By Albert Samaha
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"The other three rings came collectively," the aide continues. "I saw them in wooden boxes with Plexiglas windows. They were either kept in the mayor's personal office on the main floor or his downstairs office. He didn't get the 1998 and 1999 rings as they were handed out. They were just given to him sometime in 2001 as a collection." The 2000 ring wasn't presented to players until late July 2001, so Giuliani's rings would've arrived sometime after that. Though gifts to mayors are routinely logged on a City Hall list, Giuliani listed only one Steinbrenner gift among his more than 8,500 gifts bequeathed to the city: a videotape and booklet from Joe DiMaggio Day.
This aide and other sources close to City Hall recall that Giuliani's name was misspelled on one of the rings, returned to the Yankees, and replaced. News accounts of the 1999 ring presentation in 2000 indicated that there were mistakes on six rings, but the only one specified in the stories was that Roger Clemens's uniform number was wrong. The sources say that Carmela Piazza, who ran Giuliani's correspondence office at City Hall, oversaw the return of the ring, another indication that it was given to Giuliani while he was still in office. Contacted by the Voice, Piazza, who is a current donor to his presidential campaign, said repeatedly that she couldn't remember anything about the incident. A Yankee official initially confirmed that there was a spelling problem with one of the Giuliani rings, but later said he could not definitely determine if it happened. Spokeswoman McGillion, who was receiving limited information from the Yankees, acknowledges that "another person" affiliated with the team "hinted this to us."
On December 31, 2001,first deputy mayor Joe Lhota was standing on the steps of City Hall, listening to the bagpipes playing in anticipation of Rudy Giuliani's farewell, when he was tapped on the shoulder and asked to sign a document. It was the last official act of the Giuliani administration: an amendment to the Yankee lease. Bills from Yankee lawyers that were reimbursed by the city indicate that the parties were busily negotiating the terms of the deal for at least five of Giuliani's final hours that day. Fourteen days later, Bill Thompson, the new city comptroller, would write the new mayor, Mike Bloomberg, to complain about the amendment Lhota signed, which allowed the Yankees to terminate their lease on 60 days' notice "anytime over the next nine years" if the team "reasonably determined" that the city was unlikely to proceed with the new stadium Giuliani had promised them. Previously, the Yankees had made a five-year commitment to remain in the Bronx if they stayed there through the 2002 season.
Bloomberg quickly moved to kill the lavishly subsidized term sheets that the Giuliani administration had signed to build new stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets. But he could do nothing about the $50 million in stadium planning costs that another last-minute lease amendment delivered to the teams. That amendment, signed by Giuliani in the closing moments, allowed each team to deduct from the rent they paid the city any costs they attributed to stadium planningup to $5 million a year for five years.
A Voice story in 2006 revealed that the Yankees deducted the $203,055 they paid lobbyist Bill Powers, the former head of the state Republican party. They also deducted hundreds of thousands in other legal and lobbying fees retroactively, meaning that the city actually paid the Yankees' costs involved in negotiating, drafting, and pushing for the very lease amendment that allowed the deductions in the first place, an unprecedented circular giveaway. Though the amendment only permitted the Yankees to deduct for expenses from the beginning of 2001, the team submitted thousands in bills from the Regency Hotel as far back as 1999, a maneuver subsequently blocked by the comptroller. Remarkably, this was the Yankees' second dip into the city treasury to plan its own stadium. Giuliani's Economic Development Corporation had already reimbursed the Yankees $3 million for similar expenditures.
The ninth-inning amendments were just the latest in an orgy of favors that Giuliani granted the Yankees. When Thompson did an audit of the Yankees' payments to the city in 2004, it was only supposed to cover the period since 2002. But his office was so intrigued by the Yankees' meager payments to the city during the Giuliani years that he extended its review back to 1997 and discovered that the Yankees had grossly shortchanged the city. The club is allowed to deduct from its rental obligation the revenue-sharing payments it makes to Major League Baseball. It had mysteriously overstated those payments by $34 million between 1997 and 2002, shortchanging the city by $2.7 million.
In fact, as astonishing as it may seem, the Mets, big-time losers for most of the Giuliani years, were assessed for twice as much in net rent to the city for a half-empty Shea as the Yankees were for its packed house, an average of $5.4 million a year versus $2.86 million. The Yankee lease has long allowed the team to do its own stadium maintenance and deduct its costs from the rent, while Shea is maintained by the Parks Department. The Yankees drove an armored truck through that loophole in the Giuliani years. Even though the loophole is still in effect under Bloomberg, the payment pattern has reversed itself, with the Yankees paying twice as much as the Mets for 20022004, an annual average of $4.93 million versus $2.58 million. The Yankees argue that Giuliani's final stadium proposal was a boon to both teams equally, though the 60-day escape clause and the quadrupling of luxury boxes were unique Yankee benefits. But Mets owner Fred Wilpon wasn't even seeking a new stadium until late 2000, asking for city help simply to renovate Shea. He joined the Giuliani feast only to keep pace with the hog in the Bronx. With Daily News editorials observing that the mayor "has created the impression that money is no object" in accommodating Steinbrenner, what else was Wilpon to do?