A company owned by Philip Anschutz, a leading funder of anti-LGBT organizations and candidates for public office, has applied to produce a major music festival in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens in 2016.
Anschutz, a billionaire who lives in Colorado, operates the Anschutz Company, which owns oil and gas companies, a movie theater chain, sports teams, media outlets, and other interests. In November, AEG Live, a unit of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, applied for a permit to produce a music festival in the park.
Through his foundation, which he chairs and is named for him, Anschutz has donated to a long list of right-wing groups. In 2013, he gave $684,000 to the American Enterprise Institute in 2013 and $200,000 to the Heritage Foundation. Both organizations are policy groups in Washington, DC that have consistently opposed LGBT community goals.
In 2012, Anschutz gave $50,000 to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that has battled same-sex marriage and most recently represented Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the US Supreme Court required states to do so.
His political giving has gone almost entirely to conservative Republicans, including Rick Santorum, who opposed the LGBT community during his two terms in the US Senate, and Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican who was an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage during her three terms in the House.
In 1992, Anschutz donated $10,000 to Colorado for Family Values, the group that sponsored a state ballot initiative that barred lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in that state from seeking anti-discrimination laws except through a state ballot initiative. The initiative invalidated laws that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in three Colorado cities. The measure passed, but was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 1996.
Anschutz has also donated to Republicans who would be considered more moderate when compared to the current crop of Republican officeholders. These include Mike Coffman, a Colorado representative, and Carl DeMaio, an openly gay Republican who lost a race for the House seat representing San Diego in 2014.
In addition to AEG Live, Madison Square Garden and Founders Entertainment, which has produced the Governors Ball music festival on Randall’s Island since 2011, are seeking permits for competing music festivals from the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the City Council member who represents the Queens district that includes the park, told Gay City News that there are another four applicants for major events in the park.
In an indication of the ferocity of the competition, an individual who is affiliated with an applicant brought this story to Gay City News on the condition that they remain anonymous. While the parks department cannot consider the politics of a company owner when deciding on a permit application, it appears that in this fight, any legal weapon may be used.
AEG Live hired the Ickes & Enright Group, a lobbying firm, and spent $150,000 in 2014 and 2015 lobbying the city’s five borough presidents, undisclosed members of the City Council, the Parks Department, and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which is chaired by First Lady Chirlane McCray.
Harold Ickes is a longtime Democratic Party operative and served in the Clinton administration, and Kevin McCabe, a firm associate, is a former City Council chief of staff and has a long history in city government. AEG Live gave between $10,000 and $25,000 to the Central Park Conservancy in 2012.
Ferreras-Copeland said she was “waiting for a full briefing” from the Parks Department and could not comment on any applicant. A music festival would be welcome if done correctly, in her view.
“I have a very large LGBT community in my district that I work very closely with so these issues are important to me,” she said. “I think it’s important that we also recognize that Flushing Meadows Park was created for major events… I believe that there is a way to do it, but it has to be an absolutely responsible way, one that’s responsive to the community.”
Jimmy Van Bramer, an openly gay City Council member who represents a Queens district and is the Council’s majority leader, was not opposed to a music festival in the park. The First Amendment was implicated in any discussion about Anschutz, he said.
“I’m a big believer in the First Amendment and the sanctity of the First Amendment even for people who say and believe things that I find reprehensible,” he told Gay City News.
Anschutz’ “politics and his activity and donor history” are “deeply disturbing” and “deplorable and unfortunate,” Van Bramer said. That does not mean there should not be a festival in the park.
“The park obviously is a gem,” Van Bramer said. “It’s a citywide resource. Any time a private company is going to possibly make money we have to be extra judicious about it. That’s not to say that can never happen.”
The Parks Department would only say it is reviewing the applications and City Hall did not respond to a request for comment. AEG Live did not respond to an email seeking comment.