Blogger Tom Noonan has emerged as the leader of opposition to, and foremost critic of, the state's takeover of NYRA. His first piece on the subject, "Something Fishy About NYRA Controversy" from May 18th, provides a valuable and objective history of the events resulting in the takeover of NYRA by New York State government.
His ongoing series on the topic continued on May 30th with "'This is integrity for New York racing,” in which he wrote,
"If threats and intimidation were not enough, the Governor and his allies found a media all too eager in the effort to portray a NYRA that is "institutionally rotten" or one that has "veered from scandal to criminal scandal." While there are those naive souls who think the Fourth Estate is an essential check on the abuses of government, some in New York's print media have too often been a lazy and complicit abettor."
He later added, "We have a media that has gone along all too willingly, either because they do not want to ask rather obvious questions, or because NYRA has become a convenient punching bag."
Yet in his first article he appeared to single out a possible exception to the media cheerleaders he condemned: "I had initially decided to write a post on the NYRA issue when I read the report in Friday's Saratogian by Paul Post (who is a conscientious journalist and doing an excellent job reporting this ) that the Governor was considering adding more state-appointed members to NYRA's Board. My only thought was "are you kidding me?" As someone who spent an entire career working for government, I am not one of those who reflexively reject government involvement. But ..."
I wonder if Mr. Noonan would be as complimentary of Mr. Post’s work of July 3rd, "Source: Familiar names floated as possible NYRA Reorganization Board members." In it, he included 43 names that MIGHT BE under consideration for voting positions according to a source he did NOT identify. They are "potential board candidates, a source close to the process said.
"These are names I came up with after discussions with racing, gaming and political officials," the source said."
Included are current and former 1) judges, 2) elected officials, 3) political appointees, 4) elected politicians, 5) other attorneys, 6) harness racing executives, 7) OTB executives, 8) horse owners (thoroughbreds?). 9) a trainer, 10) a jockey/jockey agent, 11) a track announcer, 12) a former executive for a losing racing franchise bidder, and 13) two current appointees to racing oversight positions.
Interestingly, 40 of those same names were previously included in a similar article, "NYRA board suggestions". Author David Lombardo actually identified the source of those "suggestions" in his June 23rd piece:
"Gary Greenberg, a minority owner of Vernon Downs [harness track] who is familiar with statewide gambling issues and predicted the details of the state takeover, came up with an extensive list of names he thought would be appropriate, ...
... His list also includes representatives from most racing, breeding and gambling organizations in the state.'I think the appointments will be non-political," Greenberg added. "The more likely names ... have a connection to racing.'"
After perusing all the names presented in both pieces along with their current/former positions (but not how they might contribute going forward), the cynical among us might speculate that Mr. Greenberg was the source for both articles with an agenda to pack the board with other than thoroughbred racing interests at best, and historical NYRA adversaries at worst.
If so, it would appear that Messrs. Lombardo and Post made media mountains out of this molehill; manufacturing misdirection, if not misinformation, in the process.
Mr. Noonan's challenges to Governor Cuomo’s actions and motivation continued in his subsequent pieces, “Something fishy about NYRA controversy - Part 2” from June 8th, and "Transparency’ for New York racing?” on June 18th, are also worth evaluating even by the most ardent supporters of the Governor’s now legislature-approved plans.
The former explores the Governor’s involvement in the expansion of gaming and examines his relationships with gaming operators.
In the latter he wrote, “The pretentiously titled bill, "New York State Franchise Accountability and Transparency Act of 2012," provides for neither. …
… So what does it do to advance the laudable goal of accountability? Uhh, not so much unless you believe that state government's controlling racing, by definition, ensures accountability. This would be the state government that so botched the 2010 Aqueduct VLT procurement that the Inspector General referred his report to various law enforcement agencies. Or, the state government that could not manage gambling facilities so as to make money in the City of New York. Or, the state government that had four of its agencies responsible for overseeing NYRA, yet none of them uncovered the alleged excess takeout percentage for the 15 months it was in place. Or, the state government that had 11 members on the NYRA Board who also missed the takeout issue.”
Absent from Mr. Noonan’s diatribes is any reference to the proceedings in Michigan which may have inspired Governor Cuomo’s impatience with intransigent racing insiders. “Detroit narrowly avoids state takeover” describes the effects of“… a controversial year-old Michigan law that gives the state more power to intervene in financially troubled cities and school systems. Emergency managers have the power to toss out union contracts and strip locally elected leaders of authority. …”
So the question remains, “How can we motivate members of the press to serve as advocates for meaningful reform; to promote true transparency that will ensure accountability?”
Another ineffective, if not insincere, media attempt to influence the Governor was "AN OPEN LETTER TO GOV. ANDREW CUOMO," posted on June 11th in which Ray Paulick questioned the motives of former and current Governors Cuomo:
“Governor, quite frankly, you seem angry about this horse racing business, and I don’t fully understand why. It’s not just about the wealthy, conservative Republicans who have controlled the New York Racing Association for so many years, the people you and your father before you have battled with. You’ve won the battle, accomplishing what your father Mario, who also served as New York governor, couldn’t do: a state takeover of horse racing from the NYRA board of trustees.”
He went on to say, "A government-run horse racing industry scares me. All I have to do is think of how poorly the state's off-track betting system - controlled by politicians and their cronies - has been operated, competing against instead of cooperating with the racing industry. NYRA has been far from perfect, but it has survived that corrupt OTB system and a sometimes hostile state government. It has even survived bankruptcy and financially challenging times that have prevented sorely needed capital improvements to its racing facilities."
He concluded with, "I hope you'll stop focusing on the racing elite, those people who have controlled the game in New York for so long. Our industry is as diverse as the sidewalks of New York. Visit the backstretch of a racetrack sometime, the breeding farms, the horse sales. All of us - not just New Yorkers, but people throughout America who make our living in this game - are depending on you to do the right thing."
Mr. Paulick seemingly struck a responsive chord with his audience as those commenting on his piece appeared overwhelmingly supportive, regardless of any previously expressed criticism or support of NYRA by some of them. The numbers may not be statistically significant, but the unusual harmony was noteworthy.
However, without committed follow-up as to specific NYRA Board appointments -- providing recommendations and reviewing candidates already under consideration -- how will the Governor be made aware of what the best interests of racing's participants are, much less act accordingly?
New appointments by the Governor as well as by the State Assembly and Senate are reportedly scheduled to be completed prior to the opening of Saratoga, so little time remains for outsiders to influence these decisions.
A determined press, however, could still have a positive effect by putting a spotlight on the appointment process. Credentials of the newly appointed should not be enhanced by the extent to which they opposed the "Old" NYRA in the past, but rather by the goals, expectations, and abilities they bring with them to the "New" NYRA.
I'm among those who regard the failure to observe the sunset provision of the intended 1% temporary increase in takeout for more than a year as sufficient reason to seek organizational reform.
I believe Hayward's position was indefensible, but so may have been those of Sabini and Megna as well. Their own as yet unpunished failures to catch the "illegal" takeout hardly merit either appointment to the NYRA board or maintaining their current positions.
It should not be forgotten that NYRA survived its franchise renewal crisis because most people believed they were the only bidder that was as interested in keeping New York racing viable as it was in sharing slots revenue. That may still be true, but the competency of those of remaining from earlier boards must be questioned not only for the takeover-initiating takeout fiasco, but also for previously ceding ownership of track property to the state, and then placing themselves in a position that prevented them from defending their very existence when challenged.
It will take men and women of character, good will, and good judgment to keep New York racing in its position of leadership within the industry, and it is the Governor’s responsibility to find them.
Will Cuomo be remembered as a man of vision and accomplishment or just a continuation of his politically-motivated predecessors, Pataki, Spitzer, and Paterson who all caused delays in slots implementation while presiding over NYRA’s descent into bankruptcy.
The Governor’s appointment of Bennett Liebman as an advisor suggests to some that he has higher standards than Paterson, who appointed Sabini and Megna. Perhaps they were already in the dog-house when pressed into attack service.