Dome and Dumber
Talk about an anticlimax. After all the months of speculation as to where on earth Rudy Giuliani would find $1.6 billion to build new stadiums for the Mets and Yankees—open a Paul O’Neill souvenir reliquary? unearth a secret straw-into-gold spinning machine in the Tweed Courthouse?—our Hominid of the Year finally burst forth from his hibernation chamber last week to reveal: He has no clue, either.
The plans, and we use that word loosely, that were leaked to the city dailies (on Christmas Day, cleverly assuring that no stadium critics would be available for comment) promised “no new taxes” while committing the city to $50 million a year in stadium bond payments, without ever saying where this cash would come from. Such petty details the outgoing mayor left to Mike Bloomberg, who has already shown an inclination to throw up his hands at the whole mess and focus on something simple, like building the Second Avenue subway.
And on top of the missing money, Giuliani’s dream of twin RudyDomes towering over the city skyline could face an even more problematic obstacle. Under last week’s plan, the total cost of tax-exempt bonds for the two stadiums would run a whopping $100 million a year. The additional $50 million a year would be paid off by the Mets and Yankees as “payment in lieu of taxes,” a mechanism by which private entities reimburse the government for lost property taxes when land ownership is transferred to the public.
Only one problem: This is, shall we say, of dubious legality. As we reported last July, federal tax law allows tax-exempt bonds to be used for “private activities,” such as stadiums, only on one condition: if less than 10 percent of the cost is paid back by revenues from the project itself. Generally applicable taxes, such as sales and property taxes, are not counted toward this 10 percent limit—but as Congressional Budget Office bond expert Dennis Zimmerman notes, “A payment in lieu of taxes is not a generally applicable tax.”
While giving props to the ingenuity of bond counsel—especially given the commissions available to them on a $1.6 billion bond issue—Zimmerman observes, “On its face, you’re prohibited either directly or indirectly from using stadium-related revenues. So, for example, you could not have the public sector paying this out of general revenue, then having stadium revenues replace that general revenue. In the same way, I think it also would apply to this scheme.”
Rudy’s long-awaited stadium legacy, then, comes down to a couple of computer-generated ballpark models, a financing plan with no dedicated revenue, and an “agreement in principle” that is likely to find a home in the new mayor’s circular file. Not much to bask in during those long winter nights with Judith, but look on the bright side: With a résumé like this, at least Giuliani can always get a job as Bud Selig‘s accountant.
The Greatest? Not This Movie.
Chris Rock once said at the Apollo that even though he was rich and famous, the white fans in attendance still wouldn’t change places with him because he was black. Well, you get the impression that a lot of white filmmakers and writers today would jump at the chance to switch places with Muhammad Ali—that is, the Ali of yesteryear, when he was a trim, handsome fighter talking shit to Joe Frazier and knocking out Sonny Liston. But the Ali of today, the elder statesman with Parkinson’s? Forget it.
In his new film, Ali, director Michael Mann sweeps the current Ali under the rug, ignoring him like an old relative in a nursing home, and instead memorializes the young Ali on-screen as if the champ had already died. The result is little more than a collection of every famous line ever uttered by Ali from 1964 to 1974. All the famous scenes are there: the weigh-in with Liston, the event in Zaire with George Foreman, Ali’s jousting with the the draft board. The performances are similarly predictable. Jon Voight‘s version of Howard Cosell talks so slow he sounds like he’s waiting for someone to feed him his next line, and Will Smith‘s Ali is so cartoonish you almost expect him to scream, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” as soon as he he finishes speaking a line.
Maybe the best performances in the film, with the exception of those by Jamie Foxx and Jeffrey Wright, are given by real-life fighters James “Lights Out” Toney and Michael Bentt as Frazier and Liston. Unlike Mann, they didn’t seem to pull their punches.
•If nothing else, having Mo Vaughn on the Mets should make things interesting for the team’s equipment manager, Charlie Samuels, who decides which uniform the Amazins will wear each game. Imagine his daily thought process with Vaughn now on board: “Well, pinstripes impart a more vertical look. But black is a slimming color. Hmmm . . . ” •Ex-coach George O’Leary‘s performance on ESPN only confirmed the strong suspicion that he was a moron. He kept yapping about how his dream job of coaching Notre Dame was “taken away” from him. Hey, George, you did it to yourself by lying about playing football.
Contributors: Neil Demause, Mitch Abramson, Paul Lukas Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy