NEW YORK -- An anti-war group planning a massive demonstration at the start of the Republican National Convention in Manhattan has been denied a permit to rally in Central Park because the crowd would be too large.
The parks department denied the request by United for Peace and Justice organizers, who applied last June for a permit to rally in the park's Great Lawn after marching from 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue. The march permit request, submitted separately to the police department, is pending.
The anti-war group was preparing an appeal, which is part of the parks permit process, group leader Leslie Cagan said Wednesday.
"Now we just have to do another piece of organizing, to put pressure on the city to change their mind," Cagan said. "We take on issues like war and nuclear disarmament, so we have to keep a parks permit in perspective."
The permit denial letter said the Aug. 29 event, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of protesters, would exceed the 13-acre Great Lawn's capacity of 80,000 people; only 10 acres of the space is usable because of trees, benches and walkways. United for Peace and Justice indicated on its permit that it expected 250,000 demonstrators.
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Hundreds of thousands attend Mass in Central Park, October 7, 1995. ( Photo/NYC Mayors office)
"In the view of the parks department, an event attended by 250,000 people would cause enormous damage to the lawn," the letter said.
The group plans to state in its appeal that numerous events with more than 80,000 people have taken place on the lawn, including a 1981 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel concert that drew at least 400,000 fans and a 1982 anti-nuclear demonstration attended by more than 750,000 people, considered the largest protest in the city's history.
The Department of Parks and Recreation maintains that no gatherings of that magnitude have taken place on the Great Lawn since the area was restored in 1996. Organizers of a free Dave Matthews concert last September controlled crowd size by issuing 70,000 tickets, although about 15,000 additional people attended, parks officials said at the time.
"The Great Lawn itself cannot hold more than 80,000 people, and the overflow would be forced onto the adjacent landscape, causing damage to those areas of the park as well," the permit denial said.
Parks department spokeswoman Megan Sheekey said the city has offered to help the group find another location.
United for Peace and Justice, which organized the February 2003 anti-war rally that drew tens of thousands of people to a 20-block stretch of First Avenue, said it planned to appeal in the next few days and hadn't ruled out taking the matter to court.
Another group denied a parks permit during the convention also is considering legal action. Led by the activist Aron Kay, who made a name for himself by throwing pies at public officials, the group last month requested permission to set up a 20,000-person camp in Tompkins Square Park from Aug. 27 to Sept. 12.
The application said the East Village encampment would be for sleeping, eating, protest meetings, poetry readings, bongo-playing, yoga and massage, among other activities. The city denied the request because parks close at 1 a.m. and "a neighborhood park can't accommodate an event of that size," Sheekey said.
In a separate development, a coalition of unions representing police officers and firefighters has requested permits to demonstrate during the convention. Union members claim they are underpaid compared with their counterparts in other cities and are underfunded for fighting terrorism _ complaints they plan to voice when the Republicans come to town.
No decision has been made on those permits, but "the rules of protest will apply to them like everybody else," Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
"I don't know that I think protesting at the Republican convention is a very intelligent way of getting a better contract," he said.
The four-day convention begins Aug. 30 and is expected to bring about 50,000 people and 15,000 journalists to the city.
Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press