OCEAN CITY – Candidates running for the Ocean City Council in next week’s election weighed in earlier this month on how the city should handle the delicate balance of respecting the rights of street performers while preserving the charm of the resort’s Boardwalk.
After two successful challenges in federal court to the resort’s ordinance regarding street performers, the latest of which came down last fall, most of the teeth was removed from the town’s stringent laws regarding the omnipresent street performers and buskers on the Boardwalk.
However, Ocean City’s intent on acknowledging the First Amendment rights of buskers was pushed to its limits this past summer, especially with the addition of a pole dancer on the boardwalk.
A few weeks ago, the Ocean City AARP Chapter 1917 hosted an Ocean City Candidates Forum. Council candidates Tony DeLuca, Wayne Hartman, Matthew James, Christopher Rudolf, and former Councilman Joe Hall were present to participate. Candidate Joe Cryer was not present and incumbent Council President Lloyd Martin was absent due to illness. Former candidate Nancy Bolt participated but withdrew from the race last week.
A question posed by moderator Bryan Russo of WAMU 88.5 queried the candidate’s position regarding street performers. In the last of a three-part series leading up to the election on Tuesday, the dialogue was as follow.
Q: As you look at the street performer issue, the issue of First Amendment rights and the nuisance they have become for businesses, if elected what new ideas would you bring to the table that would help the Town of Ocean City come to a better resolution with this issue?
Rudolf: With regard to street performers, I see this as a constitutional issue. I think when you are performing on the Boardwalk those type of activities are protected by the first amendment, and it’s one of those things where if you don’t like it you don’t have to stand there and subject yourself to it. With that said, there have been issues where some of these guys are impeding traffic on the Boardwalk, and that is a public safety issue. I would look at that in regard to being able to allow them to perform on the concrete pad along the Boardwalk, and as I understand that is currently prohibited. I would be able to compromise and meet half way but when you get right down to it those folks have a right to do that.
Hall: Unfortunately, it looks like the genie is out of the bottle on this issue. Over time we had a set of rules with a registration type of system, and then we tried to tighten the rules. As we tightened the rules, we were met with more resistance. When we tightened them too tight, we ended up in court loosing. So unfortunately we have to accept the outcome. One of the ideas before we did that was to let sleeping dogs lie. We didn’t do that and now we are dealing with the repercussions. For the future, we continue to enhance our amenities and offerings alternatively to compare to the street performers and hopefully we out do them. The entertainment for the families that come to town will be from the entertainment that we want and not from what we don’t want but if we continue to fight them we will continue to lose.
DeLuca: There are many different street performers out there. We have spray painters, singers, musicians, costume characters. We have undesirable street performers out there. We aren’t the only city dealing with this issue. It is happening in New York and New Jersey. My first approach would be to reach out to those cities and see if there is anything they are doing that we can use. I just feel that some of our family values are being trampled on, on the Boardwalk right now, and we really need to take some direction.
Hartman: I think we were dealt a bad hand with the judgment, and I really don’t think we should sit back and accept it. We have to do something and think outside of the box. We have done successful campaigns, such as with the pedestrian safety, and we are talking about an advertising campaign about saving lives on the beach. Why can’t we advertise not to support the buskers? It is our freedom of speech. We have to push further. Today we had a meeting, the Boardwalk Development Committee, and one of the ideas that came up was why we don’t have a north and south bound traffic lane on the Boardwalk for the tram. If there is four or five feet for a bench, and two marked lanes on the boardwalk, and there is not enough room for the performers as the tram comes by, people will move on. They won’t make money and therefore they are not going to be there. If we have to, we have talked about our great partner, Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) privatizing the Boardwalk. We rent the Boardwalk to OCDC, charge who you want there and control who you want there. If it is a family act, let it go but we can reverse this. We don’t have to accept it.
James: I think Wayne made some great points about being able to regulate who performs on the Boardwalk and who does not perform on the Boardwalk. If that can’t happen, maybe creating an area where street performers can perform will be beneficial to everybody because street performers will still be able to perform and they will not be impeding on anybody else whether they are walking, whether it is the tram or whether they just don’t want to see it. They won’t be bothering anybody else unless they went out of their way to go where the street performers are performing.