The Yankees' Clean-Up Man
The greatest love affair of Rudy Giuliani's life has become a sordid scandal.
His monogamous embrace of the Yankees as mayor was so fervent that when he tried to deliver a West Side stadium to them early in his administration, or approved a last-minute $400 million subsidy for their new Bronx stadium, New Yorkers blithely ascribed the bad deals to a heaving heart.
It turns out he also had an outstretched hand.
Sports fans grew accustomed to seeing Giuliani, in Yankee jacket and cap, within camera view of the team's dugout at every one of the 40 postseason home games the Yankees played while he was mayor. His devotion reached such heights that at the 1995 Inner Circle press dinner, he played himself handing the city over to George Steinbrenner in a lampoon version of the Broadway musical Damn Yankees, succumbing to a scantily clad Lola who importuned him on behalf of the Boss to the tune of "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)." Mike Bloomberg understood years later that the song was no joke; he nixed Rudy's stadium deal in his first weeks in office.
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
TicketsWed., Jan. 25, 8:00pm
Seton Hall Pirates Men's Basketball vs. Butler Bulldogs Men's Basketball
TicketsWed., Jan. 25, 8:30pm
New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals
TicketsThu., Jan. 26, 7:00pm
Seton Hall Pirates Womens Basketball vs. Xavier Womens Basketball
TicketsFri., Jan. 27, 7:00pm
It is only now, however, as Giuliani campaigns for president, that we are beginning to learn that this relationship went even deeper. Giuliani has been seen on the campaign trail wearing a World Series ring, a valuable prize we never knew he had. Indeed, the Yankees have told the Voice that he has four rings, one for every world championship the Yankees won while he was mayor. Voice calls to other cities whose teams won the Series in the past decade have determined that Giuliani is the only mayor with a ring, much less four. If it sounds innocent, wait for the price tag. These are certainly no Canal Street cubic zirconia knockoffs.
With Giuliani's name inscribed in the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 diamond-and-gold rings, memorabilia and baseball experts say they are collectively worth a minimum of $200,000. The Yankees say that Giuliani did pay for his ringsbut only $16,000, and years after he had left office. Anyone paying for the rings is as unusual as a mayor getting one, since neither the Yankees nor any other recent champion have sold rings to virtually anyone. The meager payment, however, is less than half of the replacement value of the rings, and that's a fraction of the market price, especially with the added value of Giuliani's name.
What's more troubling is that Giuliani's receipt of the rings may be a serious breach of the law, and one that could still be prosecuted. New York officials are barred from taking a gift of greater than $50 value from anyone doing business with the city, and under Giuliani, that statute was enforced aggressively against others. His administration forced a fire department chief, for example, to retire, forfeit $93,105 in salary, and pay a $6,000 fine for taking Broadway tickets to two shows and a free week in a ski condo from a city vendor. The city's Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) has applied the gift rule to discounts as well, unless the cheaper rate "is available generally to all government employees." When a buildings department deputy commissioner was indicted in 2000 for taking Mets and Rangers tickets, as well as a family trip to Florida, from a vendor, an outraged Giuliani denounced his conduct as "reprehensible," particularly "at high levels in city agencies," and said that such officials had to be "singled out" and "used as examples."
City officials are also required to disclose gifts from anyone but relatives on forms filed with the COIB, something Giuliani did not do with any of the rings. Giuliani certainly used to sound serious about the need for full public disclosure. In 1989, he denounced his mayoral opponent, David Dinkins, for failing to disclose frequent-flier tickets to France given to him by a friend, even though the friend did no business with the city; Giuliani called it an example of "arrogance and disrespect for legal and ethical obligations."
And there's another, more recent, and closer-to-home example of arrogant nondisclosure noted publicly by Giuliani. When former police commissioner Bernard Kerik pled guilty last year to charges involving a city contractor's gift to him of a $165,000 apartment renovation, Giuliani said that Kerik had "acknowledged his violations." As part of a $221,000 plea deal, Kerik agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to the COIB for accepting and then failing to accurately disclose the renovations. Not only are Kerik and Giuliani's concealed gifts of similar value, but Kerik, like Giuliani, made a partial payment for the renovations$17,800, far less than full value.
More ominous for Giuliani, Kerik's prosecution came eight years after the renovation of his apartment began, an indication that the ordinary statute of limitations doesn't apply to the continuing reporting requirements of the COIB. In addition, Giuliani reportedly paid the Yankees as recently as 2004 for one of the rings, another reason why an investigation might still be timely. It is also a violation of state unlawful-gratuity statutes for a public official to "solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit" from a business like the Yankees, which leases the stadium from the city.
