Campaign ’05: The Stadium Game


Will Hudson Yards be a big issue or a big bust?


The vision for Manhattan’s West Side could be a mirage.

Sometimes the smart money isn’t so smart: While most of the folks sipping mint juleps and sporting silly hats bet on Bellamy Road or Afleet Alex to trounce the field at Churchill Downs on Saturday, a 50-1 shot named Giacomo up and won the thing. In the derby for city hall, Michael Bloomberg is looking real good out of the gates. But curves lie ahead.

The fact is, even if they’ve a great message and lots of money, candidates must share control of their campaigns with unforeseen events (e.g., 9-11-01 was supposed to be remembered only as Primary Day) as well as foreseeable events with uncertain outcomes. A prime example of the latter is the International Olympic Committee’s July 6 vote on the 2012 games, and the local West Side Stadium debate.

Depending on what the IOC and local authorities do, there’s a whole matrix of possible political ramifications. And Gotham’s would-be mayors have to figure out how to game-plan for all of them.

Let’s say the state Public Authorities Control Board OKs the stadium and the IOC picks New York. That’s good for Bloomberg—unless public sentiment heads south on the stadium or the games. If the PACB says “nay,” and the IOC votes for Paris or London or Moscow, Bloomberg can blame stadium opponents for scuttling the city’s chance for glory. But what if the PACB blocks the stadium and New York still wins, or if locals approve the stadium but New York’s bid loses at the IOC? Either outcome would look bad for Bloomberg. However, win or lose, will anyone remember the IOC vote four months later?

On the other hand, the July 6 vote might not be the final test for the stadium push. Back in ’99, the great city of Hartford, Connecticut, thought it had the world champion New England Patriots coming to town. Gov. John Rowland (left) and team owner Robert Kraft had a signed memorandum of understanding for the Pats to relocate to the Insurance City as soon as a stadium was built on the banks of the mighty Connecticut River. The Hartford Courant cried “Touchdown!,” the state legislature signed off, and Rowland looked like a master dealmaker—until a few months later, when the team reneged on the deal and announced it would stay in Foxboro. (Unrelated bad judgment by Rowland landed him a new title after he resigned from the governorship last year: Inmate No. 15623-014.)

Not surprisingly, political hands are split on how Bloomberg’s rivals should play the issue. Some think Democrats are focusing too much on a target that could disappear. But a few campaign aides think the IOC vote is a losing proposition for Bloomberg that—regardless of the outcome—demonstrates his allegedly skewed priorities.

Maybe the stadium issue is like the shot put in the decathlon: It’s boring and no one remembers it, but it still counts.