Mayoral hopeful was king of the Queens option
For months now, statements from the Weiner campaign dealing with the West Side stadium have ended with the line, “Fourteen months ago, in April of 2004, Rep. Weiner was the first to suggest building in Willets Point, Queens,” or something similar. It was like the “amen” to the campaign’s daily prayer message.
The wiry congressman included the Queens plan in his campaign book of “solutions” and wrote to the IOC pledging to deliver a Queens stadium if the NYC bid wins and he becomes mayor. At a celebratory press conference by the West Siders who said “not in my backyard” to the Jets proposal, Weiner said the attitude in Queens was, “Please, put it in our backyard.” Other mayoral hopefuls also supported the Queens site—and Ferrer has been on record for years in opposition to the West Side site—but Weiner made a point of claiming ownership of the issue.
That seemed like a moot point until this weekend, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Mets came together on a deal to build a new stadium next to Shea—a facility that could be converted to Olympics use if New York’s bid wins in Singapore on July 6.
Unlike the Jets deal on the West Side, the Mets will pay for their own stadium. The city and state will pay for infrastructure improvements around the site ($160), and will fork over cash (about $108 million) to convert the facility for Olympic use if necessary. Compare that to the West Side deal, which was going to cost $600 million from state and city coffers, plus whatever value the MTA forfeited on the rail yards by going with the Jets rather than a more lucrative bidder. What’s more, the Queens plan makes explicit provision for the international broadcast center that the IOC said was lacking from the city’s original bid, and solves the existing problem of how to meet the Mets stadium needs.
Best of all for Weiner, he was right. For a campaign hyping his ability to solve problems with clever policies, that’s probably a good thing.
“There’s a very strong instinct in me to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” Weiner said Monday as he received a union endorsement on the steps of City Hall. “But now is the time to pull around a consensus that formed some time ago.”
Asked if the mayor’s failures on the West Side would be a campaign issue, Weiner said, “I’m glad he arrived at this place when he did. The process that he used was flawed,” and that could be an issue, he implied.
Of course, there were a lot of reasons to be against the West Side stadium, and only one of them was that it wasn’t in Queens. For Ferrer, the public money involved was a major sticking point. And while the Queens option sounds like a bargain by comparison, it will still require millions in taxpayer contributions.
“I still have enormous difficulty with publicly funded private stadiums,” Ferrer said Monday in one of a string of press conferences on City Hall steps that touched on the stadium deal. (Another one was held by Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler, arguing that the city should revoke Cablevision’s tax break because the Rangers didn’t play home games there last season due to the NHL lockout. “It’s not sour grapes,” Fidler, who supported the West Side plan, said. “This has nothing to do with the stadium.”)
Weiner, happy to have the stadium headed where he always said it should go, did not share Ferrer’s objection. “I don’t have an instinctive opposition to spending public money to get businesses to come here,” he said, as long as the city drives a “harder bargain” that Bloomberg was offering the Jets.