Paterson Says He’ll Just Pick the Aqueduct Winner Himself

Apparently fed up with the tortured politicized process of selecting a firm to build a slot machine operation at the Aqueduct Racetrack, Governor Paterson said this morning his administration would simply, by itself, pick a winner through a standard procurement process. This would jettison the unusual process set up years ago for the racetrack that requires a signoff by the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate.

“With the new procurement plan, we think that we could have a winner within the month or June at the latest,” Paterson said in an interview on the Capitol Pressroom, acknowledging the plan may not be popular with the legislative leaders. “Whoever is going to be the highest bid, and assuming that they will provide all of the services, they will be the winner.”

He justified the decision by likening it to deadlock over state budget, and then gave an unusually strong plug for stronger executive authority.

“If you let three people act independently, it’s likely they’ll go on and on and on,” he said. “In the end, decisions have to be made by one person … you find that government acts a lot better that way.”

The selection of a developer for the Aqueduct has dragged on for years, and was recently reopened after the Paterson administration dropped Aqueduct Entertainment Group—the bidder it declared a winner weeks earlier—in the face of criticism that the choice was influenced by politics. The governor then recused himself from the process. Should the state simply select the bidder, an internal scorecard reported by The Times last week suggests the SL Green bid is the frontrunner. 

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, emailed a response to the governor’s plan suggesting the conference’s top priority is a speedy pick.

“It all comes down to jobs,” Shafran said. “We need to move this process along in a timely and responsible manner to start creating jobs for the local community without further delay.”

ebrown@observer.com