A late night brawl at a City Island eatery has become a political football as civic leaders and candidates vying for the local city council seat presented their takes on the fracas.
Approximately 40 patrons were involved in a scuffle at Seafood City the night of Thursday, February 23, fighting amongst themselves and throwing chairs and other objects.
Video of the incident quickly went viral on social media sites like Facebook and Youtube, and was shown on multiple news outlets both here and abroad.
The ruffians left the seafood establishment at 451 City Island Avenue before police arrived, and an investigation is now underway to find them, said 45th Precinct Deputy Inspector Danielle Raia.
“We have opened up a case, and are going to see if we can identify people and put a little pressure on them (the restaurant),” Raia said. “They’re going to make some changes there because it’s unacceptable and we can’t have that happen anywhere, not just City Island.”
Many of the suspects came from areas outside the 45th Precinct, and the department is working with other precincts to identify them, she added.
Raia said other than occasional quality of life complaints, crime on the island had remained low in recent years.
A City Island Civic Association meeting held on Tuesday, March 1 was like a lobster pot boiling over with frustration from dozens of residents who said they were worried about not only their safety, but the reputation of their island.
“These people that engage in that (behavior) and find fun in throwing chairs and creating controversy… I think we can all agree that’s not how we want to be represented,” association president Bill Stanton told the crowd.
“I think the business involved and business owners in general do not want to be seen as promoting that,” he added.
Stanton introduced the man who oversees the evening security for Seafood City, island resident and former NYPD officer Dennis Fitzpatrick, who said his establishment was being unfairly singled out, and that there was no way to entirely stop large groups of patrons from places like Co-op City and Mount Vernon from starting an altercation if they run into someone they have a dispute with.
“You never know if people have a problem with someone in another neighborhood,” he said.
“I don’t think there is any restaurant that has more control over a restaurant with the volume of business that we do on a daily basis with the clientele we have.”
Fitzpatrick said he regularly closes the restaurant’s bar if he sees potential for trouble, and that the bar had been closed from 8. to 10 p.m. that night due to the restaurant’s high volume.
“You can’t tell me that all those people got drunk in those 20 minutes they were there, it’s impossible,” he said.
The civic association has called for a paid detail of off-duty NYPD officers on the island in years past, Stanton said, and Seafood City management attended a meeting on the issue last year.
But new city rules that require establishments to cover additional insurance costs for those officers in the event of injury has put the program on hold.
Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, a candidate for the 13th Council District and former City Island resident, spoke out about the incident.
Gjonaj paid a visit to Seafood City and stated in a subsequent release there would be a hiring of additional in-house security at the restaurant.
“While it is fortunate that no one was seriously injured in this incident, the owner, as well as City Island residents and the NYPD, are frustrated in the acts of the individuals involved,” Gjonaj stated. “It is important that immediate actions are being taken by the establishment and the community to prevent any future occurrences.”
The civic association corresponding secretary, John Doyle, another council candidate, criticized the restaurant for not taking enough action eventhough its clientele has been infiltrated by rival gang members.
City Island Chamber of Commerce vice president Paul Klein said the business organization was not commenting on the Seafood City debacle, other than it appeared to be handled.
“I think they have the situation pretty well under control,” he said.