Stopping a Stadium

Heroes had different motives, but they shared scorn for the Jets deal

Luck gets credit too. The looming 2005 elections helped the alliance get the attention of political heavy hitters. And by chance, many of the hearings on the stadium were held at the Fashion Institute of Technology, easily accessible to "the Penn South ladies," a group of elderly, dogged opponents of the Jets plan. "Those ladies came to every single meeting and they got a lunch and they got a bottle of water," remembers Joe Restuccia, an alliance member. "And they were pissed off."


CABLEVISION: It was last spring, about a year after the Hell's Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance formed. "We got a call from Cablevision asking how they could help our effort," Levin remembers. "It was very scary."

Somebody up there likes us: Opponents of the West Side stadium celebrate in Albany on June 6.
photo: Kenan Rubenstein
Somebody up there likes us: Opponents of the West Side stadium celebrate in Albany on June 6.

Joining forces with a massive corporation out to protect its bottom line was a daunting prospect, Levin says. But she adds, "We knew we needed media support. We knew we needed lobbyists. We knew we were going to litigate. We knew we needed all sorts of resources," like T-shirts, photocopies, a professional organizer—and a voice in the high halls of government. Cablevision provided it all. "We would never had had the access in Albany that this campaign got without the Garden's lobbyists, and that's the reality of politics in New York," Levin says.

Cablevision wasn't the only business interest to help fight the stadium. A few developers lent support to the alliance, but did so quietly to avoid angering the mayor and Doctoroff. Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, also pitched in on behalf of Broadway theaters worried about how stadium traffic would affect their audiences. But only Cablevision had the clout and chutzpah to make the key move in the whole stadium drama: the rival bid for the MTA site.

"That was a stroke of genius," Levin recalls. It exposed the fact that there had not been open bidding, and that the cash-strapped MTA might be able to get millions more for the valuable site. The cable giant's bid also forced MTA head Peter Kalikow to open bidding, delaying the closure of the Jets deal. And once the MTA opened a formal process, the anti-stadium forces got ammunition for some of their suits.


SHELDON SILVER:The Daily News dubbed him "the spoiler." The Post called him "as small-minded and parochial a pol as any of the hicks and hacks he supervises." But to those who opposed the stadium, the Assembly Speaker was the biggest hero of them all because in the end he was the only one whom Doctoroff & Co. couldn't get around.

"I thought that Silver was courageous," says Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Silver's comments about his decision "read like the words from someone, whether you agreed with him or not, who had a deep affection and concern for his district," Russianoff tells the Voice.

But it wasn't just Lower Manhattan that was on Silver's mind. "Shelly really was affronted, rightly so, by the mayor's failure to respect the checks and balances of government," Russianoff adds. Others agree. As much as the plan's details dragged the stadium deal down, the arrogance of its backers might have been the fatal flaw—like hubris in a Greek tragedy, with Shelly Silver swinging the fateful sword.


DAN DOCTOROFF: Of course, it takes two to make a tragedy. John Fisher, a West Side activist who didn't join the alliance, notes that "Dan Doctoroff helped too—the way they operated, they tried to shove it down people's throats." That approach managed to anger people who didn't give a hoot about the stadium itself. It added yet another constituency to the coalition, one that agreed on at least the word no.

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