Mayor Bill di Blasio has ordered the closure of the two ice rinks in Central Park, the Wollman Park and Lasker Rink. The mayor’s staff clearly wanted to the reason for the closure to be clear and public. Various groups have pushed for the city to cut all ties with the Trump organization and the city moved against the organization last month on the contracts. De Blasio’s spokesperson announced that “Trump has been impeached from operating the ice rink.” That statement might not be welcomed by city lawyers since it suggests that the closures were an exercise of selective bias against a company for political purposes. Despite the unpopularity of Trump in New York, the use of city contracts for raw political retaliation should be unacceptable to most citizens (particularly when the cost is borne not just by the public but more importantly employees who were laid off early). The spokesperson’s words could now be the focus of litigation over any losses by the Trump Organization.
It is not clear what discretionary language applies to the ice rinks. However, four contracts were canceled and the city is also seeking to terminate the contract for the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, a contract worth millions. That contract has 18 more years left to run.
The statement of the spokesperson is at odds with de Blasio’s different claims for the reason of the terminations. He has cited criminal activity at the sites as one possible legal basis for termination but the city will have to show that such activity is specifically prevalent or more pronounced on these properties than those run by other contractors.
On the golf course, de Blasio noted that the contract requires the playing of championship games at the site and the PGA Championship said it will no longer play on Trump golf courses. The PGA indicated that it felt pressure to terminate the long-standing relationship. PGA CEO Seth Waugh stated “We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making. We’re fiduciaries for our members, for the game, for our mission and for our brand. And how do we best protect that? Our feeling was given the tragic events of Wednesday that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster. The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave.”
The Trump organization called the decision a breach of its agreement. It is not clear how specific the contract is on what championships qualify. However, the myriad of rationales reinforces the message of the spokesperson that this is really about the opposition to Trump.
Putting aside the contractual disputes, people of good faith should be disturbed by the appearance of the city selectively terminating contracts for purely political purposes. It is yet another example of critics abandoning core principles in the blind pursuit of Trump. While our age of rage has become a license for excess and pettiness, this action suggests that the city can harass or sanction contractors solely because of their political associations. It is an invitation for cronyism and corruption in the handling of city contracts. If the Trump Organization failed to meet a condition of the contract or the required services, there are ample remedies including possible termination. However, de Blasio clearly wanted the public to know that he was taking this action as an anti-Trump statement. However, that is hardly a promising tact to take into court since it will raise first amendment and other issues beyond the contractual claims.
The result is that, not only will employees lost their jobs early, but the city will be embroiled in litigation over these contracts. These rinks were scheduled to close in a couple months but de Blasio wanted to use them to pander to a public desire for retaliation against Trump and his associates. Once again, there is little thought to the implications of using city contracts for such political retaliation. Yet, the usual voices for good government practices are silent since any objection is likely to be met by accusations of being an apologist or enabler of Trump. De Blasio knows that this makes for good politics. It just makes for lousy governance.
The move by the PGA and the city does show how the Trump brand itself is being targeted and could pose serious problems for the organization, particularly with a debt of $600 million coming due in the next four years. Trump has historically leveraged his brand name value in securing loans as an asset worth billions.