Two city officials trekked to Washington today to respond to a Congressional inquiry into the tax-free financing for the new Yankee Stadium, where they came face-to-face with a rather stern Representaikve Dennis Kucinich.
Mr. Kucinich, leading the inquiry as chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, queried the city’s Department of Finance commissioner, Martha Stark, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation president, Seth Pinsky, over the deal with the Yankees, which allowed them to get more than $1 billion in tax-free bonds.
His questioning was critical and at times condescending, focusing much of the three-hour hearing on the assessment practices (which Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky suggests were cooked to fit the financing model).
Here’s a rather hilarious exchange, in which Mr. Kucinich adopts the posture of a strict middle school teacher censuring chatty students in the back of the classroom [starting at 1:54:30 in the video]:
Mr. Kucinich: I’d like to give you a chance to reconsider your answer in light of an e-mail that—Excuse me, Ms. Stark. [Pause] What did Mr. Pinsky just say to you? [Pause]. Are you [Mr. Pinsky] her counsel?
Mr. Pinsky: No, I’m her colleague
Mr. Kucinich: Okay—What did Mr. Pinsky just say to you?
Ms. Stark: He was just saying he thought there might have been an email…
Mr. Kucinich: [Long 10-second pause, looking sternly over his glasses at the witnesses] We have an email here …
In the e-mail to which Mr. Kucinich was referring, Mr. Pinsky suggested to another city official that there would be “implications” if the Department of Finance assessment of Yankee Stadium was not high enough. Mr. Pinsky acknowledged a higher assessment would have jeopardized the financing structure as it was ultimately set up, but denied that there was any pressure put on Finance to improperly assess the land.
The heart of the controversy centers on assessments of the land for the new Yankee Stadium, which Mr. Brodsky has suggested were improperly boosted. To reach the assessed value, the city drew on information of properties outside the South Bronx, including land in the Lower East Side. (Ms. Stark said such practices were customary.)
A fair amount has been written on the assessment controversy, and the city previously responded to allegations by Mr. Brodsky with its own fact sheet. The city issued another one today. Mr. Brodsky’s staff issued a response.