Sheepshead Bay Booze Cruise Critics Dispute Racism Claims, Proposed Ban Gains Senate Sponsor

Photo by Boris Shekhman

A proposed ban on booze cruises in Sheepshead Bay gained a Senate sponsor in Albany, while critics of the local industry fight back against allegations that the ban is fueled by racial tensions.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz introduced a bill on February 20 prohibiting boats that throw late-night, alcohol-fueled parties from docking at Sheepshead Bay’s piers, operated by the New York City Parks Department, claiming that they’re ruining neighbors’ quality of life.

“Look at the problem from a resident’s perspective,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said.“People drink and get rowdy even before they board the party boats. They urinate and defecate on people’s property when they disembark. On top of that you have loud music on the boats that drowns out neighbors’ TVs and keeps them up at night.”

The bill, which can be found here, would ban ships 14-feet or longer that are rented out for a recreational event of more than six passengers – and exempts fishing boats. The boats would not be permitted within 750 feet of Sheepshead Bay’s shore, or 100 feet of any dock. It also limits the volume of music or other sounds except for emergency horns or sirens.

Though the Assembly version has no other co-sponsors to show support, State Senator Diane Savino introduced a Senate version last week. Both versions have been referred to their respective committees, where leadership will determine whether to bring it to a vote.

The boats and their clientele have been a long-time nuisance for many who live south of the Belt Parkway, with neighbors complaining at local civic meetings that patrons treat the area like a dump, urinating on lawns, leaving behind broken bottles, and are prone to violent incidents.

The proposed ban has garnered headlines in citywide media, including WNYC. It’s received criticism from boat owners and others who say it’s neighborhood snobbery, and that the mostly white residents of Sheepshead Bay don’t care for the largely Caribbean clientele who rent them out.

WNYC reports:

“In Sheepshead Bay, 90 percent of the party boat [clientele] is West Indian,” said Captain Gregory Pelletteri, who helps operate [boats including the Sheryll Princess]. “You might not want to say that, but that’s the reality of it — there are not a whole lot of other parties going on.”

Captain Joe Lind, owner of the The Golden Sunshine, agrees. “There is a desire by the people who are pushing this to get rid of the blacks in the neighborhood,” said Lind.

Those patrons are hopeful they can work out the quality of life issues, but agree that there are racial undertones.

[Party ogranizer Quincy] Liverpool said he thinks the quality of life issues in Sheepshead Bay can be worked out but he wishes the community as a whole could be more supportive of Caribbean New Yorkers like him, rather than view them as outsiders.

“The culture that they’re bringing to the pier is different than the people that live at the pier and I think that’s where the disconnect is,” observed Liverpool.

Tom Paolillo, who lives near the water on Bedford Avenue, and a vocal opponent of the booze cruises who frequently raises the issue and shares photos of trash left in front of his home by patrons, flatly rejected the claims that it’s a race issue.

At a Sheepshead Bay / Plumb Beach Civic Association (SBPB) meeting last week, Paolillo bought the topic up in response to Lind’s claims, saying that the boat owner is hoping to squash debate by reducing it to ethnic tension.

“What still sort of repeating in my head like a broken record is Captain Joe Lind, who said Sheepshead Bay residents just don’t like black people in the neighborhood. I think that’s just outrageous and it’s not the case” he said. “I don’t care who they are but they’re breaking the law. You’re not allowed to drink out of the back of your car with an open container, and you’re not allowed to litter,” he said, passing around a photo of men he claimed were patrons doing just that in front of his home.

SBPB President Kathy Flynn agreed, saying it’s not about race or even the boats – it’s about whether or not they’re a nuisance. She pointed to similar concerns neighbors had with the now defunct OPM Lounge at Bragg Street and Emmons Avenue, which had similar troubles and a largely local clientele.

As for the boat ban, Paolillo said he’s not sure if one is necessary.

“I think it’s a policing issue,” he said.

Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo agreed, saying that some boat owners are trying to be amenable.

“Who is supplying the security? Who is supplying the metal detectors?” she said, pointing out that it’s the boat owners. “They’re paying for it out of pocket. They are trying to do the right thing. But it comes down to NYPD and Parks police. Those piers are under Parks jurisdiction; when was the last time you saw Parks police there? Never.”

