BEHIND THE NEWS: Pay ball!

January 13, 2009 12:23:34 PM PST
A box-seat view of fiscal management.

That's how New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson today described New Yorkers' perspective on the complicated financial wheelings and dealings between the City and the New York Yankees.

Complicated and fishy, says Thompson.

The deal to build a new Yankee Stadium, and tear down the old one next door in the Bronx, is "incredible mismanagement," says Thompson. And it "begs the question: Was this plain oil incompetence or a blatant attempt to mislead the public?"

The figures themselves are a bit dizzying - I like them because I majored in accounting and economics; but many will find their eyes glazing over. Suffice it to say that Thompson paints a dark picture of a for-profit team trying to squeeze the public, already hammered by the recession, for more money.

The original City capital outlay for this most private of sports teams is now $325 million, "two and a half times the amount we were told in 2006," said Thompson.

And, oh yeah, did we mention that the Yankees just spent more than $400 million to sign three players for next season? Money that was available, at least in part, because the public is funding so much of the new stadium .

"With this deal," Thompson writes in his report, "New Yorkers lose. At a time when we can least afford it, the (Bloomberg) Administration is bending over backwards to subsidize an enormously profitable corporation."

Some troubling nits that Thompson has picked:

* The demolition of the existing Yankee Stadium was estimated at more than 50% less than the true cost.

* Failure to conduct environmental reviews, which would have taken into account the existence of, and necessity to remediate, oil tanks on the waterfront site of a planned new park.

* Underestimation of the cost for a rooftop park and retaining wall resulting in cost escalations of 30%; the price tag now stands at $44.5 million.

"We cannot continue to let New Yorkers lose in order for the Yankees to win," Thompson says. His report can be seen at www.comptroller.nyc.gov.

We'll have the latest on the growing financial questions about the new Yankee Stadium, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, the latest from the Middle East. Our N.J. Burkett last night captured some of the most dramatic video we've seen -- Palestinians, dozens of them, rushed to hospitals in Egypt after getting hurt during Israeli bombing raids in Gaza. (WATCH VIDEO)

The growing humanitarian crisis comes on the heels of a stunning speech given by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Ashkelon yesterday. He said in the speech that last week he called President Bush at an event in Philadelphia -- actually pulled him off the stage with the call -- and demanded that the U.S. vote against the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and an end to the violence in Gaza.

That's some kind of claim - the Prime Minister of Israel demanding that the President of the United States vote against something. "I said, 'get me President Bush on the phone,'" says Olmert. "They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care. 'I need to talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me. I told him the United States could not vote in favor ... of such a resolution."

The truth is that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped draft the proposal, so immediately the U.S. was in a difficult position. If the U.S. had voted against the proposal, that Rice had publicly supported, it would have meant an automatic veto -- and defeat of the plan.

Instead, and it was inexplicable when they voted on Friday night, Rice and the U.S. abstained from voting. It made no sense, although Ms. Rice came up with a convoluted line of reasoning that left many scratching their heads.

There are many who wondered why Ms. Rice didn't resign, if ordered to vote against an initiative she helped draft.

The State Department has denied that such an "order" from Olmert happened. But that's what he said, and it does explain the previously inexplicable.

In any event, neither Israel nor Hamas is listening to the U.N. -- ceasefire seems the last thing on their minds.

One more item from that area: a report in an Israeli newspaper says Hamas militants have been dressing up as Israeli soldiers in an attempt to carry out suicide bombings in the Gaza Strip.

N.J. will have the latest from the region tonight at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

One other note - our Inauguration coverage begins tonight, at 5:30, with Sade Baderinwa and Diana Williams in Washington, previewing the challenges Barack Obama faces and looking at the inauguration preparations.

I will be down there, beginning Sunday night at 11, and I'd love to hear your thoughts about the big day -- what it means, what the challenges for Obama are, etc. I interviewed today two surviving Tuskegee Airmen who live in New York and who will be at the inauguration. And I'm using a "Twitter" - like an instant message form of cyber communication - to talk to you, and for you to talk to me and us. Here's the link, I hope to hear from you: http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/feature?section=news/national_world&id=6601700

BILL RITTER


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