Mayor Mike and the Yanks: How Suite It Is
The 2009 mayoral campaign begins this month when the richest sports franchise in America puts its hand out for one more bailout. The New York Yankees—strike that—Yankee Global Enterprises LLC, the mega-corporation that controls all things Yankee, has already received $942 million in triple tax-free bonds courtesy of the Bloomberg regime to build its fabulous new stadium on city land where a wonderful tree-shaded park once stood near the Harlem River.
The mayor's people are spending most of their time these days ordering the closing of day-care centers and firehouses, insisting that the terrible economic situation dictates no other course. But on January 16, Bloomberg's team will pause from these chores to order its representatives on the city's Industrial Development Agency to approve another $370 million in tax-free bonds to finish the stadium project. According to the city's Independent Budget Office, this new round of financing will cost taxpayers roughly $48.5 million in foregone revenues. This is on top of the $181 million the team saved by having the taxes excused on its first round of financing.
You might ask why it is necessary for taxpayers to bail out the team in this manner. For instance, last month, the Yankees' corporation—did you know that it also owns a television network valued at some $3 billion?—managed to find half a billion of its own money to spend on a trio of free agents. These players, a pair of fine pitchers and an excellent first baseman, are needed, team officials say, so that the Yankees can end the shame of not having finished first last year. What good is a gleaming, brand-new $1.3 billion stadium if the team that has won more world championships than any other can't buy its way to another one? What are we? Tampa Bay?
Here is how this matter is playing out among this year's mayoral candidates: Mayor Bloomberg, who has arranged to be able to run for a third term despite two public referendums saying he shouldn't, is strongly in favor of this latest gift to the team. It doesn't hurt that the men who helped orchestrate the mayor's end-run around the term limits law—public relations czar Howard Rubenstein and developer Jerry Speyer—are both deeply involved in the stadium project: Rubenstein is the team's publicist; Speyer is building its new ballpark.
William Thompson, the affable city comptroller who is trying to change gears and mount a serious campaign against Bloomberg, ducked the question altogether last week. Thompson did say earlier that he was upset that the city had scheduled the vote on the new bond issue on the same day as Barack Obama's inauguration. But he dropped the issue when the meeting was moved up a week, giving the board even less time than usual to consider the issue.
Anthony Weiner, the bright and eager congressman from Brooklyn who also wants to be mayor, ducked the topic as well. Maybe he is still smarting from the catcalls and picket lines that the mayor's supporters sent his way in 2005 when he dared to oppose Bloomberg's proposed midtown stadium for the Jets.
The only public official willing to speak out is Richard Brodsky, the assemblyman who has exposed many of the Yankees-Bloomberg shenanigans. "It is unconscionable," said Brodsky last week of the additional bonds. "We can't fund the MTA and our schools, and the Bloomberg administration wants to toss hundreds of millions at the richest corporations in the world."
Brodsky represents Westchester County and unfortunately cannot run for mayor. If he could, Bloomberg might be in for a real fight, instead of facing off against these El Foldos.
Last month, Brodsky and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has mounted his own investigation, released reams of e-mails they obtained showing how tough the city can get with the baseball teams when it really wants something, such as a free 12-person luxury suite for the mayor's exclusive use. Even after the Yankees caved on the suite (they sell for about $850,000 apiece), the city held out for free food. Here is Seth Pinsky, who heads the city's Economic Development Corporation, writing to his boss, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, about this crucial issue: "Yankees said they don't want to pay for food for our suite. My position is: If others get food with their suites, so should we. I assume you agree."
Doctoroff, who now runs Bloomberg's private media corporation, was also determined to make sure the mayor's office got a clutch of free tickets for every event, baseball or otherwise, held at both the new Yankee and Mets stadiums. Here is the former deputy mayor, working late on a Saturday night on the July 4 weekend of 2006, writing to his underling Pinsky: "We are giving them how much money?? For whatever it is, we should get the tickets for free."
That kind of talk about giving away public money is bothersome to the Yankees, who insist that the public has borne no burden whatsoever in the drive to deliver the new stadium. "The way to look at it is that the Steinbrenner family is investing well over $1 billion in a new project that benefits the city," says Randy Levine, the president of the Yankees. Levine used to hold Doctoroff's job, overseeing all economic development deals when Rudy Giuliani was mayor. He now compliments Bloomberg, who "made a much better deal for the city," says Levine. Other states and municipalities, Levine points out, have been much more generous, exacting special taxes to pay for new stadiums. There has been none of that here, he says, and the Yankees will now pay for all maintenance and operations. "When you look at the entire project—all of the added taxes generated and the new jobs it will produce—this is a clear net benefit to the taxpayers."
This "net benefit" business is so complex that the liberated e-mails list CC's to more than 40 lawyers poring over the agreement. Brodsky has his own analysis: "It is a form of nonsense that is hard to compete with," he says. "They are hiding the truth in a lot of this stuff. They have cooked the assessment of the value of the real property. They have gotten themselves a free luxury suite. And these are their priorities."
The stadium's true costs to the public are a moving target. Geoffrey Croft, who heads New York City Park Advocates, estimates that the city is on the hook for $300 million for infrastructure and new parks to replace the huge slices of Macombs Dam Park and Mullaly Park that were seized for the new stadium. The city has pledged to provide new parkland, but much of it is far away. "It is a complete farce that they are replacing what they took," says Croft.
The day before the vote, there will be a public hearing on the matter. Croft's group, and the ever-vigilant Good Jobs New York, which has watchdogged the stadium deal from the beginning, will turn out troops. But the mayor's panel is a stacked deck, and stadium foes might consider instead a dramatic reading of the official e-mail exchanges, which have not yet seen the light of day, like this one between the ubiquitous Pinsky from the Economic Development Corporation and the lead lawyer for the Yankees after they settled their fight over the free stadium suite and food: "You're invited to Opening Day in 2009," writes the attorney.
"Yes, I think I'll be sitting in a box seat!" responds the ecstatic Bloomberg man.
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