If Giuliani neither received the rings, nor was promised them while in office, he would not have violated these rules. In repeated exchanges with the Voice, a Yankee spokeswoman was vague about when Giuliani actually received the rings, though she suggested that Giuliani might have obtained them when he paid for themwhich would have been well after his mayoral term ended in 2001. Alice McGillion of Rubenstein Associates, the public relations firm that represents the Yankees, said that in 2003, Giuliani paid $13,500 for his 1998, 1999, and 2000 rings, and in 2004, he paid $2,500 for his 1996 ring. She said that the team had only "transmittal" documents that confirmed the payments and that, from those documents, it could be "reasonably deduced" that he didn't receive the rings until then.
McGillion acknowledged that she had no other evidence besides the records of payment to lead her to believe that Giuliani received the rings years after the championships were won. She declined to respond to two sets of e-mailed questions about whether it was the team's contention that rings weren't made for Giuliani until 2003 and 2004, or if they were maintaining that his rings had actually been manufactured during his mayoralty and held by the Yankees, with his assent, until after he left office.
Although the Yankees replaced Joe DiMaggios lost rings in 1999, making new ones years later is almost never done and would have been an exceptional favor. Asked if the Yankees would make a ring several years after a World Series win for a new recipient, David Fiore, the ex-CEO of American Achievement, the Texas-based manufacturer of the teams rings, said: "Not after the fact; they're all awarded at the same time. If you lose it a couple of years later, we will replace it."
Giuliani's protracted delaypaying for a 1996 ring eight years latermight well be seen by the IRS, COIB, or other investigators as an indication that he recognized the impropriety of receiving them while mayor, or, as Giuliani used to describe it in his prosecutorial days, an "inference of guilt." If the rings were promised and made for him while he was in office, though not actually delivered until after his term ended, that could still involve violations of the gift or gratuity statutes, according to investigators.
Four sources, two from the manufacturer and two from City Hall, have told the Voice that a ring was made with Giuliani's name on it in 1996 or early 1997. The City Hall sources also recall him receiving the ring at that time. In addition, one of these sources, joined by two other exGiuliani staffers, says the mayor did not take possession of the three additional rings until much later. The best recollection of these aides is that he got these rings as a package near the end of his term in 2001, just as his administration closed a number of critical deals with the Yankees. While the Yankees could offer no explanation for why he paid for three rings in one year and the 1996 ring a year later, the chronology cited by the sources suggests one. He paid for the three he received together, and then later remembered to pay for the one he'd gotten long before. He paid $2,000 less for the 1996 ring than he did for the othersanother indication of how disconnected from market factors this reputed sale was, since many ring experts believe the 1996 ring, which ended a nearly two-decade Yankee drought, is the most valuable of the four.
McGillion also declined to answer questions about the tax implications of Giuliani's rings, which may explain the late payments. Bill DeWitt III, one of the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals, says the team, which won the championship last year, issued 1099-MISC "miscellaneous income" forms to employees and non-employees who received rings, but the Yankees have never done that. At the time of the Yankee wins, IRS rules required the reporting of gifts of more than $10,000 by either the donor or the recipient (the threshold was recently raised to $12,000). DeWitt says that estimating a ring's value for tax purposes gets "a little gray and murky," and a Cardinal spokesman says that the club actually boosted employee salaries to cover taxes they might have to pay on the rings.
Three tax attorneys tell the Voice that Giuliani's payments may have been intended to lower the value of the gifts below the IRS thresholds. That would mean that neither the Yankees nor Giuliani would have to report the transaction. The belated payments then may have been a post-divorce or pre-presidential-campaign attempt, on the advice of tax counsel, to avoid dealing with the actual timing and true value of the rings.
Frequently ensconced in George Steinbrenner's eight-seat 31A box and four Legends 31AA seats next to the Yankee dugout while he was mayor, Giuliani and his many guests were also repeatedly given Yankee jackets, caps, autographed balls, and other gifts. "He would require gifts at every game," says a former close Giuliani aide, whose account is supported by both a Yankee source and an ex-cop assigned to the mayor. He even wanted a fitted cap with the World Series logo and other special caps, and the equipment management had to reach into the players' uniform case to find one for Giuliani's large head. The Giuliani group also raided the closet in Steinbrenner's office, even taking DiMaggio jackets with red piping for the mayor and guests. "They finally turned the spigot off in 2000 and said we just can't do it anymore," the aide recalls. The cop remembers jackets and ballssome signed by all the Yankeesstuffed in the back of the city cars they used to drive back from the stadium.