Scavo also noted that NYPD policing of the piers has been scaled back under more recent commanding officers.

Cymbrowitz, for his part, told the Bay News that this proposal is being made at the request of the NYPD and Parks.

Cymbrowitz said the police and the Parks Department, which controls the docks, wanted him to push this law.

“We’ve worked with the 61st Precinct and Parks Department for many years to deal with the quality-of-life issues and have been encouraged by them to introduce this legislation,” he said.

Locals who work for the boats told Sheepshead Bites that they understand the quality of life concerns, but they do all they can while keeping Sheepshead Bay’s boating industry alive.

“Ten years ago they had to change, they had to do these parties, otherwise they were going to lose their boats because the fishing industry went downhill. People sold their boats, they got out of here,” said Richie Arneman, who works on both fishing and booze cruise vessels. “You have to come up with a happy medium. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, let’s ban them.’ There’s people here who work here, I work here, I depend on making a few bucks here. My family has been here working the boats all my life.”

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  1. Shame on anyone who cries racism regarding this situation. Besides OPM, which is mentioned in the article, we had the same battle with Heaven (the club that was replaced by the now defunct Paradise on Emmons Avenue), almost a decade ago. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with race so I don’t think we should spend any more time addressing the nonsense being spewed by someone looking to hold on to their business.

    That said, I totally understand the captains. They need to make a living and this seems to be the only way to do it these days. But this CAN NOT be at the expense of the community in which they choose to dock their boats. Metal detectors and security guards at the dock are great (albeit a bit of an eyesore) but the community’s complaint isn’t about what happens when the partyers get on the boat itself, it is what they do before and after the boat trip that is the problem.

    Anyone who thinks this isn’t a problem hasn’t walked down Emmons Avenue or any of the side streets connected to it on a Saturday night in the summer. We are very used to visitors from all over coming down to enjoy the bay and do not have a problem with most of them. Nor do we have a problem with 99% of the business on the bay which cater primarily to those visiting from other parts of the borough. The clientele, be they black, white, or purple, are different. A shitty person is a shitty person regardless of race, and a large number of the people coming down for these boat parties are just very shitty people. If you see race in any part of this complaint then you yourself need to have your sensitivities reexamined.

    I too have witnessed week after week everything Tom mentions. At this point everyone is familiar with the trash, the music, the screaming, the fights, and the overall absurd drunken behavior of the party-goers.

    On a more personal note, those same people constantly leave their car parked on the fire hydrant in front of my house. How do I know these people are here for the party boats and not to visit one of the bay’s fine restaurants? The obnoxious yelling about the fact that the boat is about to leave and there is no parking to be found gives it away. For some reason they think that their right to not be left behind by the party boat trumps my right to not die in a fire when the hydrant remains blocked for the entire night. Each time I have called 311 to report, but at most a ticket has been issued and the same problem reoccurs the very next weekend.

    My desire is not to shut down the boats, or their owner’s livelihoods. On the contrary, I think it would be a huge shame to see empty docks and a lack of business in Sheepshead Bay. But the burden should be on the boat owners and the party organizers to find a solution to this issue, or face getting shut down. I look forward to once again be able to enjoy a good nights sleep in the summer without being woken up by drunken idiots returning to their car at 2am.


  3. How about the Russian Bars & Cafes along Emmons Ave. They are part of the problems too ! I’ve seen many of their customers get drunk & cause just as many incidents as though who get off the boats.
    Cymbrowitz & Savino are always crying about jobs , jobs, & more jobs.
    The only jobs they care about are their own Jobs & sucking up to the people that give them BIG FAT donations. If you look up BUM in the dictionary you will find both thier mug shots. there.

  4. This is worse than racism, it is institutional racism. And if the people running these cruises can pay off politicians, like some of the night clubs in the neighborhood, I’m sure it would be a problem.

  5. Which bars and cafes and what incidents are you referring to? I’m not asking to be argumentative, as I believe you might be right, but I am curious what specific problems you’ve noticed there.

    I’ve lived on Emmons Avenue for most of my adult life and I have never had a problem with the majority of businesses here. Every now and then a nightclub like Heaven or OPM has come along and caused similar problems in the community, but in all of those cases a fuss just as big as this one was made, regardless of the owners race or ethnicity.

