January 4, 2018
By Rich Calder
A close pal of Mayor de Blasio is trying to help a concert promoter score city approval for a music mega-festival in Queens.
AEG Live — which runs the popular, but crime-laden Coachella concert series in California — has shelled out $150,000 to lobbyist Harold Ickes, a former Clinton administration official and longtime mentor to the mayor, who also served on Hizzoner’s transition team, records show.
Since 2014, Ickes has lobbied for AEG to get a permit to host a music festival that would take up much of Flushing Meadows Corona Park for several days next summer.
Among the agencies he lobbied are the Parks Department and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit arm of City Hall chaired by de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, records show.
As part of the mayor’s transition team, Ickes played a key role in the March 2014 hiring of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, who signs off on all park permits.
Critics blast Ickes’ relationship with de Blasio and Silver, saying its created “a total conflict of interest.”
“This seems to be part of a growing pattern with the administration where only those who are part of the mayor’s inner circle get unfair access to meetings with key officials and deals with the city,” said Paul Graziano, a Flushing-based park advocate and urban planner.
Madison Square Garden is also seeking approval to host a similar, but non-competing, festival June 24 to 26 at the Queens park.
MSG last month hired longtime Gov. Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco as a senior vice president overseeing all facets of its government-related operations.
AEG and MSG’s applications are part of a recent groundswell of permit requests seeking to rent some of the city’s biggest parks to host for-profit events.
AEG wants to run a concession-charging festival similar to its annual Coachella concert series in California, which routinely leads to 100-plus arrests yearly and dozens of complaints with authorities from nearby residents.
Some Queens elected officials aligned with de Blasio– including Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras Copeland – have come out publicly in support of AEG’s plan.
However, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Queens Community Board 4 in Corona, MSG and many park advocates are calling on the Parks Department to make its permit process more transparent.
A Parks Department spokesperson claimed Silver does not personally know Ickes, adding the agency is “reviewing all permit applications for Flushing Meadows Corona Park and will make a decision at a later date based on our standard criteria, including impact on the park and its users.”
Messages left with de Blasio’s reps were not returned.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine, a de Blasio supporter who chairs the Council’s parks committee, fired off a letter to Silver two weeks ago demanding the city not rent out parkland to for-profit companies seeking to host large extravaganzas without first putting such proposals before local community boards to ensure the public can voice any of its concerns.
“Parks are first and foremost public spaces – open to all – and events which restrict public access should only be allowed in extremely limited circumstances,” Levine wrote in the letter obtained by The Post.
“Large-scale events in parks have a significant impact on their adjacent communities, not only limiting the public’s park access but creating congestion on the surrounding neighborhood.”
The letter does not address AEG hiring Ickes.
Levine plans to host a Council oversight hearing next spring on the Parks Department’s permit process.
Tupper Thomas, executive director of the watchdog group New Yorkers For Parks, said she supports Levine’s plan because many other popular outer borough parks – including Prospect Park in Brooklyn — have also become hot targets of promoters seeking to host big events.
“We need better rules in place and clearer protocol for awarding permits,” she said.