New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made an unexpected visit to Occupy Wall Street's base camp in Zuccotti Park last night to deliver a message: It's time to get out. Bloomberg told protesters that the Park had become unsanitary and potentially unsafe over the course of the four week occupation, and needed to undergo cleaning and maintenance immediately. As such, police will assist the Park's landlord, Brookfield Office Properties, in removing all protesters by Friday morning. The news comes just two days after the mayor told protesters they could remain in the park "indefinitely," so long as they abided by the law.
Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway explained the decision in a statement last night:
The Mayor is a strong believer in the First Amendment and believes that the protesters have a right to continue to protest. At the same time, the last three weeks have created unsanitary conditions and considerable wear and tear on the park. This situation is not in the best interests of the protesters, residents or the City. The cleaning will be done in stages and the protesters will be able to return to the areas that have been cleaned, provided they abide by the rules that Brookfield has established for the park.
What remains unclear is whether this marks the end of the Zuccotti occupation. Brookfield CEO Richard B. Clark wrote a open letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly earlier this week, which appeared to ask police to permanently end mass-use of the Park by protesters:
We fully support the rights of free speech and assembly, but the manner in which the protesters are occupying the Park violates the law, violates the rules of the Park, deprives the community of its rights of quiet enjoyment to the Park, and creates health and public safety issues that need to be addressed immediately.
Clark stated that the company has received hundreds of complaints about the Park -- in particular about "lewdness, groping, drinking and drug use," "the lack of safe access to and usage of the Park," and "unsanitary conditions and to offensive odors" -- and requested that the Police Department help remove all protesters from the park at the "earliest possible time."
Once we have completed our cleanup and maintenance, we would ask that the Department assist Brookfield on an ongoing basis to ensure the safety of all those using and enjoying the Park.