NY Fair’s Aisle Controversy

The director of the New York State Fair, Dan O’Hara, recently got himself into a pickle over a no-bid contract with Live Nation. Now he’s apparently messed with the wrong person – a WEIU Local 200 union member.

The he-said, she-said story, as told in the Post-Standard of Syracuse, has O’Hara telling off an usher at the fair’s Aug. 29 Jonas Brothers show because the usher wanted O’Hara’s daughter and her three friends to move from an area reserved for handicapped patrons.

“We will not be providing any comment or allowing you access to Dan to talk about this,” a spokeswoman for O’Hara’s boss, Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker, told the paper. “We’re not going to comment on or provide any comment on these stories that are nothing but he-said-she-said kind of situations.”

Fair spokesman Fred Pierce told Pollstar “that’s pretty much how the situation stands.”

Usher Thomas Schug, who told the Post-Standard he had worked 50 grandstand concerts over five years and is a full-time state corrections officer, said O’Hara berated him in front of families and a co-worker because Schug asked his daughter and her friends to move.

Before the concert, O’Hara escorted his 16-year-old daughter and her friends to a spot designated for wheelchair access and set up four folding chairs, according to Schug. A patron sitting behind them, who had been told by ushers to not move forward into the area, immediately complained. The usher asked the girls to move to unoccupied seats two rows back.

“I said, ‘Excuse me girls, do you mind moving your seats back?’” Schug said. “The oldest of the girls said – really nice, almost nervous – ‘My dad is the director of the fair.’ I said, ‘That’s fine honey. You still need to move your seats back.’”
Schug told the paper that one of the girls then made a cell phone call.

“Five minutes after this, the gentleman in the green shirt came up to me and said, ‘I’m Dan O’Hara. I’m the director. I put them there. I recommend you fix your attitude toward my girls.’”

Schug said he noticed the patron who was complaining was watching the exchange and told O’Hara to explain the situation to the fairgoer.

O’Hara did so, then returned to Schug and said, “You won’t be working here after today,” Schug told the paper.

Another usher verified Schug’s account, telling the paper that O’Hara dropped a couple of F-bombs along the way. O’Hara eventually took the girls to some unoccupied seats 21 rows from the stage, according to Schug’s supervisor. He returned after the show and whispered in Schug’s ear that “I don’t believe my daughters deserve special treatment,” according to Schug.

O’Hara’s wife then reportedly said, “If there’s one thing my children shouldn’t have to deal with, it’s dealing with [expletives deleted] like you.”

“Real professional,” Schug allegedly replied.

Bob Connolly, secretary-treasurer of Local 200, one of the biggest unions in Central New York, told the paper he talked to O’Hara, who said the usher was disrespectful to him and his daughter. He denied cursing or pointing his finger at Schug and said he did not threaten to fire him, Connolly said.

O’Hara recently fired the fair’s longtime talent buyer, Joe LaGuardia, and fair budget director Rich Guanciale. The latter told the Post-Standard he was fired because he questioned O’Hara’s decision to award Live Nation a no-bid contract to book the fair. The fair director drew local flak for moving a longtime fair concessionaire so Live Nation could have a vending booth in that location.

O’Hara, the former mayor of Baldwinsville, N.Y., has also allegedly told his staff, repeatedly, that if they didn’t like how he was running things, “I have Burger King applications on my desk,” former marketing coordinator Emmy Moss told the Post-Standard.

His boss, Patrick Hooker, commented on the allegations, admitting O’Hara’s style has rubbed some people the wrong way.

“He’s a hard charger. He’s not subtle,” Hooker told the paper. “Dan is trying very hard to deal with people in a kinder, gentler way. He’s been abrupt with people by his own admission.”

Hooker added, “I think Dan is doing a great job. From an internal management standpoint, I sleep well at night knowing Dan is on the job.”