The New York Racing Association has threatened to shut down if the franchise issue remains unsettled on Dec. 31, when the one currently in place expires and no positive sign has come from Albany that an agreement between the governor and the obstructionists in the State Senate is imminent.
The state has threatened a takeover but there is no bureaucrat with the expertise to operate a racetrack, no mechanism for converting what little manpower remains at NYRA into instant civil servants. Or, will members of the legislature be sent to Queens and pressed into emergency service to man betting windows, work the starting gate, park cars, drive tractors and, since all contracts with vendors would be suspended, operate restaurants, bars and concession stands, wash dishes, pick up cigarette butts in the parking lot, haul away manure?
The legislature’s failure to extend the franchise triggers resumption of the dispute over ownership of the real estate upon which Aqueduct, Belmont, a longstanding bone of contention disposed of in the agreement between NYRA and the governor but sabotaged by the Republican leadership in the senate. That agreement, in its original form, may be in need of refinement, but it is the only positive step this process has seen in almost three years of rhetorical acrobatics and political subterfuge.
In the cold light of reality, NYRA is the last player standing in a war of attrition to win the renewed racing franchise and the video lottery terminals that accompany the award. Virtually every financial supporter of Empire Racing and Excelsior, the most serious of the opposing groups, has withdrawn. Moving forward to fine tune the memorandum of understanding between the governor and NYRA would, at this point, appear to be the proverbial no brainer, but no brainer in the New York legislature is probably an oxymoron.
There are issues facing the people of New York far more important than the racing franchise – the crumbling upstate economy, guns, taxes, immigration, crime, global dumbing, pressing one to speak English – but political celebrity and acrimonious posturing has overwhelmed the concept of public service in New York.
It would be possible to have less contempt for the Republican opponents to sanity in the state senate were they successful in offering constructive suggestion for the future of racing here, but the intransigent opposition has been accompanied by nothing of substance and much of the absurd – typical political behavior. (In the interest of disclosure, I am a registered Republican who is rethinking the affiliation.)
Before horsemen, breeders, owners, horseplayers and tens of thousands of others dependent upon the sensible conduct of racing in New York for either livelihood or amusement march on Albany carrying torches, might it be possible to step away from typical political behavior long enough to actually accomplish something that departs from the self-serving agenda of ego-driven elected officials? If the phenomenon of political celebrity has not completely overwhelmed the concept of public service, might it be possible to set aside typical political behavior long enough to serve the people’s interest? This may be the greatest sacrifice of deeply held priority since the “Hollywood Kids against drugs” campaign, which dates back to the Reagan administration, but there are times when personal priority must be subjugated in the interest of the greater good.
This is one of those.