Former Obama adviser in custody after halal cart confrontation, NYPD opens hate crime investigation

ByJoe Torres WABC logo
Thursday, November 23, 2023
Former Obama adviser caught on camera allegedly harassing halal cart vendor
Joe Torres has more on the confrontation.

NEW YORK -- A former Obama administration adviser was taken into police custody Wednesday after a confrontation at a halal cart in Manhattan was caught on camera, police say.

Stuart Seldowitz lives around the corner from the halal cart. Several videos captured the former diplomat allegedly harassing the vendor about his Egyptian roots and Islamic faith. Seldowitz was fired from his work with lobbying and communications firm Gotham Government Relations.

A hate crime investigation was opened by the NYPD after Seldowitz was filmed allegedly harassing a food cart vendor on the Upper East Side.

Mohammed Hussein, 24, was back to work at the cart Wednesday after filing a complaint of aggravated harassment with police. Hussein recorded at least one of the videos of Seldowitz.

The owners of the cart on the corner of Second Avenue and East 83rd Street say there have been several ugly confrontations at the cart over the last two weeks amid conflict in the Mideast.

"I don't sleep well hearing those kinds of harsh comments regarding the Prophet Mohammed and asking the young kid if he raped his daughter and all that," said Islam Moustafa, co-owner of the halal cart.

Multiple videos circulating online show Seldowitz talking with a halal cart vendor, at different times of day and wearing different outfits. It is not clear how many times Seldowitz was recorded at the cart or what days the videos were filmed.

"Why should I go. Why should I go? Tell me why I should go? I'm standing here. I am an American. It's a free country," Seldowitz said in one of the videos circulating on social media.

Zak Ettamymy, a construction manager working nearby, witnessed a confrontation. He described the situation as harassment, and says he tried to step in to stop it.

"He had a lot of hatred. He was saying a lot of mean things and I said, 'Listen, this is not a place or time for this. You probably need to walk away from this gentleman and let him work.'"

Eyewitness News attempted to reach Seldowitz for comment but has not heard back.

However, in a phone interview with an ABC News producer, Seldowitz admitted he overreacted and regrets what he said, but that there were no threats or intimidation.

The halal cart workers say if Seldowitz is truly sorry for what he said, they await a face-to-face apology.