The Yankees say Giuliani paid for at least some of his tickets, though he did not pay when "he attended in his official capacity." They declined to specify which games were official, or to answer detailed questions about the other largesse. Several friends who sat with Giuliani at games, like Emergency Management Director Jerry Hauer, say they were never asked to pay. "I don't believe he paid for our seats," says Hauer. "I don't think anybody paid for them. It would have cost him a fortune." Russell Harding, one of three members of his family who went to Yankee games with Giuliani and the head of the Housing Development Corporation, wrote in an e-mail disclosed after his arrest on charges of bilking the city for hundreds of thousands of dollars: "I never have to pay for things like that . . . especially Yankee tickets . . . just one of the perks I get with my job . . . And knowing the mayor doesn't hurt either." Russell's brother Robert (both are sons of Liberal Party boss Ray Harding) was actually in charge of the Yankee Stadium negotiations for Giuliani.
With tickets for Giuliani's box and Legends seats selling for $50 to $200 for regular-season games, and with Giuliani and an average of eight guests attending a minimum of 20 games a year, the eight-year price tag for the mayor, including the far more expensive postseason games he never missed, would have been an estimated $120,000. That's quite a load on an average salary of $150,000. Obviously, any substantial tickets and assorted gifts to the mayor or his city employee guests would also have run afoul of the $50 COIB limit.
The Yankees say that Mayor Bloomberg has purchased four season tickets in Section 53, behind the Steinbrenner box that Giuliani still uses, and pays even when he attends in his official capacity. Bloomberg does not allow anyone on the city payroll to use his seats because he regards it as granting an improper benefit to a subordinate. (The Yankee spokeswoman declined to characterize the difference between how the two mayors dealt with seating at the stadium.) Giuliani's periodic payments for some of these tickets may also have had a tax motive. Had he paid nothing for the seats, he would have had to treat the entire Yankee goodie bag as income.
Giuliani's sense of entitlement about the Yankees was so deep that he frequently used a police boat to haul himself and his guests to games, using either the slip near Gracie Mansion or the Wall Street/South Street one near City Hall. In his own book, Leadership, he revealed that the first Yankee game he ever took Judi Nathan to was David Cone's perfect game in July 1999, almost a full year before he announced at a press conference that she was his "very good friend." Judi and her girlfriends became part of his stadium entourage, just as his previous very good friend, Cristyne Lategano, had been in the earlier years. When Giuliani's wife Donna Hanover barred Lategano from the box if her son Andrew was at the game, the young press aide sequestered herself in Steinbrenner's suite, extending Giuliani's reach to the home-plate section of the stadium as well. Judi, too, eventually became a presence in the Steinbrenner suite.
At one point, according to the close aide, George Pataki's office asked if the seats could be "split in half, either horizontally or vertically" so the governor could get access. "Absolutely not," was Rudy's answer. What about just two of the seats? Another no. Asked if he'd ever sat in the prized seats, Gene Budig, who was American League president for most of the Giuliani years, tells the Voice: "I got to sit in seats a couple of times when he wasn't there, but never with him. The seats were practically in the dugout." The prominence of the seats and the success of the team quickly catapulted Giuliani into prime-time sports hero status. He even managed to get himself interviewed on camera in the locker-room champagne celebrations of the great victories, running right in through the dugout after the game. That was in addition to his regular fifth-inning appearance on the Yankee radio broadcast. He merged himself with the Yankees in the national consciousness, and is still featured, with his old comb-over look, on the scoreboard screen during every game, leading cheers for a Yankee rally. On opening day in April, the presidential candidate also appeared in the Yankee radio and TV booth for full inning commentary, a sneer at the equal-time provisions of federal law.
In 2003, the Yankees paid a $75,000 fine to the state lobbying commission for not disclosing as a lobbying expense dozens of tickets given to public officials in 2002 and 2003. Even though Giuliani wasn't a public official anymore, his name appeared on a list entitled "Political Friends" that the Yankees turned over to the commission. He was one of the few with a special note by his name: "GMS list," referring to George Steinbrenner. He still had all 12 seats in the same section for playoff games, though he was listed as sharing them with Mayor Bloomberg on opening day. While a variety of credit cards or the word invoice are listed under the category of "method of payment" for many of the special seats, the space beside Giuliani's name is left blank. No explanation for those left blank was offered. Since the ring payments occurred as recently as 2004, the commission, too, may still have the jurisdiction to investigate whether the tickets were improper gifts granted to Giuliani while he was a lobbied public official.