    I can certainly recall individual instances of drunken people in front of Faberge or Baku causing a scene every now and then, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to the pain the party boat crowd has been causing those of us who live on the bay.

  6. I think it’s about time that some demonstrations should be done in front of Cymbrowitz’s store front office & protest this Bill from going forward. I’m going to send this story to various list serves that profess to be progressive & want equality for ALL & NOT JUST FOR SOME FEW.
    I will also send this to the various NYC Council member progressive caucuses. This stuff has to stop !

  7. I’ll ask you the same question I asked James above:

    Which bars and cafes and what incidents are you referring to? I’m not asking to be argumentative, as I believe you might be right, but I am curious what specific problems you’ve noticed there.

    I’ve lived on Emmons Avenue for most of my adult life and I have never had a problem with the majority of businesses here. Every now and then a nightclub like Heaven or OPM has come along and caused similar problems in the community, but in all of those cases a fuss just as big as this one was made, regardless of the owners race or ethnicity.

    I can certainly recall individual instances of drunken people in front of Faberge or Baku causing a scene every now and then, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to the pain the party boat crowd has been causing those of us who live on the bay.

  8. Many of the fishermen who go out in the morning and evening trips are also black.Nobody is complaining about them. So its not racism.Its the young troublemakers who frequent the booze cruises who are the problem.

  9. The problem is not racism (Black VS. White). The problem is that the people who frequent these booze cruises disrupt the neighborhood with their behaviors. They blocks the streets because there is just so many of them, they block the side walks, they take up valuable parking spaces for other patrons to visit the neighborhood and eat the the restaurants ALL for the BENEFIT of the Boat owners. I understand that everyone needs to make a living but there should be some civil obedience with these people who just HAPPEN TO BE BLACK. It needs to be regulated because with every year, the problem is getting worse and its only a matter of time before we have a “Shoot out” on Emmons Ave as they do in other neighborhoods.

  10. The NYPD needs to be out in full force when the ships come back in . Enforce the law which they are not currently doing. Go to a bar out in long beach on LI. As the bar crowds head out, the cops are there to enforce the law.Have the ships turn off the music prior to entering the bay. Their is a happy median but the police are not doing there job. I am not black and have been on these ships many times with friends. Any place where people are boozing it up and parting is going to get it’s fair share of bad behavior if enforcement is not present. When people are drunk they make bad decisions . These are people who work all week, and just letting go on the weekend. Same complaints on the lower east side of manhattan or any party area

  11. Parking has been a problem around Emmons forever. All the politicians know it and do nothing. If streets/driveways/fire hydrants are blocked, they haven’t done a damn thing to fix it by adding parking. How about making the municipal lots multi level and solve the problem? But no, the politicians will just stand back and not say a word because eventually, the city gives the parking lots up and sells the land to make more luxury condos. Got to keep those big money real estate donors happy! Btw, party boats dock in manhattan too and attract the same crowd and I’ve been there when the boats come in. Everyone gets off nice and quiet and there are no problems. Why? Because its MANHATTAN, they have plenty of cops and they don’t put up with crap.

  12. Speaking of fish, I just noticed that Sheepshead Bites has a new, bland logo on the masthead. Ned, what became of that nasty fish you once proudly displayed and was so ugly?

  13. It all boils down to enforcement by the local authorities! Ms. Scalvo waht you address does not benefit the community, it is for the protection of the boat owner! The NYPD and Parks Dept, needs to send officers to control the illegal actions of the few who disrupt the neighborhood! What the city and local industry needs to do is build parking in the neighborhood! Instead of a new residential building in place of the El Greco, a multilevel parking garage should be built so that all the business in Sheepshead Bay can benefit!

  14. It definitely is nothing to do with race because Sheepshead Bay is a black and a Russian neighborhood.

  15. Move the boats to docks in the industrialized area, just like all Go-Go bars went, where there are no residents around and let them party all they want!
    However,the problem is not only about the neighborhood and it’s residents who have been disturbed, but the patrons themselves.
    It is dangerous to drink underway! Just like you wouldn’t want a drunk passenger in your car, the same way there should be no drunk people on the boat!
    It is only a matter of time till someone will end up overboard, maybe then the issue will be viewed differently!

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