By Carol Tannenhauser
Local City Council Member Mark Levine has been determined to get The Trump Organization out of Central Park ever since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign on July 16, 2015, with a speech saying Mexico was sending “rapists” to the U.S.
“Mr. Trump’s racist comments are despicable even by his already low standards,” said Levine, who has a substantial Hispanic constituency, at the time. “Our parks are public spaces where everyone should feel welcome and an association with Mr. Trump directly contradicts this spirit.”
Back then, Levine, then chairman of the Council’s parks committee, was stymied in his attempt to break the city’s contracts with The Trump Organization to run three cherished Central Park concessions — the Carousel and Wollman and Lasker Rinks — by the First Amendment.
“They can’t do it,” prominent civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel weighed in. “There’s a thing called the First Amendment, and the city of New York can’t cancel a binding contract because they don’t like the political views of Donald Trump.”
But they can cancel one if The Trump Organization is found to be involved in criminal activities — as it was by Michael Cohen’s recent plea deal, Levine says.
There is a precedent for such terminations. Levine is therefore renewing his call to immediately end all Trump Organization contracts with New York City. On August 23rd, he released the following statement:
“The Trump Organization’s ongoing contracts to run four businesses in New York parks (Trump also runs the Ferry Point Landing golf course in the Bronx) have long been deeply problematic for our city —- with outrageously high fees to users, unfulfilled promises of public benefits, declining city revenue earned, and significant reputational harm for our city.
“Now, revelations in the Michael Cohen plea deal make the case for termination of these contracts stronger than ever, with evidence that the Trump Organization has been deeply entangled in a criminal conspiracy.
“This is exactly the [reason] used for cancellation of a similar concession agreement with another company in 2011, when the Parks Departments terminated the contract of East Coast Golf, Inc., to run a golf course in Marine Park, Brooklyn, because of alleged ties to organized crime.
“It’s time for the City Parks Department to sever ties with the Trump Organization once and for all. We must free Wollman Rink, Lasker Rink, the Central Park Carousel, and the Ferry Point Landing golf course (another Trump-run City property) from the grip of a company which harms the interest of New Yorkers and violates the law. The precedent for taking such action is clear. The Trump Organization’s Parks Concessions contracts should be terminated immediately.”
The day after Levine made his declaration, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced that he was launching an investigation into The Trump Organization as well, which, Levine told WSR, “only adds to our assertion that this is an enterprise that is entangled in a criminal conspiracy, which we firmly believe provides grounds for voiding these contracts, and further strengthens our case.”
President Trump has previously touted his company’s success in restoring Wollman Rink after the city had failed to do so. And the contracts have been lucrative for him. He has made $59 million through concessions with the city in three years, including $35 million from the two rinks since 2015, according to financial disclosure forms reviewed by the Washington Post.
The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment.
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