Editorial: Fight over food truck name taken too far
As we made clear in an Aug. 1 editorial, we consider “Wandering Dago” to be a poor choice for the name of a food truck and, in spite of First Amendment concerns that are now the basis of a lawsuit, supported separate decisions by state government and the Saratoga Race Course to deny or revoke permits that would have let the truck regularly sell food on their premises.
However, we’re less inclined to support the decision by Schenectady officials to cancel a food truck “rodeo” scheduled for today, apparently when they learned that the offending truck would be among the nearly dozen participants.
The problem with the decision, attributed to Metroplex Authority Chairman Ray Gillen, is that it hurt the other vendors who’d been planning to sell at the event, as well as merchants in the downtown area who would have benefited from the foot traffic the event would have generated. (Food truck rodeos are popular, and this one had been planned for some time.)
Gillen says the reason he put the kibosh on the rodeo, which was sponsored by the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., is that it didn’t have liability insurance. But City Clerk Chuck Thorne says otherwise. And at Monday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Gary McCarthy clearly implied to a reporter that complaints about “Wandering Dago” were behind the cancellation; he also said that in the future, “we will review that [permit] in a way that is more sensitive.”
In a city with as strong an Italian-American heritage as Schenectady, objections to a name like “Wandering Dago” are hardly surprising, even though the term has been taboo for so long that many people under 40 have never heard it or know it as a slur. But since the planned event was just a one-timer, and there was no practical or perhaps even legal way to ban the truck without canceling the event, they should have simply held their noses and let attendees vote with their wallets.
In hindsight, now that the state’s hard line has led to a lawsuit, it may be that the city made the most prudent call. But it couldn’t have gotten sued, and it wouldn’t have cost other food truck vendors and merchants a profitable day, if it had simply let the rodeo go on as scheduled.