Commentary: A Trip to the Ballpark

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It’s been an eventful and confusing week in the battle over Mayor Bloomberg’s West Side Stadium proposal. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer says like any trip to the ballpark, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

Brian:  First the score: champions of the stadium have had a very big lead, but this week, the challengers did a lot to catch up. That’s because opposition to the stadium no longer comes only from the obvious corners.

So who are the players? First, those obvious corners. It’s easy to throw beanballs at the stadium if you’re a west side resident who thinks it’ll ruin the neighborhood, a mayoral hopeful out to discredit Michael Bloomberg, a  competing businesses like Madison Square Garden, or a liberal opposed to subsidizing rich private sports franchises.

Right now, it’s Madison Square Garden on offense. The Garden’s owners have proposed a competing plan for the site, built around housing and office space. Still to be determined: is the Garden’s plan serious? They’ve never been in the real estate business before. They may just be trying to kill the stadium then find a way to back out.

But the Garden’s plan has inspired some powerful new players to join the stadium skeptics’ team. Significantly, they are some of the state’s leading Republicans. Here’s the lineup:

Peter Kalikow, chairman of the MTA, appointed by Governor Pataki. The MTA owns the air rights above the Hudson Rail Yards, where the Stadium would be built. The Garden says it would buy the air rights from the MTA for hundreds of millions more dollars than the Jets. Kalikow knows he has a responsibility – by right and by law – to get the best offer for bus and train riders.

Similarly, State Senator Dean Skelos of Long Island . He’s a Republican leader in the Senate. His political ticket is punched by the riders of the Long Island Railroad. So he’s now demanding that the MTA put the site up for open competitive bidding. That inspired Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to call for slowing the whole process down. Bruno’s support is critical.

In the pro-stadium corner, we have The New York Jets. They want their gold-plated dome-roofed Manhattan toy, so they can make more money, and they hope, get to the Super Bowl again before the 22nd century.

And we have the quarterback: Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. His longtime dream has been to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York City . He’s also a great believer in big development projects in general, which he thinks set the city up for long term growth. Agree with his vision or not, Doctoroff is a man with a plan who’s thinking in terms of 2012 and 2070. That’s a good thing. But he’s allowed it to become fuzzy: Does he want the Stadium to make the Olympics possible, or is he also using the Olympics to sell his development plan?

So who wins, and who SHOULD win? Well, after we strip away all the interests, the question as always is: “what is best for the people of New York and New Jersey ?”

If you believe, as Doctoroff does, that the stadium will get us the Olympics and a more competitive Javitz Center, which will mean more jobs and more tax revenue for generations to come, that might outweigh the discount the MTA would give the Jets. But economists differ on whether that’s the case. If you’ve decided which side you’re rooting for, let your voice be heard in Albany . It’s the state, not the city, that’s finally decide.

Anchor: WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. You can hear his call-in show weekdays at 10am