While mayors in other cities may have tried to tie themselves to successful sports franchises like Giuliani, none, no matter how big a fan, has gotten a ring for his efforts. Team representatives, or mayoral representatives, in every city that's won a championship since 1995 tell the Voice that their mayor didn't get a ring. Not the Florida Marlins (winners in 1997 and 2003), Arizona Diamondbacks (2001), Anaheim (now Los Angeles) Angels (2002), Boston Red Sox (2004), Chicago White Sox (2005) or St. Louis Cardinals (2006). Team representatives also tell the Voice that rings are not for saleto a mayor or anyone else. "The mayor didn't get a ring," says White Sox spokesman Lou Hernandez. "We did a World Series ring raffle and all the proceeds went to charity. So he could have won a ring. He's a ticket holder. But no public officials got gifts even if they helped." The Cardinals' DeWitt says: "We haven't allowed anyone to buy a ring, even some limited partners who wanted an extra. You can only have it given to you. We have a great mayor. He's been helpful for us. But we just felt like for us it was best to stick to employees and Hall of Famers." Asked if rings are ever given to public officials, DeWitt says: "I've never heard that politicians get them." Angels spokesman Tim Meade says rings are "absolutely not sold under any circumstances." In fact, the Angels fired an executive who put his ring up for sale, an action Steinbrenner is also said to have taken. "There were a couple of people from the city of Anaheim who got rings," acknowledges Meade. "They were people from the city manager's office who worked closely with the Angels."
Jerry McNeal, a World Series historian associated with the Baseball Hall of Fame, says that public officials don't usually get rings. "No, you have to be associated with the team in some way," says McNeal. "When the L.A. Dodgers won the world championship, Frank Sinatra was good friends with the manager, Tommy Lasorda, but he couldn't get a ring." Phyllis Merhige, senior vice president of the American League, says she isn't aware of rings going to public officials. "In a situation, I'm guessing, an official that was involved in the building of a new stadium or keeping a team in a city would be considered for a ring. But I couldn't tell you whether it's been done or not. There are no records." She says that congressional representatives are barred by law from receiving rings or other gifts from teams.
McNeal estimates that Giuliani's rings "would go for at least $50,000 apiece," adding that they "might even go for more than that." If Giuliani were elected president, he says, the rings "would skyrocket in value." Pete Siegel, the president of Gotta Have It Collectibles on East 57th Street, puts the value of Giuliani's four-ring set at a quarter of a million dollars. Siegel says that Giuliani has purchased sports items at his store and even came in once wearing a World Series ring. Having just sold two 1998 rings owned by a coach and front-office executive for $28,000 and $29,000, Siegel says that "Giuliani's rings would be on the same level as players' rings for all those years." He says he knows that Giuliani "definitely has a 1996 ring," though he is unsure if that was the ring the former mayor wore to his store.
Robert Lifson of Robert Edwards Auctions maintains that Giuliani's rings would be "more meaningful and valuable than some of the players'." Lifson's "gut" tells him the value could "go through the roof," estimating that they would sell for "north of $25,000 apiece." People would pay "a much bigger premium to have the ring of America's Mayor than an executive that nobody knows," says Lifson, who insists that "any modern Yankee ring" would sell for five figures even if it were the ring of an unknown. He says the rings are "works of art" that serve also as "a symbol of greatness in sports." Spencer Lader, a certified appraiser for the Yankees who has appeared on their TV network's memorabilia show, tells the Voice he puts the overall value of Giuliani's collection at about $200,000, adding, as did others, that the 1996 ring is "the most coveted."
But when did Giuliani get that 1996 ring? Did he, as the Yankee spokeswoman suggests, receive it only when he made a token payment for it in 2004, after he was no longer mayor?
Not according to the man who actually made the ring, William Sandoval.
Sandoval says he's made rings for 26 years. After attending a stone-setter school, he went to work for L.G. Balfour in Attleboro, Massachusetts, which manufactured sports and school rings at its plant there for 84 years. "I was a special maker, doing diamond settings and customer repair," the Guatemala-born jeweler, now with his own small business in Rhode Island, tells the Voice. "I did the Yankees, the Celtics, and the Baltimore Orioles. Balfour liked my work. I did every championship ring." He particularly recalls the 1996 ring he did for the Yankees. Fifty percent larger than any previous team ring, the famous interlocking NY at the center was made of 23 diamonds, one for each title, encircled by the words World Champion. With the Series trophy and courage and heart on one side, the ring also featured the Yankee Stadium facade, the Yankees top hat, and the word tradition on the other.
