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Locals Cheer, Jeer UN General Assembly Kickoff This Week

By Mary Johnson | September 13, 2011 4:35pm
Protests, like this one against the president of Senegal, are a common occurrence during the annual UN General Assembly.
Protests, like this one against the president of Senegal, are a common occurrence during the annual UN General Assembly.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

TURTLE BAY — The first few weeks of fall in Manhattan bring cooler temperatures, a reemergence of school children — and of course an influx of foreign diplomats.

As the UN General Assembly begins this week, the neighborhood near the riverfront complex on First Avenue between East 42nd and East 48th streets will be surrounded by blocked roadways and heightened security.

And some in the area are bracing themselves for the worst.

“It sucks,” said Andrea Aparicio, 24, who was letting his dog romp around Robert Moses Playground on First Avenue and East 42nd Street Tuesday.

Aparicio has lived several blocks north in Turtle Bay for three years, and he is well acquainted with the hassle of having to show his ID just to get to his block.

“Both these parks will definitely be closed,” he added, looking around the playground and its adjoining basketball and handball courts.

Aparicio said having a dog does prove helpful around the General Assembly, which stretches through the end of the month, because it makes him look less like a threat and more like a legitimate resident.

In addition to the security and the street closures, protestors come out in force throughout the assembly, he said.

Around noon on Tuesday, two protests were already taking place.

One was pushing to get Taiwan included in the United Nations. The other was aimed at the president of Senegal, who was visiting the United Nations Tuesday, said Amath Diouf, a Senegal native and current Harlem resident who helped organize the protest on Tuesday.

“He’s acting like a democrat, but he’s not a democrat because people are suffering and he doesn’t care,” Diouf, 43, said about the African country’s president, who was elected to serve only two terms but is now trying for a third.  

Diouf, a baker who also produces an online radio show, said he is planning another protest for Sept. 28, when the Senegalese president is scheduled to make a speech to the General Assembly. Diouf also intends to protest outside the president’s hotel — once he finds out where the politician is staying.

Such events, which usually do not come with prior notification to area businesses and residents, are some of the impromptu obstacles that can frustrate those living and working in the neighborhood, said Marc Wurzel, general counsel for the Grand Central Partnership. And protests are just some of multiple irritations that accompany the event every year.

The street closures, which won't take effect until next week, can be an annoyance as they inevitably hamper deliveries and restrict access for both employees of area businesses and their customers, Wurzel said.

This year, the UN’s Secretariat building is under construction, meaning most staff members from the building have dispersed to office spaces throughout the neighborhood while construction is being completed, Wurzel said. That means all those employees, once conveniently located on site, will join the masses of pedestrians navigating the blocked sidewalks as they commute to the United Nations throughout the General Assembly.


However, some welcome the influx of foreign dignitaries.

Jesus Martinez, owner and general manager of Restaurante Alcalá on East 46th Street, said he is pleased with how the NYPD handles the General Assembly.

“I think they’re doing a pretty good job,” said Martinez, who immigrated from Spain 24 years ago and eventually opened the restaurant, which specializes in Spanish cuisine, near First Avenue.

The restaurant does lose a little business from neighborhood folks unwilling to cross police barricades for dinner, Martinez said. But the establishment is popular among ambassadors and diplomats, he added.

“This is a favorite restaurant of the United Nations,” said Martinez. “They like us. We like them.”

In fact, the proximity to the United Nations was a key factor in his decision to move into the restaurant’s current location, Martinez said.

His customers have included the president of Guatemala, the former presidents of Chile and Spain, and ambassadors from Turkey and Japan. But Martinez said he makes a point to treat everyone in his restaurant the same — whether they are they are monarchs or the owners of a nearby co-op.

That affords dining dignitaries a certain level of anonymity, he added.

“They come. They eat,” Martinez said. “[But] we never took a picture with anybody. I told my staff, ‘Don’t even ask.’”