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By Roy Edroso
Tickets went on sale re- cently for the June opening day of the Staten Island Yankees and, strange as it sounds, the publicly financed launch of New York's third professional baseball team illustrates just how wrongly Rudy Giuliani has handled Amadou Diallo's death.
The "one standardone city" mayor insists that his inability to get beyond the benign branding of Diallo's killing as a "tragedy" proves that he will not pander to any group. But the $40 million that the city is now spending to lure the first minor league franchise ever to come to a major league city is merely the latest example of the extraordinary public favors Giuliani is willing to bestow on our only Republican borough.
This record-setting municipal expenditure more than any prior minor league subsidy, though it is buying the lowest-level team on baseball's five-tier totem pole is also a blessing for George Steinbrenner. And it's only a down payment on the $882 million allocated for major league stadium construction in the mayor's current financial plan. That plan once again cuts funding for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, even while it lavishes more money on sports titans than any city or state has in the history of green grass, real or artificial.
But Rudy Giuliani insists he does not pander to Staten Island, or to the lords of baseball, treating both with the same tough care he extends to a minority community that wants more from him, emotionally and otherwise, than he says it is equitably due.
The Independent Budget Office's review of the mayor's plan says it seeks $28.9 million in the upcoming capital construction budget for a new S.I. Yanks stadium, which is to be built near the St. George Ferry Terminal over the next couple of years. That, says the IBO, "comes on top of the $11.2 million being spent in this year's general operating budget to retrofit" the College of Staten Island stadium "for temporary use and for cleanup and waterfront repair at the site of the planned new stadium." In addition, the city agreed last year to pay $13 million for a 52-acre, privately owned site near the terminal that Giuliani said could be used for baseball or parking, potentially raising the Yankee price tag past $50 million.
A 1998 Knoxville News-Sentinel review of minor league stadium construction around the country said that Tucson's new $35 million complex was the most expensive. Knoxville was, at the time, joining the ranks of what the Sentinelsaid was "a growing number of municipalities nationwide rejecting stadium proposals," even one for a popular local team that would've cost a mere $17 million.
In New York, Governor Pataki nixed a $73.2 million windfall for 10 upstate stadiums though he was overridden by the legislature in May 1995, suggesting how the mayor's GOP counterpart feels about comparatively puny expenditures. One of these stadiums, Syracuse's new $29 million facility, was aided by $7 million in team contributions, while there is, as yet, no indication that Steinbrenner has been asked to come up with a nickel for Staten Island.
The new Yankees recently began selling tickets for the 4500 seats at the renovated college facility and experienced the burst of fan enthusiasm that accompanies almost any new sports enterprise. Whether it will last is anyone's guess. When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened last season, they became the first new major league franchise to ever compete with an existing minor league team. The nearby St. Petersburg club, which is now the Devil Rays' entry in a full season Single A league, saw its annual attendance plummet from 154,670 in 1997 to 87,181.
Jim Ferguson, the spokesman for the National Association for Professional Baseball Leagues, says the Devil Rays "haven't said they'd keep the minor league team there for the long haul; they said they're going to continue to track it." Indeed, notes Ferguson, the Devil Rays tried to move the team to Orlando, where they already had a franchise they were trying to shift to Tallahassee. But a Tallahassee snag stymied the deal.
The Arizona Razorbacks, another major league start-up in 1998, drove a Phoenix minor league team out of town before the Razorbacks lost their first game. Even though the Phoenix Firebirds were a Triple A team playing near major-league-quality ball, no one thought they could keep a fan base in competition with one of the worst teams in the big leagues. Yet New York is gambling millions in the belief that a virtually all-rookie team, fresh off high school sandlots, can fill a 6500-seat stadium competing against not only baseball's best, but a second, National League, franchise.
Indeed, Baseball's Mayor has put another $57 million in the capital budget for a new minor league stadium in Coney Island for the Mets, which Brooklyn borough president Howard Golden says Giuliani only did to make sure the Mets wouldn't exercise their territorial right to kill the Yankee venture in Staten Island. Golden is much more interested in his own proposal a 12,000-seat Brooklyn Sportsplex Arena that could become a college basketball mecca than he is in a Mets minor league team just miles away from half-empty Shea.
In any event, Giuliani's Brooklyn "ego-fice" brings the total stadium allocation in this year's plan, minus any ancillary roadway and other improvements, to an astounding $979 million. That total, of course, includes an undetermined amount of funding for Giuliani's mythical football cathedral on the West Side of Manhattan, a grand stroke he's had the decency not to mention since he debuted it in his State of the City address in January.
What is more shocking than the mayor's unprecedented sports largesse is the silence that has greeted it hardly a note of editorial or civic outrage as if everyone either doesn't take him seriously or fears Caesar's umbrage. No one in the press, the City Council, the Comptroller's office or elsewhere has examined the cost-benefit consequences of even this minor league adventure, though the expensive renovation of the college facility is already under way, and Rudy is winding up for his opening day pitch.
Giuliani Stadium in Staten Island follows what even island Democrats like Assemblyman Eric Vitaliano concede has been a spectacular, almost six-year, bonanza for the borough from a thankful mayor. "He recognizes that Staten Island got him elected and he's repaying his political debt," Vitaliano observes.
Republican Guy Molinari, the borough's wily beep, can tick off a half dozen major contributions Giuliani's made to the island: the reopening of the Howland Hook containerport, free ferry rides, the heavily subsidized luring of the city's first new major manufacturing plant in decades (the VICY Paper facility), the siting of two new elementary schools (P.S. 6 and P.S. 56), as well as the planned new ferry terminal and associated museum-rooftop restaurant development.
Molinari also salutes him for blocking the Dinkins-planned sale of the College of Staten Island site, as well as supporting the conversion of the campus into the city's first educational park, with elementary, junior high, and high schools. The borough president says that the city and state have acquired 1400 new acres of parkland for Staten Island since Giuliani took office "several times more than the other boroughs combined."
But, of course, the number-one Giuliani contribution was the hard rock decision to shut the Fresh Kills landfill down. No one has yet estimated what the closing of the world's biggest dump will cost, though the IBO recently estimated that the export of a fraction of Fresh Kills's former waste will take $230 million a year out of city coffers by 2002. The construction of waste transfer stations in Brooklyn and elsewhere not only will carry a huge price tag, but the prospect has also thrown neighborhoods into antiStaten Island fits.
The mayor has been so good for the island that Molinari says everyone there fears that when he is gone, "We will become the forgotten borough again." The terminology is striking, because blacks have frequently described themselves as "forgotten people" in Giuliani's New York. From budgets to brutality, their views and needs are discounted.
It's as if Rudy thinks no one keeps a favor scorecard on him, or notices the color contrast between those he blesses and those he bangs. But we do. And we know he cannot heal a city he's divided into parts in his own mind, comfortable and caring in one, awkward and forbidding in the other.