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With less than two weeks remaining until the start of the Republican National Convention, the organizer of what is expected to be the largest demonstration during the event sued New York City Wednesday, alleging it was unconstitutionally denied a permit to protest in Central Park. At a brief hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline W. Silbermann, the administrative judge of the Supreme Civil Court, an attorney for the protest group said the agreed upon alternative to the park — the West Side Highway — was no longer viable. “They simply cannot possibly do it,” said Jeffrey E. Fogel of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which teamed with the New York Civil Liberties Union to sue on behalf of United for Peace and Justice. Fogel said that since the protest group had agreed to the highway in late July, it learned that a rally there would cost $631,000 compared with $227,500 for one at the park. The difference is due to the speakers and other equipment that would be needed to amplify speeches to a dispersed crowd predicted to be 250,000. He also claimed the highway would be unsafe on a hot day and that depositions were needed to determine the city’s true reason for denying a permit for the park’s Great Lawn. Although the city claimed the Great Lawn, which was restored in 1996, could hold only 80,000 people, Fogel said the group’s most recent proposal would stick to that limit and direct additional protesters to other areas of the park. An attorney for the city disputed the claims of United for Peace and Justice, saying it had reneged on a deal and did not deserve to be heard in court. “Why are we here now, 11 days before 250,000 people are going to appear wherever they are going to appear?” Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan L. Pines asked. Referring to the West Side Highway agreement, he said, “The deal’s been struck. The deal is done.” Under the agreement, protesters would march past Madison Square Garden on their way to the highway. Pines said the march and the highway were the result of negotiations that should not be interfered with. “This was a quid pro quo process,” he said. QUESTION BY JUDGE Justice Silbermann asked why the highway was suddenly unacceptable. “Why isn’t that a reasonable alternative?” the judge asked. “First of all, it’s closer to the convention site.” When Fogel brought up the chance of a hot summer Sunday wearing down protesters, the judge, joking about the city’s recent cooler temperatures, said, “There have not been any hot summer Sundays.” In court papers, United for Peace and Justice claimed that Central Park is a “quintessential public forum.” It has held protests of up to 700,000 people in the past, the group argued. RECENT EVENTS Recently, the group argued, the park has been home to large cultural events, such as a concert by the Dave Matthews Band last year for 85,000 people. “By discriminating on the basis of content,” the lawsuit said, the city had violated the group’s rights under Article I, �8 of the New York Constitution. New York City faces another lawsuit by the Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coalition, which was denied a permit for a 75,000-person rally in Central Park. The group has sued in federal court, and Pines said it was unfair to force city employees who might have to testify in that case to be available for the United for Peace and Justice suit on such short notice — if the judge allows it to proceed. “Once [they] say, ‘OK, damn it, we’re not happy, but we accept,’ then that’s it,” Pines said.

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