[Paleopsych] NYT: It Can Be an Annoying Jingle, Mister Softee Concedes at Hearing
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Thu Jan 27 18:41:59 UTC 2005
It Can Be an Annoying Jingle, Mister Softee Concedes at Hearing
January 27, 2005
By WINNIE HU
He was the star witness, and had come before the City Council to
speak on one of the Bloomberg administration's more controversial
proposals. With the news media closely watching, James Conway Jr., the
scion of the family that founded Mister Softee, had an admission to
make: the Mister Softee ditty, a staple of urban summer, could be so
annoying that even he would not want it playing outside his house all
"Does it get stuck in your head occasionally?" he said. "We hope so.
But the Mister Softee song as a threat to the health and welfare of
New Yorkers? I don't think so."
The jingle, with its lyrics, "Listen for my store on wheels,
ding-a-ling down the street," has become a flashpoint in the debate
over revising the city's noise code. From dogs that bark too long to
nightclubs that draw neighbors' complaints, the administration wants
new restrictions, but it found wide-ranging opposition at yesterday's
City Council hearing.
Also speaking out against the administration's plan was the New York
Nightlife Association, which contended that some of the city's hottest
nightclubs would become sitting ducks for a newly empowered noise
police. And a coalition of labor unions protested that picket lines
and demonstrations could also become easy targets.
These critics say that while they are not opposed to updating the
code, the current plan is too vague and could impose an unnecessary
expense and burden on many businesses while doing little to combat
problems like early morning construction and noisy smokers gathered on
"In the real world, the current code is a joke, and this is worse,"
said David Rabin, the co-owner of the nighclub Lotus and president of
the nightlife association.
In a city with no shortage of complainers, excessive noise in any form
- the ricochet of jackhammers, the thumping of club music, the drone
of air-conditioners - has long fostered complaints. The Department of
Environmental Protection, which oversees the noise code, receives an
average of 3,500 complaints a month.
David B. Tweedy, the agency's acting commissioner, said the city wants
to reduce sound levels by adopting more enforceable regulations on
construction, air-conditioners, and bars and clubs that play music,
among other things. To encourage cooperation, he said, no penalties
would be levied for a first offense if the person or business agreed
to make changes to comply with the code.
In addition, enforcement officers would be allowed to issue violations
for "plainly audible" sounds coming from commercial music
establishments, personal audio devices and exhausts on cars and
motorcycles. Currently, they are required to register potential
offenses on handheld decibel meters, which they say require frequent
adjustments and are prone to error.
"This proposal provides a flexible approach to address the No. 1
quality-of-life complaint," Mr. Tweedy said. "And balances the need
for construction, development and nightlife with the need for peace
and quiet enjoyment for the city's residents."
But several council members expressed skepticism about the plan and
pledged to vote against it. Councilwoman Margarita López, who
represents the Lower East Side and the East Village, said the new
regulations could be used to harass businesses and called the plan "a
threat to the economic development of my community."
While the four-hour hearing was packed with critics of the city's
plan, there were also many supporters, including frustrated residents
and members of a group known as Noise, which is short for Neighbors
Against Noxious Odors, Incessant Sounds and Emissions.
But it was Mister Softee that drew the most interest. Councilman
Charles Barron of Brooklyn told Mr. Tweedy: "You and the mayor are
very bold taking on Mister Softee. You're going to traumatize a lot of
children in this city."
Mr. Conway said that the current plan would not only silence the 347
Mister Softee trucks that operate in the city but also disappoint more
than 120,000 customers. Instead, Mr. Conway proposed a compromise:
stop the music only when trucks are parked for a certain length of
Anything more, he said, would cause sales to plummet.
"To get a sense of what this would do to us, remember when you were a
kid," he said. "You heard the jingle, you grabbed your money and you
ran to the truck. The way you knew Mister Softee was in the
neighborhood was the song."
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