New York

Westside Wonderland


Fran Reiter, the former deputy mayor installed by Rudy Giuliani at the helm of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, may have inadvertently revealed the city’s secret plan for a Westside stadium during an unreported mid-September appearance at a millennium conference hosted by the 21 Club. She became the first Giuliani aide to link the stadium to the state plan for an expanded Jacob Javits center.

Conceding in response to a question that “nothing has been going on over the last few months” involving the proposed northward expansion to 42nd Street, Reiter said she was “hopeful” that the project would move forward “when we get beyond election day and out of the sort of political cycle that we’ve been in.” She offered no explanation as to why politics has delayed the convention-center expansion—which is even supported by Westside community boards and environmental groups—other than its possible connection to the stadium.

Reiter noted that “there are a lot of issues that the state needs to deal with the city on” in connection with the expansion, including “street closings” and other “land-use issues.” She then introduced the subject of Yankee Stadium, saying that the city and state had “to come to terms” on “whether or not there are any conflicts” with “having both things in generally the same area.” Should “the city decide to pursue” a stadium there, she said, it and the state would have to make sure that the combination didn’t have an “environmental impact” that might stall both.

While the mayor’s official position is that no stadium talks can begin until the World Series ends, Reiter much more correctly pegs the deadline to election day, suggesting that Pataki might be drawn into a postelection stadium cabal as part of a convention center trade-off. The prime-time players in any possible push for the stadium would include Rupert Murdoch, who just bought the rights to televise 50 Yankee games a year; Cablevision’s Charles Dolan, who’s poised to pay giant bucks for the team and already owns Madison Square Garden, two blocks away from the site; Steinbrenner, who’s determined to convert a championship banner into a stadium subsidy chit; and Giuliani.

The Times is in such denial on the stadium—or so determined to puff Pataki—that it actually did an editorial transforming the governor’s meaningless statement that “the Yankees belong in the Bronx, period” into a pledge not to back the move. If the governor is serious about opposing a Westside stadium, all he has to say is that he won’t sell the state-owned site for that purpose. The only certain way this cabal can be stopped is Peter Vallone’s referendum, which an aide to the governor, Larry Mandelker, joined Giuliani lawyers in resisting at a Board of Elections brouhaha last week. So far, despite a favorable court ruling, the GOP has blocked it from appearing on absentee ballots.

Going Broke With Betsy

The only continuing importance of Betsy McCaughey Ross’s “run” for governor is that the future of the 54-year-old Liberal Party is riding on her soap opera campaign. If she doesn’t get 50,000 votes, a pivotal party in the politics of New York that long ago lost its mission will now lose its ballot line.

Mario Cuomo managed just 92,000 in 1994, the lowest ever. The only gubernatorial candidate other than Ross nominated by the Libs after losing the Democratic nod was Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., whose name alone was enough to attract a half-million votes in 1966. Tom Golisano’s $20 million media buy may consume the votes of most of those with third-party proclivities, and George Pataki’s resistance to debate may deny her a stage. No one, including party boss Ray Harding, has any way of knowing if Ross can do it.

That makes the week-late campaign financial statement filed by the candidate whose onetime rationale was money—namely her husband Wilbur’s—all the more interesting. The Ross-committee-minus-Wilbur now has $3834 in the bank, with $72,558 in outstanding liabilities. In addition, the committee amended its September filing, converting $63,082 initially listed as contributions from Betsy into a loan. The party itself, did not file, missing the October 2 deadline.

With the August disappearance of millionaire investment banker Wilbur from both her campaign and their marriage, Ross is counting on Harding, and Harding’s law partner Rick Fischbein, to get her invisible and broke campaign off the ground and on the air. While she is barely campaigning, Ross may now be expecting her new benefactors to repay her “loan” as a way of prodding her performance. It’s no secret that whatever votes she gets will come from Democratic challenger Peter Vallone, an apparently not unwelcome prospect from the Republican-leaning Fischbein firm.

The firm recently contributed $11,000 to Bruce Blakeman, the Republican opposing Carl McCall, the state’s only incumbent Democrat, who also happens to be running on the Liberal line. Earlier this year, it gave $10,250 to George Pataki. Since 1995, it’s donated $19,133 to the Republican state committee and affiliates, even giving $22,000 to Dennis Vacco, and $500 to the state Conservative Party. On Sunday, the firm’s best-known partner, Herman Badillo, the former congressman and borough president, endorsed Al D’Amato, who’s also been the recipient of $2000 in recent contributions from a Fischbein partner.

Ironically, the firm has not given a dime to the state Democratic committee or McCall. Harding donated $1000 to Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic– Liberal candidate for attorney general. Chuck Schumer has collected $7000 from the firm, including $2000 from Fischbein’s wife.

Harding’s firm is so intertwined with the Libs that it has at times kept the party alive financially, giving six-figures since 1994, especially in down periods when little else was coming in. While the firm and party’s Republican connections at a city level are well-known, their growing ties to the state GOP have gone largely unnoticed. The firm has entered the state bond business, representing underwriters and issuers, a highly political arena in the Pataki era. It is even representing Bear Stearns, the Pataki administration’s favorite underwriter and employer of one of D’Amato’s sons.

Another firm customer—developer David Walentas, one of Rick Fischbein’s closest and oldest clients—is seeking Pataki approval for a major, park-connected project on the Brooklyn waterfront, Fulton Landing. Walentas and his wife maxed out on the most recent Pataki filing, donating $28,000 apiece.

With an administration that rewards its friends and punishes its enemies more openly than a crime family, the firm’s GOP coziness suggests that state officials are not exactly displeased with Harding’s Ross ride. Fear of her drained Vallone of all his campaign cash in the primary. Her presence on the line is also an insurance policy for Pataki—if the November race gets tight, a commercial spotlight on her could take points away from a surging Vallone.

The soap opera continues as well. Still married to Betsy but living apart, Wilbur is now facing a civil suit from his first wife, who claims he hid stock assets from her in their 1995 divorce. As the Voice reported last month, the judge on the case is Walter Tolub, the only Liberal on the bench in Manhattan, a close friend and neighbor of Harding’s, whose wife has contributed almost $17,000 to the party. Tolub’s 10-year term is up next year and his reelection hinges on the support of the Liberal Party and the Lexington Club, a powerful Democratic club that covers the Eastside judicial district that he represents.

While Harding has been publicly assailing Wilbur, Larry Rosenstock, the elected Democratic district leader from the Lexington Club, has been representing Ross in the case before Tolub. Rosenstock’s partner handled the Ross divorce, passing the stock case on to him, even before it was assigned to Tolub.

Manhattan Democratic leader Denny Farrell has put out the word that he wants to dump Tolub, making Rosenstock’s position on the usually routine renomination of an incumbent particularly crucial. Reached on the phone about this array of conflicts, Tolub hung up. Rosenstock said if he saw it as a conflict, he “wouldn’t be involved” when the nomination process starts next year.

Real liberals, of course, have the option of voting for Vallone on the Working Families line. It’s a new, labor-backed party that is organizing statewide to replace the Libs—whose identification with the most right-wing mayor in the city’s modern history has erased the ideological affinity many once felt for it.

Research: David Kihara, David Shaftel, and Nicole White

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