Sun, Jun 05, 2005 - Page 24 News List

New York plays political football with new stadium


It's the ultimate political football. After nearly 15 months of verbal and legal scrimmages, the proposed Jets' stadium on the Far West Side of Manhattan has evolved into a matchup of two-man teams: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Governor George E. Pataki on offense, Sheldon Silver, the state Assembly speaker, and Joseph L. Bruno, the state Senate majority leader, on defense.

If either Silver or Bruno stands firm in voting "no" when the state's Public Authorities Control Board finally does meet, possibly Monday, the stadium won't happen.

But how Silver and Bruno each vote will let the taxpayers know what they have really been thinking. If either continues to vote "no," he would prove he truly objected to the city and the state each contributing US$300 million to the estimated US$2.2 billion cost of a stadium with a retractable roof. If they both surrender to the mayor and the governor by voting "yes," they would have simply used their resistance to the stadium as leverage to acquire political favors for other projects.

If you're interested in what side I'm on, I'm hoping one of pro football's oldest chants holds true: "dee-fense, dee-fense."

That chant, which is heard everywhere in American sports now, originated more than half a century ago with Giants fans at Yankee Stadium exhorting a hallowed defensive unit anchored by Andy Robustelli and Sam Huff, each now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That chant even changed America's pronunciation of the word. Until then, it was pronounced properly as da-fense, but the chant has changed it to "dee-fense."

Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, and Bruno, an upstate solon, have the opportunity to be the political offspring of Robustelli and Huff.

I'm not against the Jets stadium because Madison Square Garden is against it. If anything, whatever the Garden is against, I'm usually for. But the way the Dolans have turned the Garden into so many weeds named Knicks and Rangers, why would the mayor, the governor and any New York sports nut be on the Garden's side for anything?

I'm against the Jets stadium on its merits. Actually, its demerits.

If Woody Johnson, the Jets' invisible owner, wanted to build a stadium entirely with his own millions, that's his privilege. But to use US$600 million of taxpayers' money for somebody's stadium is wrong at a time when the city has a moral obligation to raise the salaries of its teachers, police officers and firefighters as well as to revitalize Lower Manhattan.

It has also been wrong for the city to connect the stadium to the unlikely possibility of landing the 2012 Olympics.

The mayor and the governor kept saying they needed a go-ahead on the stadium to enhance New York's chances for the 2012 Summer Games. But with nothing resolved on the stadium, it's already too late to affect the International Olympic Committee's nonbinding evaluation report, expected Monday, of the site bids by New York and the other four finalists -- Paris (considered the front-runner), London, Madrid and Moscow.

Even if the latest overall estimate of US$2.2 billion doesn't go any higher, the Jets would need to provide US$1.6 billion -- an outrageous sum. Johnson could build a stadium in the Shea Stadium area of Queens, where the Jets played for two decades, for much less in a much better location for most Jets fans. Not that he seems to care about the Jets' fans.

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