Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Gov. Cuomo: Be Careful What You Wish For
On June 21, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to give effective control of NYRA to the Cuomo administration. Three months later, the Governor had still not signed the bill; nor had he provided any information publicly that indicated what would be done, and who would be doing it.
The only exception to the news blackout appeared to be occasional tidbits from unidentified sources dispensed by the New York Post’s Frederick U. Dicker who happens to be writing an authorized biography of the governor.
In the wee hours of September 24, Dicker apparently let multiple cats out of the bag in his ‘Governor’s ‘Bettor’ Way’ plan to kill NYRA and privatize horse racing, some of which was confirmed a few hours later by Cuomo aide, Howard Glaser, on Dicker’s radio show which can be heard here.
According to the DRF’s Matt Hegarty, “Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said on Monday morning that ‘the governor would have no comment on his plans for NYRA’s board or the information in Dicker’s column’.”
How in the name of greater transparency did we go from press conferences to disseminating information in drips and drabs through exclusive leaks to a favored member of the press who just happens to be writing an authorized biography?
Now I’m being scheduled to watch a replay of the Pataki era racing franchise renewal process and a revival of the deep-seated fears of Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) and Frank Stronach that were clearly in evidence among Saratoga supporters during the hearings. I’ve read this book before … the title was “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
Wrote Dicker: ”State officials believe operators of such prestigious tracks as Churchill Downs, …, as well as the managers of major entertainment destinations, will pay huge fees to run the three New York tracks.
“… It will take several months to draw up the specifics and bids will likely be solicited by the middle of next year.
“…Why not let Churchill Downs compete with Santa Anita, …, with Madison Square Garden for the best operation of the tracks?’’ asked the source.
“Aides to Cuomo had worked for months on a sweeping NYRA reorganization plan in preparation of the governor’s signing of new legislation giving the state direct control of the 55-year-old racing association’s operations.
“But in mid-summer, as the Saratoga meet got under way, the Cuomo aides decided that NYRA’s organizational structure and management team, …, wasn’t up to the job and that a new approach — proven outside management — was needed.
‘The NYRA model won’t work. It’s flawed, and it’s unable to do the job. Privatizing makes the most sense,’’ said the source.’
Hegarty reported, ”Howard Glaser … said … ‘the state is considering issuing a request for proposals to replace NYRA, the not-for-profit company that by law holds the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga until 2033.
“The option will be considered once NYRA’s board is reconstituted with a majority of state appointees and the new board has time to assess the association’s operations ... ‘We’ll see when the new board is in place what the ultimate review will entail,’ ” Glaser said.
Then things got a little more interesting. Continued Glaser: “…The “legal franchise” continues to reside with NYRA…that doesn’t change. That was part of a legal agreement. But that’s a different question as to who the operator is.”’
Surely Team Cuomo remembers CDI’s purchase of Hollywood Park and its subsequent failure to generate sufficient profits without the ability to install slot machines. As a result, CDI sold the track to the same developer who eventually razed Bay Meadows in Northern California and now plans the same fate for its Southern California property.
Did the Cuomo aides forget the Magna bankruptcy that followed Frank Stronach’s acquisition of racetracks in Florida, Maryland, California and elsewhere? Did they ignore not one, but two unsuccessful installations of synthetic surfaces at Santa Anita followed by a re-installation of a dirt surface at multi-million dollar expense each time?
Then there’s this: Would the political aspirations of the man who wouldn’t allow NYRA to outsource telephone call center jobs to CDI withstand the hypocrisy of outsourcing racetrack management jobs to Kentucky or elsewhere?
And how would the failure of “New” NYRA to improve the situation over the next three years impact the Governor’s political future?
In her “Saratogian” column, Barbara Lombardo zeroed in on two Glaser understatements, “One thing is clear: The functioning of NYRA is substandard.” and “I think it’s indisputable that NYRA has had a series of flaws in its management.”
Lombardo also pointed out that “Glaser did suggest that the three tracks could actually have different management, noting that Aqueduct “has a very different character” than it did before the introduction of slots and has a “very different character than Saratoga.”’
One could argue that it wasn’t the NYRA model that was dysfunctional, but rather its practitioners. Indeed it was a rudderless ship that sailed successfully into Saratoga’s September sunset with diminished and discouraged decision-making capacity. Some contend the current culture of leadership commenced well before the wayward Hayward came onboard.
I don’t see “New” NYRA losing its license to run Saratoga and it’s hard to imagine any entity not based in New York ever getting control of Belmont. I think it’s more likely that racing operations at Aqueduct would shut down than it is that some other entity would take it over.
When did Team Cuomo decide that evolution was insufficient and that revolution was necessary? When did the Blues Brothers suffer the illusion they were the Founding Fathers? Once they finally emerge from their deafening silence we can determine whether they were enrolled in witness or witless protection.
Oversight without insight is lunacy.