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Cultural Capital

NYC Swears the Days of Surprise Nightclub Raids Are Over. Are They?

The Giuliani-era MARCH raids are out, officials say. A new system called "CURE" is in.

Mayor Adams and Executive Director of the Office of Nightlife Jeffrey Garcia. (Violet Mendelsund / Mayoral Photography Office)

The Brooklyn nightclub Paragon is most often seen at night, full of fog, fluorescent light, body heat, and youth. But last Thursday morning, it was full of cold daylight and middle-aged people in suits, all of whom were waiting for Mayor Eric Adams to arrive and announce a shift in how the City would handle nightlife enforcement, away from the much-hated MARCH raids and toward something meant to be more collaborative. 

Jeffrey Garcia, the newly appointed executive director of the Office of Nightlife, stood at a podium with his predecessor, Ariel Palitz, behind him, as well as the heads of the Mayor's Office for Media and Entertainment (where the nightlife office used to be), the New York City Department of Small Business Services (its new home as of Garcia's appointment in November), and the NYPD. Palitz had recently slipped through the revolving door that leads from City Hall to former Adams Chief of Staff Frank Carone's lobbying firm, Oaktree Solutions. Paragon's owner, John Barclay, skulked in the corner by the bathroom, scruffy and in a cream-colored overshirt, next to a clean-shaven Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey in NYPD navy; Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso scrolled on his phone.

The door that led to Paragon's backyard opened, and as the sounds of "Empire State of Mind" rang through the club's soundsystem, Mayor Adams walked in, in his own navy suit (no tie), with the outgoing Bronx City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez at his heels. ONL's Garcia kicked off the press conference, announcing a "new, transformative citywide policy that has been years in the making." Garcia handed it over to "the great" Mayor Adams, whom he called a "true nightlife mayor."

Adams thanked people, and cited New York's catchphrase as "the city that never sleeps," then launched into a speech about how the Giuliani-era Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspot raids were "unprofessional" and "abusive" and the City needed a more even-handed approach to nightlife. MARCH raids, which establishments complained were carried out during peak business hours, and disproportionately in non-white communities, were "not how you treat a business," he said. "We're in a new place." Nightlife, the mayor explained, is important because it brings in a lot of money. At the same time, he clarified, noise and trash are bad. 

The solution, Adams said as he beamed, was a new program: CURE, which he said would replace MARCH operations, "changing the way we engage with nightlife businesses" by "focusing on compliance and education."

"We can use CURE to create direct lines of communications between the Office of Nightlife and local establishments," the mayor said. "We want them to correct issues before we come in with heavy-handed enforcement." Adams added, "We want to continue to be the city that never sleeps, but we don't want to interrupt the sleep of those who are near nightlife establishments. That is the perfect balance."

"CURE will not impede our ability to conduct investigations," Maddrey said when he took the stage. "The only venues who can expect to see significant enforcement actions," he added, "are those who intentionally ignore community concerns, and shun multiple opportunities to collaborate on solutions with the NYPD and the Mayor's Office of Nightlife."

Garcia then announced Barclay, Paragon's owner, as a representative of the "Do It Your Way" scene (he meant, I think, DIY). "I'm a little nervous with a lot of cops in here," Barclay said, eliciting a laugh. When he said he was a "victim" of MARCH enforcement, though, Maddrey shot a grumpy look to Palitz. 

I had a couple of questions during the Q&A portion. After all, what the mayor was describing as a new initiative sounded quite similar to the duties the Office of Nightlife was legally mandated to carry out by 2019's Local Law 220, commonly known as the Talk Not Raids Act, which went into effect in April 2020. That law, which was pushed by the New York Artists Coalition, required ONL to notify businesses of "the alleged conduct or complaint that could warrant making such an establishment the subject of [a MARCH operation]." Was the City now finally complying with the 2019 law, just dressed up in some new, friendlier branding? Local Law 220 had also mandated that MARCH raids be documented, and that reports on MARCH activity be released to the public. I asked if CURE enforcement actions will also be reported to the public, and Maddrey said they would be. Then I asked whether those enforcement actions, when they do occur, will be led by the NYPD, as MARCH operations were. "No," Maddrey replied, adding, "Jeff's the boss when it comes to that," pointing a thumb at Garcia.

But the question I was most eager to ask was what CURE stood for; no one had said. I didn't get an answer—the group at the podium either couldn't hear me correctly, or didn't know. Either way, they wanted to wrap things up. 

Garcia approached me after the press conference had concluded to tell me that CURE stood for Coordinating a Unified Response with Establishments, and he also clarified that contrary to what Maddrey had said, CURE enforcement actions actually will be led by the NYPD, as MARCH raids were. "If any enforcement action needs to happen, it's still led by the NYPD, and/or that specific agency which the complaint pertains to," Garcia told me. An SBS representative also later told me that the Office of Nightlife will not head up any enforcement actions, and that its role under CURE will be to liaise between businesses and enforcement agencies about "community concerns," supposedly to prevent any enforcement actions from taking place to begin with. 

So…what has changed? The press release that followed offered more clarity, saying that CURE "requires a series of steps to be taken at the precinct level in coordination with ONL, before inspections can be approved by the NYPD’s Patrol Services Bureau, including in-person daytime visits, written documentation of incidents of concern, and in-person meetings between business owners and local precinct officials." It goes on to promise that the "NYPD will not initiate city or state interagency inspections outside of the new CURE process." An SBS spokesperson described those policies as the "key differences" between MARCH and CURE, adding, "Enforcement is a last resort." 

Yet in 2023, I wrote about a series of multi-agency raids that the City insisted weren't MARCH raids, yet they were so similar to MARCH raids that even a rep from the State Liquor Authority described them as MARCH raids, before backtracking. According to Maddrey, the NYPD conducted about 200 MARCH raids in 2019 and only 44 since 2020, and during the presser, he seemed to imply that the desire for winding down MARCH came internally, because NYPD has "other things to do in this city than to chase business owners around." Olympia Kazi, a member of the New York City Artist Coalition who directed the Talks Not Raids campaign that led to the passage of Local Law 220, noted that this was at least as much a hard-won activist victory as an internal priority shift. "The moment we obliged them to report on the MARCH raids, either they stopped doing them, or, after they did them, they tried to do something that really looked like MARCH, and then tried to say it wasn't a MARCH because they didn't follow proper procedure," Kazi said. 

So was CURE a satisfying, well, cure to nightlife owners? "Hopefully, it ends up being an accurate narrative," Barclay told me. "At places like TAO, they'd make an appointment, like, 'What time is good?'" William Segura, the owner of Café Tabaco y Ron in Inwood, said. In his own experience, MARCH enforcement seemed to be deliberately done at the busiest times. "I got shut down for talking about it one time. I don't know if it's going to change, but…" he said, trailing off.

Kazi questioned whether ONL had the resources to carry out this mandate. "The Office of Nightlife is only three people," she pointed out. "For me, it would be very important to know if the mayor is planning to increase the budget to ensure there are enough people to make sure this program is really helpful to businesses." In a response to Kazi's comment, an SBS spokesperson said that the agency "has entire teams dedicated to the types of compliance consultations that prevent the need for CURE in the first place."

Kazi said she was cautiously optimistic about CURE. "We need to see how they deploy CURE, but the fundamental difference is there is not going to be a raid at the peak hour of a business where everybody and their grandmother in terms of law enforcement and other agencies show up," she said. "So if those raids are indeed ending, and they cannot even attempt to do them, I'm happy for that. And frankly, it does sound like that is the intent." 

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