We recently discussed the legal and political implications of the effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio to close Trump-operated rinks and golf facilities. While the city lawyers were developing viable rationales for closing the Wollman Park and Lasker Rinks, de Blasio staff went out of its way to make clear that the effort was political retaliation against Trump. De Blasio’s spokesperson proudly announced that “Trump has been impeached from operating the ice rink.” Now, de Blasio has reversed his decision after backlash over a petty move that would not only cut off ice skating early for residents but throw employees out of jobs weeks early. The question is how the reversal will impact other legal efforts targeting the Trump Organization.
Notably, in the reversal, de Blasio’s staff reaffirmed that the motivation was purely political. City Hall Press Secretary Bill Neidhardt stated:
“New York City kids deserve all the time on the ice they can get this year. The Wollman and Lasker rinks will stay open under current management for the few weeks left in this season. But make no mistake, we will not be doing business with the Trump Organization going forward. Inciting an insurrection will never be forgotten or forgiven.”
That statement will likely be the focus of Trump filings if the city moves forward against any and all Trump properties or contracts. Other officials have confirmed the real motive as political. Malik Garvin, the Ice Hockey in Harlem director, stated that he was told the ice rinks were closing “in retaliation for the storming of the Capitol, which our kids, our families had nothing to do with.”
Previously different claims were suggested for the reason of the actions, including for the termination of the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, a contract worth millions. That contract has 18 more years left to run. The office cited criminal activity at the skating sites as one possible legal basis for termination. However, it is now saying that such activity is not so serious as to warrant early closure. Presumably, if the rinks were rife with crime, the mayor does not believe that “New York City kids deserve all [the crime] they can get this year.” Instead, Neidhardt went out of his way to be clear that that the reason for the action was retaliatory not protective.
The big question is whether this reaffirmation of a retaliatory purpose can be used in the litigation over the golf contract. On that contract, 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, now de Blasio’s office has given the Trump legal team new support for claiming a thinly veiled political purpose — extrinsic to the contractual terms.
Once again, there is virtual silence in the media or among good-government advocates about the use of city contracts for such raw political purposes. As noted earlier, 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. There is little thought to the implications of using city contracts for such political retaliation. Indeed, 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.