An anti-war group planning a massive demonstration the day before the GOP convention asked a judge on Wednesday to overrule city officials and let protesters gather in Central Park.
Lawyers for the group, United for Peace and Justice, filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking an order prohibiting the city from denying the group use of the park and finding that the denial violated the state Constitution.
City officials say that the expected crowd at the Aug. 29 rally, which could exceed 250,000 people, would damage the grass.
But the lawsuit noted that the park has been used in the past such gatherings as a Paul Simon concert attended by 750,000 people, a papal Mass that drew 250,000 people and regular performances by the New York City Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
The Constitution was violated “by discriminating on the basis of content in allowing cultural but not political events,” the group claims.
Last week, the group had backed out of a deal it had reached with the city that allowed it to rally along a Manhattan highway after marching past convention headquarters at Madison Square Garden.
The organization’s leaders said they changed their minds about the West Side Highway as an alternative to Central Park because they couldn’t resolve issues like access to drinking water and how crowds gathered along the long, narrow highway space could hear the speakers.
On Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was disappointed that the lawsuit had been filed, but said the city would not relent without a court order.
“We are not going to give a permit for Central Park,” he said. “I’ve said that many times. I don’t know how many times I’ve got to say it.”
The fight between city officials and the anti-war group has prompted some organizations to urge activists to gather in the park anyway, risking arrest.
But Leslie Cagan, the group’s leader, has said that United for Peace and Justice is trying to secure permits because the group wants a family-friendly gathering where participants don’t have to worry about clashes with police.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg announced a plan aimed at encouraging peaceful protest during the convention, offering discounts on meals at some restaurants, hotel rooms and Broadway tickets.
“There is no reason we shouldn’t welcome them in the same way we are welcoming the delegates and the press,” Bloomberg said.
Protest groups said Tuesday they were less than impressed with the city’s attempts at hospitality. They said hotel rooms remain unreserved and theater tickets unsold because Bloomberg has alarmed many potential visitors.