Hundreds of angry artists crammed into a Chelsea gym Friday to jeer a plan limiting how many of them could sell their work in crowded city parks.
The Parks Department says vendors selling paintings, photographs and other "expressive matter" have clogged park sidewalks, creating a hazard and nuisance.
Every previous attempt to curb them, though, has been shut down by artists who claimed their First Amendment rights were violated - and won in the courts.
At a five-hour public hearing on those rules, several community boards and neighborhood groups said the move would bring order to a chaotic scene.
Artists, though, cheered wildly when painter Robert Lederman - who has led the battle against regulation - said the real crowding comes from special events that pay money to the Parks Department for the privilege of using the space.
"What about your giant greenmarket? What about your giant holiday market?" Lederman asked. "And yet you want to eliminate us under the guise of protecting public safety!"
City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), who is chairwoman of the committee that oversees the parks, said she has serious reservations about the plan because it would allow just 81 artists to sell their work in places where 300 or more now make their living.
"The city needs to find a better way to balance these interests," she said.
The Parks Department is expected to decide within a week how to proceed, but any final rule is likely to face a legal challenge - which Mayor Bloomberg said he expected the city will win.
"There are places where there are so many vendors that you can't get down the sidewalk," Bloomberg said on his WOR-AM radio show. ""We think the courts will be sympathetic in some parks and narrow places where people come together."