Running a street food cart is backbreaking work: schlepping around a heavy cart, then standing behind it for hours on end. Quitting the job would seem to be a gift to aching feet.

It hasn’t turned out that way for Mohamed Attia, who left his smoothie and halal-chicken-over-rice carts last year to become the new director of the Street Vendor Project. The group lobbies for the 20,000 or so vendors, most of them immigrants, who sell food, jewelry, clothing and just about everything else in New York City.

Work, for Mr. Attia, is still an endurance run. He’ll bustle around Wall Street on a brisk afternoon, teaching the people who sell $1 coffees and buttered rolls how to avoid fines for stationing carts too close to a

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