It was not democracy’s finest moment. Yesterday morning, an overflow crowd of
Bronx neighborhood activists, construction workers, and increasingly
peeved news reporters cooled their heels at City Hall for two hours,
awaiting the promised city council meetings on the Yankees’ $1.2 billion
stadium plan. (Public share: About $400 million and change.) The reason for the delay: Members of the
council’s Democratic caucus were behind closed doors downstairs, hammering
out a pre-agreement on how the vote would go.
When things got underway, it was immediately clear that speaker Chris
Quinn and majority leader Joel Rivera had gotten all their ducks in a row.
One by one, councilmembers insisted straight-faced that they’d given
“extensive deliberation” to the matter of handing over city cash and
parkland to the world’s most lucrative sports franchise, and what a
difficult decision it was, before voting in lockstep to approve the plan.
Gale Brewer of Manhattan gave an eloquent speech detailing the “many
questions” that remain about the plan before voting yes; Tony Avella of
Queens, who’d penned a strongly worded letter to the mayor last Friday
outlining the plan’s flaws, ranging from lack of suitable replacement
parkland to the need for a commuter rail station to the project’s convoluted bond financing scheme, likewise voted for the plan, calling it “much
better than the original proposal.” Asked what had changed since Friday,
Avella specifically cited the new Metro-North station that Mayor Bloomberg
and Governor Pataki threw their support (but no funds) behind yesterday,
demurring, “Is it perfect? No. But you have to balance these things out.”
In the end, the only no votes came from vocal stadium opponents Helen
Diane Foster, whose district includes the apartment dwellers along Jerome
Avenue whose windows would look out directly on the new stadium (and who
delivered an emotional speech that all but begged forgiveness for voting
her conscience and not the will of the Bronx leadership), and Charles
Barron, who hopes to be beyond the reach of council retribution by next
year anyway. (At a morning anti-stadium press conference, he notably
sported a large “Barron for Congress in 2006” pin.) Two other
councilmembers, Letitia James and Rosie Mendez, abstained; Melissa Mark
Viverito, whose district overlaps Manhattan and the Bronx, voted for the
stadium but against the associated parking garages.
In the tabloids’ tired baseball analogies, the Yankees didn’t win Game 7
today—even with its land-use plan approved, the project still has
several hurdles to clear before the city can take a wrecking ball to the
House That Ruth Built. But after yesterday’s hearings, it seems
incomprehensible that the council would reverse course and vote down the
stadium bonds when they consider them later this month. That leaves the
opposition hoping for a Ninth-inning National Park Service ruling—or a
court verdict—that the replacement parkland doesn’t meet the requirement
of the federal Land and Water Conservation Act.
The denouement to the stadium’s ten-month land-use process bore all the
hallmarks of how it was first
launched last June: Vote first, and ask questions later. Even the
much-derided Washington, D.C. stadium controversy, which ended up sticking
taxpayers there with a $611 million bill, was preceded by months of public
testimony, and raucous debate on the council floor about the pros and cons
of stadium-building as economic development. By contrast, New York City’s
oversight was one-and-done: a single
subcommittee hearing last week preceding yesterday’s land-use vote, with a
finance committee hearing on the stadium bonds to be held next Monday.
In thanking her committee for the one hour of work that it put in to
discussing the Yankees plan, land use chair Melinda Katz declared, “The
one thing this project has shown is that folks are listened to.” Your
elected officials just have a funny way of showing it.