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New York fireworks war ends with East River winning back July 4 show

April 14, 2014|By Tina Susman
  • Fourth of July fireworks over Manhattan.
Fourth of July fireworks over Manhattan. (Bob Gilberg / NBC )

NEW YORK - The East River has never been as beautiful or famous as the Hudson, so it was especially stinging when Macy's moved its spectacular July 4 fireworks show from the eastern waterway to its western rival, like a prom date jilting a mousy sister for her elegant sibling.

But five years after a snub that raised howls of protest from Queens to the state capital, the East River is back with a bang - or a few thousands bangs. On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Macy's announced that on this July 4, the fireworks display reputed to be the nation's largest will return to the East River.

The move settles at least temporarily a tug of war that underscored the rivalry between Manhattan and the other boroughs of New York City - big losers when the fireworks went to the Hudson River - as well as the rivalry between New York and New Jersey.

"The big loser today is New Jersey," said New York state Sen. Daniel Squadron, whose district includes parts of lower Manhattan and western Brooklyn. "We hope you have a wonderful July 4, and we hope you enjoy your fireworks shows," he added in a message to New Jersey, making no attempt to conceal his glee.

Squadron was among those who had argued that holding the ear-splitting show on the Hudson River, which runs between Manhattan's west side and New Jersey, cheated hordes of New Yorkers to the east out of enjoying a quintessentially New York event.

"Every year, people congregate on rooftops and parks, anywhere they can get a view of this extraordinary event," De Blasio said. "It really defines the summer."

Macy's, which is marking its 38th year putting on the show, said it never intended to cause a rift in 2009 when it moved the show to the Hudson. The shift was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage up the river.

But one year stretched into five, and each year, business and political leaders, not to mention residents with no easy access to the Hudson, demanded to know when the fireworks would come back east.

De Blasio, who was the public advocate during the dispute, vowed to bring the show back to the East River if elected mayor. He took office in January, and at Monday's news conference on a promenade overlooking the East River, De Blasio said his effort was driven by a desire to make sure residents of the city's outer boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens - across the East River from Manhattan - got their fair share of the free July 4 event.

"Countless more New Yorkers will now be able to enjoy what is really the greatest annual fireworks show in the country," De Blasio said. "This fits with one of the most fundamental ideas that has guided my administration - the notion of inclusion."

There's more than democracy at stake in this fireworks fight, though. The hundreds of thousands of people who flock to the river's edge - whichever river it is - to see the show spend millions at restaurants and other nearby businesses.

A quick online search for reservations at the pricey River Cafe, which sits on the edge of the East River in Brooklyn, showed no available tables for the evening of July 4 until well after the 26-minute show would be over.

Amy Kule, executive producer of the fireworks show, said it was not unusual for Macy's to shift it every few years, even though most July 4 shows have taken place in the East River. The spectacle involves thousands of fireworks being fired from barges in the water. This year, for the first time, fireworks also will be launched from the Brooklyn Bridge.

"We've always been nomadic in nature," Kule said when asked whether the move back East was permanent. "It's not permanent," she said firmly.

De Blasio made clear the fireworks won't move again without a fight.

"We're going to do everything we can" to keep the show in place, he said.

Twitter: @tinasusman

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