Poor dead George Steinbrenner doesn’t even have a grave to spin in yet, and already he’s being raked over the coals for his past sins.
First came Jim Dwyer’s recounting of The Boss’s legacy of egotism and abuse in today’s Times, which recalls how Steinbrenner shook hands with Ed Koch on a lease extension at the old Yankee Stadium, only to back out when he decided he’d rather keep all his cable boodle for himself.
Then at noon today, a group of South Bronx residents held a press conference at the new Yankee Stadium that Steinbrenner and his kids got $1.2 billion in taxpayer money for, demanding that the Yankees cough up proof that they’ve lived up to the community benefits agreement that team execs announced with great fanfare just before the city council vote on the new stadium plan in 2006.
“The focus is the lack of transparency here,” says Harvey Epstein of the Urban Justice Center, which sent a seven-page itemized letter to Yankees president Randy Levine today on behalf of the For The South Bronx Coalition, a group of local residents and business owners that emerged two summers ago to demand better pinstriped treatment of the surrounding neighborhood. As part of the Yanks CBA, the coalition says, the team agreed to a number of provisions to aid the South Bronx, including hiring Bronx residents for 25 percent of stadium construction jobs, establishing a $1 million job training program, and donating $900,000 to local community groups — none of which, they say, the Yankees have been willing or able to document. (The fund’s website, bronxyankeefund.org, provides info about how to apply for grants, but nothing on how much money has been given out, or to whom. The city Economic Development Corporation was still looking for figures on Bronx job hires at posting time.)
“Not that we don’t trust the Yankees on this one, but it’s a lot of money that they agreed to throw around, and a lot of jobs,” says Epstein. “The coalition has written to the Yankees and they haven’t responded.”
The problem, say community benefits experts, goes back to the agreement itself, which unlike more typical CBAs wasn’t negotiated with the community groups themselves (it was signed only by Levine, then-Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, and three Bronx councilmembers) — and which provides no reporting requirements for the Yankees to prove that they’ve done what they promised.
“It’s not a CBA — there’s no community,” says Bettina Damiani of the subsidy-watch group Good Jobs New York, which has analyzed community benefits packages nationwide. “If you look at it, it’s called a ‘mitigation agreement.'” Damiani’s group has repeatedly testified before the city council calling for the Yankees or the city to release more data, with no results to date. In fact, she notes, the Yankees have even skirted requirements to report the percentage of city residents that they hired, by listing most of their 3,621 employees as contract workers.
Complaints about stiffing the South Bronx are nothing new for the Steinbrenner clan, of course: It was only after a Yankees community relations exec was caught referring to Bronx kids as “monkeys” that the team even started promising to fund local groups, and complaints about broken promises have surfaced repeatedly since then. For that matter, as Tom Robbins reported here yesterday, one of Steinbrenner’s first acts as Yankees owner was to swipe money that was supposed to go for neighborhood improvements and use it to buy a tarpaulin for the Yankees infield.
It all makes even more puzzling current Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr’s remark that in Steinbrenner’s passing “both the Bronx and New York City have lost a giant today — in baseball and in charity.” Unless Diaz meant that, like most giants, The Boss didn’t want anybody going near the goose that laid his golden eggs.