NYC mayor-to-be leaves door open for Queens MLS stadium, hubbub ensues

In case you haven’t been following the New York City mayoral race, here’s a quick recap: City council speaker and Michael Bloomberg-anointed successor Christine Quinn’s campaign for the Democratic nomination crashed and burned, as former Hillary Clinton campaign manager/city public advocate/really tall guy Bill de Blasio claimed the spot on a campaign built on promises to reduce economic inequality and his son’s awesome hair. De Blasio instantly got progressives all excited, then all unexcited when they realized he got to a position of political power by playing politics. He now faces off against a Republican mostly known for getting the trains running reasonably fast after Hurricane Sandy, who currently trails by about a billion percentage points in the polls.

Now that you’re all caught up, we can visit Tuesday night’s mayoral debate, in which de Blasio was asked about plans to build a soccer stadium in Queens for the new New York City F.C. franchise. I can’t find an actual transcript, so here’s New York Times columnist Michael Powell’s summary:

Early on Tuesday night, he was asked about Major League Soccer’s attempt to place a Spaceship-Enterprise-size soccer stadium in the midst of Flushing Meadows, Queens’s densest and most heavily used park. He cleared his throat with some populist rumbling about city tax giveaways. Then he allowed that, well, perhaps, maybe, a pro soccer stadium might raise the money needed to give that dowdy dowager of a park a face-lift.

It was left to Mr. Lhota to make the point that, perhaps fortunately for Flushing Meadows, appears to have won the day: Our urban parks are a precious patrimony, and in this densest of American cities it is rarely wise to auction off greensward. If Flushing Meadows-Corona Park needs money, and enough three-piece-suit-wearing worthies cannot be found to toss together a conservancy, a mayor should find a way to pay for that park.

“It shouldn’t be in that park,” Mr. Lhota said of the stadium. “We don’t have enough park space in this city as it is.”

The weird thing is that, as the Queens Chronicle pointed out in an outraged editorial, the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park stadium plan is essentially dead, so why even give lip service to reviving it?

Of course, this could all be the media trying to find some news in an awkward turn of phrase by a candidate to liven up an otherwise dead-boring campaign. And de Blasio did say earlier this month (on Reddit, America’s favorite non-debate political news source) that he didn’t necessarily see the need for a new soccer stadium at all:

“I have not heard any viable plan for a stadium in Manhattan and I don’t foresee that,” de Blasio said. “The only way there could be a status in Queens is if the conditions I’ve laid down are on complete parkland replacement and sufficient subsidies for surrounding parkland.”

He added, “I wouldn’t be shocked if a soccer team ended up using Yankee Stadium or CitiField.”

Still, the whole fooferaw is a valuable reminder that especially for local elected officials like mayors, political principles or party labels are way less determinate of actual policy than the need to placate all the powerful forces that truly run the city (and determine who’ll get enough campaign funding to have a shot at running it). De Blasio clearly won’t be as in love with sports subsidies as his predecessor has been, but he’s not going to oppose them outright in case some important allies decide they want some — as witness his support for the Brooklyn Nets arena project as a city councilmember. Progressive mayors are different from conservative mayors, but the most important thing is that they’re all mayors, and you don’t get the job if you rule out sucking up to the right people.


6 comments on “NYC mayor-to-be leaves door open for Queens MLS stadium, hubbub ensues

  1. Neil, as you know everything in New York City is a potential bargaining chip, and they will put a New Soccer Stadium somewhere. I do not think it will be in the Citi Field/Willets Point area (the reason being, is not park related, its because the Wilpons don’t want anything Yankee-Related next to them, and they will not allow their parking spaces to be used for the team). I really think the Stadium will be put in The Bronx. The only questions are where, when, and for how much? If East 153rd is doable from an Engineering perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Parking, Transit Availability, no taking away Parkland, and perhaps above all, turning a major liability (the Garages) into an asset.

  2. Rebuild the Polo Grounds! (Again). The last one was never actually used for Polo anyway, but details, details.

    “Still, the whole fooferaw is a valuable reminder that especially for local elected officials like mayors, political principles or party labels are way less determinate of actual policy than the need to placate all the powerful forces that truly run the city (and determine who’ll get enough campaign funding to have a shot at running it).”

    Perfect. Thank you Neil.

    In a world where you can get a Nobel Peace Prize for bombing the funeral processions of people you don’t like, or spend $3T because someone insulted your Daddy, should we be surprised at anything here?

  3. David: two questions…

    1. Do the Wilpons actually own the parking spaces?

    If not, this would not be an issue.

    2. If they do own/control the parking spaces, wouldn’t they be more interested in earning $20-30 per car (ok, so I’m not from NY, what does it cost to park for an event in Queens?) than they would in snubbing the not-yet-existing team partially run by the Yankees?

    Lastly… isn’t it time to revisit that floating stadium idea? I mean, where better than NY to try (so long as you don’t have to pay the Wilpons for parking/long term storage of the stadium/barge, of course)?

  4. 1. They have a lease on the parking spaces from the city.
    2. I think they’re more interested in showing how mad they are that the Yankees got an MLS team and they didn’t. Keep in mind this is the Wilpons, so rational economic decisionmaking isn’t exactly on the top of their list.

  5. “so why even give lip service to reviving it?”
    I have two words for you and they rhyme with “champagne” and “relations”.

  6. Hmmm, wonder how much MLS & Sterling Equities has funneled
    into that campaign to assure the progressive transformation of
    Flushing Meadows and the candidate.