NYC Mayor's Office Weighs In on MusiCares Location Controversy: 'Our Position Is Always to Be Venue Neutral'

Julie Menin
Courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment

Julie Menin

NYC Commissioner says city 'passed along' request to host Barclays, but notes "it's not our decision after that."

Julie Menin, New York City's Commissioner for the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, tells Billboard that officials with the Barclays Center in Brooklyn petitioned her office for help staging an event during Grammy Week in NYC this January. But she notes her office didn't lobby to bring any Recording Academy-related business to Brooklyn and instead opted to stay "venue neutral."

"We don't favor one venue over another," says Menin, who has served as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's top liaison with the entertainment community since 2016. She played a pivotal role in helping to bring the Grammys to New York in 2018, after 15 years in Los Angeles, working with labor organizations and executives at Grammys host venue Madison Square Garden to get the thumbs up from Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow to move the event.

The statements come as new questions arise as to why MusiCares' annual Person of the Year event was staged at Radio City Music Hall on Jan. 26, two days before the Grammys. Last month, former MusiCares vice president Dana Tomarksen sent a letter to the charity's board of directors saying she had been in negotiations to stage the annual event at Barclays Center when Azoff MSG Entertainment chairman and CEO Irving Azoff intervened and moved the event to the MSG-owned Radio City Music Hall, potentially costing the charity $4 million.

Menin says the city was not in a position to intervene in the decision, despite campaigning by Barclays' Brett Yormark to have at least one major event during Grammy Week staged in Brooklyn. During an interview with Billboard-Hollywood Reporter president John Amato at last year's Billboard Touring Conference, Yormark said he had petitioned "Commissioner Menin to include all of New York," and not just Manhattan, in Grammy-related events.

Menin confirms to Billboard she was approached by an official from Barclays Center who "told our agency that they would be very interested in Grammy-related events," and that her agency "passed that comment directly on to [the Recording Academy]," but noted "the city doesn't get involved in venue selection. That's not our decision to make."

The move from New York to Los Angeles cost the academy between $6 million to $8 million more to produce the event, Portnow said, with Portnow shifting some of the blame to city officials for not delivering on savings, an accusation Menin pushed back on during an interview with Billboard last week.

"I know that the Grammys ran into cost overruns on their own, but that does not involve the city," she explains. "We did everything we promised to do and more in terms of identifying sponsors and providing in-kind advertising dollars. We actually went above and beyond what we committed to in that regard and anyone who was here during Grammy Week could visibly see the results in terms of all the bus and subway ads" and taxicabs, adding that her office also won important labor concessions that helped reduce the cost of the event.

Overall, Menin says her office was happy with the "incredible benefits to the city" from "hosting music's biggest night" and said the event "spoke to the primacy that New York City is in terms of music."

On Thursday (May 31), the Recording Academy announced that Portnow would be stepping down from his post when his contract expires in June 2019. Portnow was criticized for comments made the night of the 60th Grammy Awards in NYC, saying women needed to "step up" if they wanted to be better-represented in the music industry. The comments were widely panned by prominent female artists and Portnow faced a petition for his ouster, as well as several public letters from prominent female and male executives addressing the scandal, with some calling for his resignation.

Portnow announced a diversity task force to be led by former Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen and seemed to be moving past the scandal, when, in May, Tomarken sent her letter to the charity's board of directors. In her letter, Tomarken wrote a decision to stage the Person of the Year event at Radio City Music Hall resulted in an 80 percent drop in the money MusiCares was able to raise. (Tomarken, after 25 years at MusiCares, was let go from her post in April.)

In her May 21 letter, Tomarken accused Portnow of steering money away from MusiCares in order to fund a deficit created by this year's Grammy telecast and alleged that Portnow didn't approve a request to host the event at Barclays Center at the urging of Azoff. According to emails obtained by Billboard, in April 2017, an official at MSG told his counterpart at the Recording Academy "when we went into this, we said no events could be at Barclays."

MusiCares' annual Person of the Year event was instead moved to Radio City, a venue owned and operated by MSG. Tomarken said the decision to move the event to Manhattan cost the charity $4 million, leaving millions of revenue on the table after ditching a plan that included a large silent auction space, 250 to 300 banquet tables, free rent and a profit-share on suites at the venue.