Law-enforcement authorities—that means you, Attorney General Cuomo—should be asking pointed questions about the odoriferous goings-on at Aqueduct Racetrack. Like the calling card of Aqueduct’s principal entertainers—thoroughbred racehorses—this deal stinks to high heaven.
Governor Paterson’s decision to give a politically connected company the rights to transform the Queens racetrack into a quasi-casino represents all that is wrong with state politics.
Yet Mr. Paterson awarded this contract even as he condemned the culture of what he called “Planet Albany” while vetoing a weak new ethics bill. Sorry, Governor, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t talk like a reformer while acting like a hack.
As even the sleepiest member of the State Legislature knows by now, the governor chose a company called Aqueduct Entertainment Group to install video lottery terminals—otherwise known as slot machines—in an effort to revive the flagging racetrack. These so-called “racinos” have the potential to deliver much-needed new revenues to the state, as the successful conversion at Yonkers Raceway has shown.
The size of that pot of gold, however, depends on how the operation is run. Nothing that we know about AEG should inspire confidence in this deal. The Rev. Floyd Flake, the Queens power broker and a former congressman, is an investor in AEG, and several friends of the Senate majority leader, Malcolm Smith, are connected to the company. Senator Smith, not surprisingly, is one of the deal’s loudest champions.
As if to emphasize that this deal was about politics, not business, Mr. Flake met with Mr. Paterson several days after the governor’s decision to talk about—guess what—this year’s gubernatorial campaign. Mr. Flake had been making friendly noises about Mr. Cuomo, the governor’s presumed primary opponent. Mr. Paterson clearly noticed.
If there is nothing to hide, and Mr. Flake insists everything is on the up and up, then AEG and the governor should welcome an investigation and a full accounting of the decision-making process. But if the process remains shrouded in mystery, voters will have every reason to conclude that this potential windfall for the state has been treated like an ordinary piece of patronage.
But that’s how things are done on Planet Albany.