By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
"New York is healthier than ever," Bloomberg said at Maimonides Cancer Center in Brooklyn this spring. "If that isn't the purpose of government, I don't know what is the purpose of government." As quiet as it is kept, even by Bloomberg's stumbling campaign, the beneficiaries of his health, crime, and education initiatives are mostly poor minorities, utterly contrary to the Thompson critique that he is a mayor only for the rich.
As much as the city ought to name a hospital after Mayor Mike, it is more likely to name a stadium or arena. He has certainly spent enough of our money on them to pay for the naming rights. If he gets a pre-election Yankees World Series parade, the confetti should remind us of the bonanza of tax dollars that helped finance the stadium in which it was won.
City officials resent any suggestion that Bloomberg's has been a stadium-centric economic development policy. They rightly point to his smart focus on biotechnology, including the ongoing construction of the East River Science Park and support of the SUNY Downstate Biotechnology Incubator, all contributing to top rankings as a life science city in two national surveys. They point to his nurturing of the tourism, film/TV, and nonprofit sectors. The $4 billion he has invested in new housing is cited as an economic development marker. But the fact remains that the only major projects built or to be built in the Bloomberg era—the monuments to Mike—are Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and the soon-to-be-bonded-by-the-city Nets arena in Brooklyn. Even the city-financed extension of the 7 subway line, ballyhooed by Bloomberg aides, is merely a potential pathway to Westside development, not a project itself.
That's a dismal track record, especially from a mayor who derided the job development benefits of stadium deals when he junked Giuliani's in 2002. The city is directly spending a half-billion on the two stadiums, largely for infrastructure improvements, some of which are still incomplete. It is also tapping its own supply of tax-exempt bonds, which are supposed to be used for projects of great public value, like hospitals, for $1.9 billion, subsidizing the two teams that are claiming to be building the stadiums themselves to the tune of $1.3 billion (a combination of the savings achieved through the bonds and other property, mortgage, and sales tax exemptions). The evidence that top officials of the Bloomberg administration reversed land assessments for the Yankees deal to artificially jack up the value in order to qualify for the tax-exempt financing is overwhelming and would—in a time when a good scandal had staying power in New York—make Bloomberg wince at the thought of an election eve parade. E-mails like one from a top aide to Deputy Mayor Doctoroff explicitly said they were making the assessment "so high" in an attempt "to support the tax-exempt financing."
By December, the Bloomberg administration will replicate its scandal-ridden history of bonding these projects by supporting the issuance of $678 million in state tax-exempt bonds for the Nets. The IBO estimates that the arena will also cost the city $350 million, combining direct and indirect subsidies, concluding that it will lose at least $40 million over the life of the deal, assuming the most optimistic revenue projections. Salty Mike's response to the unstated, apolitical IBO: "I don't know what the IBO studies would have shown back when they tried to establish the value of Central Park."
A Bloomberg hero, the late Senator Patrick Moynihan, attached an amendment to the IRS code in 1986 to try to bar cities from using tax-exempt bonds to finance stadiums, but the IBO reports that the city "found a way to circumvent these strictures" by technically structuring these two privately built and operated stadiums as publicly owned and leased for 99 years. The IRS originally OK'd this arrangement and then reversed itself, prohibiting such maneuvers in the future. Yet the city plans to do the arena precisely the same way, and the IRS grandfathered the arena in under its initial ruling, giving the city until the end of the year to sell the bonds. Incredibly, all of these resources have been used either to induce a basketball team to move across the river or to build stadiums with fewer and more expensive seats, neither of which is much of a public benefit. And every independent analysis re-establishes what the mayor once believed—nothing generates fewer real jobs than these television studios disguised as sports facilities.
It's at least a bit awkward that Bloomberg LP's business news channel, a linchpin to the growth of the media giant Mike owns almost entirely himself, now occupies the Yankees' precious former location (Time Warner's channel 30) on the New York cable dial, moving up 74 notches from channel 104, with the acquiescence of the Yankees, whoseYES network moved to channel 53. It's more than awkward that the administration's favorite developer, Steve Ross, was so cozy with city development czar Doctoroff that he assumed a $4 million loan Doctoroff made to the city's Olympic committee shortly before Doctoroff took office. And it's stunning that the mayor himself boldly endorsed the biggest real estate acquisition of all time—the $5.4 billion purchase of Stuy Town—even though the 20 percent owner of Bloomberg LP at the time, Merrill Lynch, was one of the buyers and he was legally barred from doing anything in his official capacity to aid Merrill.