At about 5 pm today, just as the state Public Authorities Control Board prepared to meet in Albany to vote on the New York Jets stadium proposal, a massive thunderstorm swept into New York City, and the heavens opened up, cooling off what had been a sweltering day in the big city.
It was cheap symbolism, but New York would take it. After five years of controversy, threats, and political machinations over the plan to plunk down the world’s most expensive stadium on top of some of the world’s most expensive real estate, it was hard not to see the deluge as a sign that the weather had finally changed. While it’s certainly too soon to declare the Jets stadium dead – everybody knows that by now – all signs are pointing toward it entering its final reel.
So about that meeting: When last we left off, both state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and state senate leader Joe Bruno were saying they wouldn’t vote to approve the stadium plan. (Technically the vote was on allowing the state’s Empire State Development Corporation to sell stadium bonds.) When the meeting started, two and half hours late thanks to a band of angry pro-stadium demonstrators, both men lived up to their word, abstaining from the vote on Gov. George Pataki’s proposal to fund the stadium, thereby defeating it. (All PACB votes must be unanimous to pass.) Bruno promptly introduced a second resolution that the West Side stadium would be built if New York were to be awarded the 2012 Olympics; this time, Silver and Pataki both rejected the proposal.
While there’s nothing stopping the board from voting again on the plan at a later date, Silver in particular didn’t seem eager to leave the door open for further negotiations on a West Side stadium, which he declared was being “used as a shield” to “shift the financial and business capital of the world” from his downtown Manhattan district to midtown. “Am I supposed to turn my back on Lower Manhattan as it struggles for recovery?” he asked at a pre-vote press conference. “For what? The stadium? For the hope of bringing the Olympics to New York City?”
There are plenty of theories as to why Silver chose to draw a line in the sand on the stadium – running from craven self-interest (there was nothing in it for his district) to moral indignation (he’s recently taken to decrying the $1-billion-plus in subsidies it would cost the public, though that didn’t stop him from asking for development subsidies for downtown instead). And there’s been plenty of griping, even from stadium opponents, that the three-men-in-a-room style of government that typifies New York politics is a far cry from democracy.
All this is true. And yet Silver’s Last Stand was, in many ways, the culmination of five years of some of the most devoted organizing against a stadium project that has been seen anywhere in the nation. The stadium skeptics included elected officials and local think tanks, billionaire corporations and individuals who are anything but, not all of whom agreed on what should happen on the West Side, but all of whom thought that the public had better things to do with its money than spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a football stadium. (Excuse me, a sports and convention center.) They, and the majority of New Yorkers who consistently opposed the stadium, created the political cover for Silver, the consummate politician, to feel that he could oppose the stadium without risking dire repercussions. Even the late move by Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to accuse Silver of costing the city the Olympics fell largely flat, given that many New Yorkers don’t even want the Olympics, and a majority think New York won’t get them anyway.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Neither the Jets nor the Olympic boosters will go away tomorrow – Jets president Jay Cross, who was hired by the team specifically to lead its stadium bid after running a successful campaign for a new Miami Heat arena, declared today that “four years of hard work and planning will not be washed away in a single day” – and there’s still the question of what happens the accompanying convention center expansion and Hudson Yards housing-and-office development, which were sold by Bloomberg and his henchman Dan Doctoroff as being unworkable without the stadium. Similarly, Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Nets arena and George Steinbrenner’s dreams of a new Yankees stadium were waiting in the wings for the end of the Jets drama; whether they will now move ahead, or be set aside as Mayor Bloomberg tries to focus on getting re-elected without getting weighed down by more sports-stadium controversies, remains to be seen.
At almost 11 pm, it’s still raining in New York. This change in the weather is going to be interesting indeed.