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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Aqueduct Debacle

The region’s newspaper editorial boards have embarrassingly cast their lot with Governor Andrew Cuomo since he took office in 2011 so, when the centerpiece of the governor’s 2012 State of the State address fell apart this month, what did they do?

If you were an editorial page writer last week at either The New York Times or The New York Daily News, you scolded the Committee to Save New York (CSNY), a legal political entity charged with burnishing the governor’s image, for accepting money from gambling interests. Now, that is hilarious.

Genting, the CSNY contributor in the editorial boards’ cross-hairs, owns Resorts World Casino New York City, the so-called racino operating alongside Aqueduct Racetrack, a thoroughbred horse racing facility. The racino opened in October 2011 and houses video-lottery terminals, as well as a few restaurants. As a business running a profitable enterprise in this state, and wanting to expand, why not keep the CSNY’s treasurer happy, too?

Moreover, given that the Malaysia-based Genting needed governmental approvals to bring a convention center and casino-style (e.g., table games) gambling to the Aqueduct Racetrack venue, the least Genting could do is write a few checks that would make the governor smile.

Yet I see little direct connection between Genting’s 2011 contributions to CSNY and the governor’s call in his January 2012 State of the State address for the construction of a huge, Genting-financed, convention center complex and gambling Mecca in South Ozone Park, Queens. I think the governor inexplicably thought it was a splendid idea.

In fact, the Cuomo administration spent months knocking down critics who thought convention-goers might not share the governor’s fervent belief that South Ozone Park could become a destination location, or in an economic development plan which has as its foundation people’s willingness to part with their disposable cash.

“To build on New York’s strength as an international tourist destination, Governor Cuomo proposed to build the largest convention center in the country at Aqueduct Racetrack venue in New York City,” stated a January 4, 2012 gubernatorial news release, issued after his State of the State address. “The 3.8 million square foot convention center would accommodate the nation’s largest events, drive demand for hotel rooms and restaurant meals, and create new tourism revenues. The project would be a $4 billion private investment that is estimated to generate tens of thousands of jobs and create new economic activity throughout the state.” Less than six months later, the Genting-financed proposal was dead, and it had one under-reported ripple effect.

Governor Cuomo, believing South Ozone Park would become the next Las Vegas, also called in January for a “master plan for the Jacob Javits site to create a mixed use facility and revitalize New York City’s West Side with 18 acres of planned development.” That plan should be put on hold because the Javits Convention Center remains a viable enterprise at the moment.

The other thing I got a kick out of was where, and when, Governor Cuomo announced the Queens convention center project’s demise: former Governor David Paterson’s radio program on WOR-AM, late on a Friday afternoon. I guess the governor figured no one would be listening.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net