Some North End restaurateurs claim Mayor Michelle Wu made them pay thousands to dine al fresco last year because of their bias against “white, Italian men”.
The allegation is contained in an amended version of a lawsuit the owners filed last year, when they said the mayor’s fees — $7,500 for outdoor dining and $480 for parking — constituted “unfair” competition with the other districts of the city.
The North End was the only neighborhood that charged fees last year. Wu and other city officials cited pressures on residents’ quality of life — increased noise, garbage, traffic and loss of parking spaces — behind the decision.
“The plaintiffs had the right to be treated in the same way as other restaurants in town that were afforded al fresco dining and not to be selected to pay fees that other restaurants were not required to pay because of their gender or nationality in order to dining al fresco race/ethnicity as in this case,” reads the amended lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
Restaurateurs include Monica’s Vinoteca, Terramia Ristorante and Antico Forno, Rabia’s Dolce Fumo and Monica’s Trattorias
They feel the mayor, who was then just two months into her term, lashed out at her remarks during the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, where politicians toast one another with jokes.
“I’m getting used to dealing with issues that are expensive, disruptive, and white,” Wu said in her speech, which fell amid controversy sparked by her decision. North End restaurateurs also had a shorter outdoor dining season last year compared to other restaurant owners across the city.
“It is well known that the traditional owner of a North End restaurant … is a white male of Italian descent, and the North End is widely regarded as the last truly ethnic Italian neighborhood in Boston,” the amended lawsuit reads.
The group behind the lawsuit is seeking $1 million in punitive damages and $500,000 in compensatory damages, the same amounts as last year.
A $1.4 million tourism initiative called All Inclusive Boston is drawing the ire of restaurateurs. They say a video on the campaign website showed no white males or Italian Americans “outside a three-second take on Red Sox players.” They claim that the North End was not included in a section showing the city’s neighborhoods. A tab had been posted as of Wednesday.
The case was nearly dismissed last fall after city attorneys said it was “reasonable” for Wu and officials to regulate al fresco dining in the North End differently, but the federal judge gave restaurateurs time to file an amended complaint.
Restaurateurs this year are raising concerns about city bias as ongoing infrastructure projects bar them from serving meals on neighborhood streets, the only neighborhood facing such restrictions.
“The North End is the largest Italian community in the country. For us to be discriminated against in a situation like this I think is a mistake for Italians, I think it’s a mistake for the North End,” said neighborhood restaurateur Frank DePasquale during a meeting last month.
When asked about the amended lawsuit at an independent news conference on Wednesday, Wu declined to comment on the “ongoing litigation,” other than that she supports the city’s decisions to treat al fresco dining differently in the North End than in other quarters.
“Our small businesses and restaurant community are an integral part of what makes Boston special and what draws people to our neighborhoods,” the mayor said. “First and foremost, we need to make sure Boston — and every neighborhood — is a place for the people who live there.”