The Losers’ Circle


On the same day the Yanks lost a big one on the field, the Yanks’ owner and the mayor lost a bigger one in court. One loss was because of a Blockhead, and the other was because of a bunch of blockheads. Blockhead One was playing baseball; the bunch o’ blockheads were playing politics.

At best, baseball has always been a metaphor for real life, and an annoying one at that; now it has actually turned into the real thing. Help! I’m trapped inside a bad metaphor and I can’t get out.

It all began months ago when the mayor attempted to OK his buddy George Steinbrenner’s wishes to move out of the Bronx and build a new stadium in Manhattan with taxpayer dough. However, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office, it would cost 1 billion in tax dollars to build the thing. In return, analysts estimate, new stadiums for both the Mets and the Yanks could be expected to bring an additional $5 million each year to the city in tax revenues. Hey—that’s not so bad. It would only take about 200 years to make up the shortfall.

The mayor sees no problem in this. It’s the Yankees, after all. Peter Vallone sees a real problem with it. He figures that for a lot less money the Yankees can stay where they are—inarguably the most beautiful stadium in the country—and spiff up the surroundings. The mayor’s men say they can never really fix it up because it’s in a dangerous area. Maybe it’s dangerous when the Yanks aren’t in town, but when they are, the most horrifying thing is those fat guys with “YANKS RULE” written across their naked bellies. And, of course, during playoffs, there’s the ever present danger of being run over by a limo.

Anyway, hoping to stop the stadium, the City Council then created a referendum to let the voters decide how they wanted their money spent. That’s when the game turned into a war. Vallone claims that to retaliate, Giuliani vetoed and/or cut the council’s best proposals and programs—such as delivery of hot meals to 500 homebound elders, library and school programs, affordable senior housing, breast cancer awareness, increased day-care slots, jobs for youth, and foster-care improvement. Talk about strict!

While these cuts only amounted to one percent of the entire city budget, they were a real blow to those affected—and to the council.

To add another nail to the coffin, the mayor created a city charter referendum which would—by law—supersede and knock out the Yankee referendum. Whew!

In the meantime the poor—whose life-sustaining programs were being used as leverage—were forgotten in the heat of the game. And that’s where the whole mess lay until last week, when the council won one the same day the Yanks lost game two. Justice Douglas McKeon ruled that the City Council had a right to ask the voters whether they wanted to pay for a new stadium in Manhattan. He also threw out the mayor’s charter revision referendum, calling it a “virtual charade.”

Now we have to suffer through an appeal. The smart money is betting the ruling gets overturned. Did McKeon rule with his heart and not his head? Maybe. The city charter allows revision referendums, and it includes the mayor’s right to appoint a charter revision review commission. They in turn can put revisions on the ballot.

This could go on longer than the O.J. trial—or at least until term limits kill off some of the players. Meanwhile, in the greater scheme of things, who really cares that George Steinbrenner wants to watch baseball in Manhattan? I can name at least 500 homebound elderly folk who are more concerned about where their next hot meal is coming from than whether George Steinbrenner parks his behind in Manhattan or the Bronx. The professional politicians should be, too.