It was easy to remember because it was Sandoval's last championship ring. Balfour was acquired by a New York investment firm in 1996 and closed its Attleboro plant to move to Texas in late 1997, laying off hundreds of workers. Its successor firm, American Achievement, still does Yankee work.
Sandoval distinctly remembers that they made a ring for Giuliani because, he says, he crafted it himself. Asked if he was certain if the Giuliani ring was made at the same time as the rest, he says: "It has to be at the same time." Asked again if he "definitely" remembers making a ring for Rudy Giuliani, Sandoval replies: "Yes. Oh, yes." His memory is confirmed by a former Balfour vice president who oversaw sports sales and asked that his name not be used. "I honestly think that Giuliani did get a ring," he says. "The only people who could get rings had to have a letter signed by Steinbrenner on Yankee stationery." Attempts to get the current manufacturer to confirm that rings were made for Giuliani for the other three championships were unsuccessful; the sales representative for the firm referred all questions to the Yankees.
Two other sources who asked that they not be named recall the 1996 ring. A member of Giuliani's police detail remembers attending a barbecue at Gracie Mansion after the ticker tape parade for the Yankees on October 29, 1996. Giuliani was so involved in the Yankee celebration, he personally reviewed the guest lists for the barbecue and an earlier event at City Hall. A photo of him in Yankee pinstripes appeared on the passes for attendees. His two prime Democratic opponents for the 1997 campaign had to settle for seats in the crowd at City Hall, though both were borough presidents, one from the Bronx. "George and he went into the Green Room at one point," the ex-cop recalls, referring to a den where Giuliani frequently entertained friends and close associates. "They were gone for about 15 minutes. He came out and said to us, 'I'm getting a ring. George is giving me a ring.' " Though the cop can't recall seeing the ring after that, he says that another Giuliani aide told him that the mayor got it, as well as other rings.
That aide, who worked in City Hall throughout the Giuliani years, says the mayor got the ring sometime in 1997, around the time that the players got their rings in mid May. "The ring was kept in the second or third drawer of Beth Petrone's cabinet in Rudy's outer office at City Hall," says the aide, referring to Giuliani's executive assistant, who is currently the office manager for Bracewell & Giuliani, the Texas-based law firm that Giuliani has joined. "He actually wore it about once a year. He may have worn it during the playoffs in 1997 as a lucky charm.
"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?
Of course, before Giuliani brokered his Bronx deal, he waged a three-year war to give the Yankees, not the Mets, a stadium on the West Side. He and Steinbrenner began that strong-arm campaign in 1996, just as the mayor was collecting his first ring. That's also when he amended the Yankee lease for the first of five times, quietly granting the Yankees permission to exclude much of cable and luxury-suite revenue from the calculus that determined the rent due the city. In fact, all the team paid the city to rent Yankee Stadium in a World Series year, when all deductions were made, was a measly $100,000. Giuliani was so committed to the West Side site he created a phony charter commission to put manufactured amendments on the ballot in 1998, a legal maneuver that submarined a referendum opposing the stadium. When a steel beam at Yankee Stadium collapsed that year, he turned it into a campaign to virtually condemn the stadium, rejecting the findings of his own building commissioner that the stadium was sound. No fact could get in the way of what Steinbrenner wanted.
The goodies list seems endless. Giuliani spent $71 million on a stadium for the Staten Island Yankees, a low-level minor league team half-owned by Steinbrenner's son. So few people go to games there that the team has yet to hit the minimal attendance threshold that triggers some rental payments to the city. Though the lease required the team to submit turnstile attendance numbers to the city, the stadium operated for years without turnstiles, and the comptroller has repeatedly found that it shortchanges the city. The city also helped the Yankees reconfigure Yankee Stadium in lucrative ways, including adding the very Legends seats in foul territory near the dugouts and home plate that Giuliani wound up occupying. On December 19, 2001, also just days before the end of Giuliani's term, Bob Harding signed a letter approving a million-dollar replacement of the playing field.
Those who know Giuliani well say that when he thinks he's in love, he waives all the rules of acceptable conduct. But the story of him and his team is not just a saga of disturbing infatuation and self-absorption. It is an object lesson in what kind of a president he would be, a window into his willingness to lend himself to a special interest, to blur all lines that ordinarily separate personal and public lives. It is not so much that he identified with the Yankees. It was himself that he was serving.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.