfield's decision," he said.

"The city does not have the legal right to go in and clear the park unless ... public safety is threatened.

"I think the longer this goes on, the worse it is for the economy ...There has to be some resolution eventually. And we'll have to just wait and see what Brookfield wants to do."

State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents Lower Manhattan, welcomed the decision to cancel the cleanup.

"Now, the dialogue must continue," he said in a statement Friday.

"The stakeholders must come together to find a solution that respects the protesters' fundamental rights, while addressing the legitimate quality of life concerns in this growing residential neighborhood."

Sonja Sharp, Ben Fractenberg, Patrick Hedlund, Tuan Nguyen and Tom Liddy contributed reporting