By Bill Parry
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) is claiming a first round victory in his parks equity lawsuit against Mayor Bill de Blasio. State Supreme Court Justice Arlene Bluth rejected the mayor’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit brought against him and the “Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park’ by Lancman, challenging the structure and funding of the Alliance.
The suit alleges that the alliance’s board membership, which favors a political ally of the mayor, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst), over other Council members whose districts overlap the park, ignores the Councilmanic representation requirements imposed by city law. It also contends that direct funding of the alliance from entities in exchange for using parkland circumvents the City Charter.
“Today’s court decision rejects the mayor’s effort to avoid a substantive evaluation of his scheme to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of park users as a reward to a political ally and to circumvent the City Charter’s carefully structured process to ensure that park funds are fairly and transparently appropriated,” Lancman said Feb. 16. “I look forward to this case moving forward, and to earning for my constituents the representation they deserve when it comes to making important decisions affecting our public park.”
TimesLedger requested a comment from the Mayor’s legal office. They did not respond by press time.
The turf battle erupted over Flushing Meadow Corona Park in November 2015 when the mayor joined Ferreras-Copeland to announce the official launch of a long-delayed park conservancy. The Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park non-profit would support and promote upkeep and enhancement of the 900-acre park and decide how to spend $10 million a year that is contributed by the United States Tennis Association in a deal brokered with Ferreras-Copeland in 2013.
De Blasio gave Ferreras-Copeland an appointment to the alliance. Lancman argued he was frozen out of the process.
“I represent half of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, including the interests of tens of thousands of my direct constituents and of hundreds of thousands more who enjoy the Meadow and Willow Lakes area — we deserve representation, and a say in how resources are allocated in our park,” Lancman said at the time. “Public appointments, public resources and public parks aren’t plums to be awarded to political allies.”
The mayor was dismissive of Lancman’s claim saying, “Ferreras-Copeland covers the majority of this park,” and a City Hall spokeswoman added that Ferreras-Copeland’s 21st Council District includes 345 acres of usable parkland excluding lakes and inaccessible marshes. Lancman’s 24th Council District includes 113 acres of usable parkland.
Lancman filed his lawsuit in July 2016 and he is represented pro bono by the firm McLaughlin & Stern, LLP.
“We are very pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to continuing to advocate for park equity,” McLaughlin & Stern attorney Jason S. Giaimo said.
The city must formally answer the lawsuit’s allegations and then discovery proceedings will begin.
Both parties are to appear for a preliminary conference April 4.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr