Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Loot for the home team" in the Daily News, 3/23/6

Loot for the home team

by Juan Gonzalez

Last June, both houses of the state Legislature unanimously passed a bill to permit the Bloomberg administration to turn over the largest public parks complex in the South Bronx - 22 acres of Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks - for the building of a new $800 million Yankee Stadium.

In Albany, a place notorious for gridlock, this bill moved at lightning speed. This was due in no small measure to the Bronx Democratic political machine, which has turned into a bat boy for Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Steinbrenner's bill, as it will now be known, was introduced in both houses of the Legislature over the weekend of June 18 - less than a week after the city and Yankees unveiled their plans - and the final vote was done by June 23.

Meanwhile, the City Council held on June 20 a quick hearing and vote on its own parallel legislation. The Council bill was sponsored by Joel Rivera, son of Bronx Democratic Party chairman Jose Rivera.

All of this maneuvering was facilitated by Stanley Schlein, the main lawyer for the Bronx machine, who had been hired by Yankees President Randy Levine as the key strategist in charge of getting all the necessary politicians on board.

The Bronx politician who has become the stadium's biggest booster is Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who received $9,000 in campaign contributions from Levine or executives of the Yankees' YES network during the past few years.

Carrion has become such a cheerleader for Bronx development projects sponsored by downtown movers and shakers that he should carry pompoms in his briefcase.

Before the local South Bronx residents had any inkling of what was going on, their parks had been given away - earmarked for one of the richest teams in all of professional sports.

More than 40 public schools now use the park for recreation, said Joyce Hoigi, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood and a member of the nonprofit group Save our Parks.

"What are our kids supposed to do for the next few years while they build the stadium?" Hoigi said. "There is absolutely no consideration for the residents who live here."

Steinbrenner's stadium plan would destroy 400 mature trees in the existing park and create parking lots for 5,000 more cars - this in a neighborhood with the city's highest asthma rate.

City Hall and the Yankees both claim that after the new stadium is built in 2009 and after the old one is demolished, new parks will be constructed to replace Macombs and Mullaly.

But those parks will be located at scattered sites, on top of those parking lots, and some will be along the waterfront and thus far less accessible.

More importantly, the city will end up spending $100 million to replace parks that already exist.

And that's just a small part of the subsidy being given to Steinbrenner, according to the watchdog group Good Jobs New York. The total city and state tab for the new stadium will approach $480 million - either in infrastructure costs or discounted taxes, said the group's project director, Bettina Damiani.

Not surprisingly, the local community board voted resoundingly in November to oppose the new stadium plans, but Carrion and the Bronx machine simply ignored the vote.

Many angry residents at that November meeting questioned why the Yankees couldn't renovate the existing stadium or share Shea Stadium with the Mets while they build a new ballpark on their current site.

Levine told them the Yankees would suffer economically if they stopped playing in the current stadium during construction.

So in his boundless greed, Steinbrenner wants residents and children of the South Bronx to go without any parks for three years so he won't be inconvenienced.

If the Yankees were going through rough times, you might understand. But last year the team had a record attendance of 4.1 million and baseball's highest revenue at $335 million.

So far, only Bronx City Councilwoman Helen Foster has had the guts to stand up to Steinbrenner's land grab.

Next month, the Council will vote on the entire Yankee Stadium plan. It's time for the Bronx machine to explain to voters why it has become a bat boy for Steinbrenner.

Originally published on March 23, 2006


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