Close the Deal at Aqueduct

The Paterson administration has beaten a not-hasty-enough retreat at Aqueduct racetrack, announcing that the unqualified but politically wired AEG group will not, after all, get a lucrative deal to convert the track to a so-called racino.

The next step should be pretty simple: The State Lottery Commission, which is overseeing the process, should choose a new contractor from the bids it already has received.

There’s no reason to reopen the process, as some Albany hands have suggested. This process has been delayed for far too long—nearly a decade has passed since the Pataki administration unveiled plans to introduce video lottery terminals (otherwise known as slot machines) at several racetracks around the state. The Aqueduct conversion should have been up and running years ago.

Governor Paterson said on March 15 that his aide will draw up new rules for the selection process. That’s fine, as long as those rules don’t require bidders to reconstruct their bids. The governor believes the new rules will be in place within a month.

He’d better be right, because the state simply can’t afford another scandalous delay. The installation of 4,500 lottery machines at Aqueduct is expected to generate $1 million a day for the state and will create hundreds of jobs, many of which will be filled by hard-pressed residents of southeast Queens.

The fiasco at Aqueduct ought to be an object lesson for New York’s next governor. New York City prides itself as a destination for the nation’s most creative minds in a vast array of fields, from fashion to finance to arts and culture. But if the political community insists on stalling creativity and development in the interests of political patronage, good people will simply go elsewhere to get their work done. The real scandal at Aqueduct wasn’t Mr. Paterson’s crude attempt to reward potential political supporters. The real scandal has been, and continues to be, the unconscionable delay in completing a much-needed project.

New York has to find a way to get things done, whether it’s the conversion of a racetrack to a mini-casino or the construction of housing units. It took four years to build the George Washington Bridge, as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan often pointed out. It has taken longer to put in a few thousand slot machines at Aqueduct.

That’s a scandal.