Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yankee Stadium and the Special Interests

We have long argued that it was a fundamental error to say that Mike Bloomberg, owing to his great fortune, was therefore above the special interests that so often prove nettlesome to the well functioning of politics for the general good. In our view, Bloomberg, rather than being above these sometimes tawdry interests, actually embodies them. Nothing could more clearly underscore this point of view than Jim Dwyer's column on the controversy over the building of a new Yankee Stadium.

As Dwyer demonstrates: "Suppose you are Mr. Bloomberg, your hopes of becoming president or vice president all but vanished. You have to step down as mayor in 2009 because a law that you unequivocally supported says you only get two terms. How handy, then, to have powerful allies, like the developer, Jerry I. Speyer and the lobbyist, Howard Rubenstein, to convince other influential people that term limits will deprive the city of an essential leader during an era of financial crisis. Mr. Speyer is building Yankee Stadium. Mr. Rubenstein represents the Yankees. Their stated case for Mr. Bloomberg never rested on the mayor’s support for the stadium, but on his qualities as a manager and their view that he would be the most capable steward of the city during hard economic times."

Of course, these are the kinds of quid pro quos that don't find their way into poorly reasoned legal decisions about term limits-apparently even judges are beguiled and beffuddled by all of the mayor's money. And the sweetheart nature of this deal is being whitewashed by the folks at EDC: "The Yankees are paying for the entire construction of the new stadium — the plasma television screens and all,” David Lombino, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, wrote in an e-mail message that took exception to a column I wrote last week about the deals. “The more expensive stadium they build, the more debt they take on and the more money they must pay back.” The Yankees are indeed paying off the tax-exempt bonds that will finance the bulk of the stadium construction, but they are doing so instead of paying property taxes."

And then there are all of the ancillary costs-those that the tax payers will be on the hook for: "Moreover, the claims that the Yankees are paying for the entire construction — trumpeted throughout the process — rests on an illusion achieved through precision language.
There is far more to building a stadium than simply its construction. To replace the 22 acres of parkland the city turned over to the Yankees, to build sewers and roads that will support the stadium, the city will spend $325 million — money that will be borrowed by the taxpayers, leaving that much less for other public projects."

And Dwyer put the lead pencil to the job creation chimera: "The city is proud of the deal, officials say, because it will create “1,000 permanent new jobs.” If you scratch into the official filings, it turns out that there are actually only 22 new full-time jobs expected. The rest are seasonal positions — valuable, certainly, but only if they really exist. And what if the team doesn’t create 1,000 new jobs? Does the city have any mechanism to hold the team accountable, to get back some of its investment? Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr. Lombino, the spokesman for development corporation, said there is none. It seems only prudent — honest, even — to move the promise of 1,000 new jobs onto the balance sheet of the invisible."

So what we have is another example of the "independent" mayor carrying water for the real estate and big business folks-arguing all along that this is really in the overall public interest. And while Bloomberg continues to do this-and let's not forget his shilling for the Wall Sreeters-the local economy, made up of thousands of small and neighborhood firms, is left to flounder in this economic climate; buried by, not only the exigent times, but by a mayor who has imposed tax and regulatory burdens that have stifled growth and caused further hardship that could have been mitigated by more sensible-and sensitive-economic development policies.