No doubt you know that the mayor of the greatest city in the world-the veritable capital of the world and headquarters of the global economy-has yet to make an appearance at the annual U.S. Open tennis championship in Queens. Given that politicians like nothing more than presenting trophies to popular athletic champions (well, sure, they also like taking credit for achievements that are none of their doing, and they like collecting great wads of cash to ward off potential opponents in the true spirit of our vibrant democracy, but now we’re beginning to stray a bit), a forgetful soul might wonder why Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the biggest jock-sniffer ever to take up residence in Gracie Mansion-is nowhere to be seen at a world-class sports championship in the city he rules.
As it happens, Mr. Giuliani continues to insist that a deal former Mayor David Dinkins and his team negotiated with the U.S. Tennis Association for an improved tennis center in Flushing Meadows was made without the best interests of the taxpaying public. At least, that’s what he says publicly. Privately, we are free to guess that Mr. Giuliani’s mania on matters B.S.-that is, Before Salvation, as in, the Era Preceding His Glorious Reign-precludes him from ever stepping foot near a tennis court, tennis being the sport associated with Mr. Dinkins and the urban evils up with which we put in the B.S. era.
The Mayor is so obsessed with the notion that the U.S.T.A.-which runs the U.S. Open-mugged the city during its negotiations with Mr. Dinkins that he will not grace the tournament with his presence. His principled absence every September is supposed to remind us that, unlike the politicians who governed the city before his reign of reform, he is a prudent steward of the city treasury.
Now that the Mayor has delivered us from the irresponsible and feckless hacks who thought nothing of throwing money at private concerns like the U.S.T.A., he apparently believes the city’s treasury will not miss the $71 million in taxpayer funds that will be spent to build a new stadium on Staten Island for a low-level minor-league team affiliated with the New York Yankees. Indeed, thanks to his stand against urban parasites, the city can afford to be generous with one of the richest entities in professional sports. After spending all that public money to build the stadium, the city will allow the Yankees to collect money on ticket and advertising revenues even when the stadium is used for non-baseball events. (The minor league team will play all of 38 home games per year.)
You can be sure that when the stadium finally rises from the toxic muck on which it is being built, Mr. Giuliani will be there to throw out the first ball, no doubt wearing a Yankees cap and Yankees jacket. There will be no suggestion that this deal sounds like something negotiated during the B.S. years. Too bad it wasn’t. Because the Dinkins people probably would have gotten a better deal for the taxpayers.
“When we negotiated the U.S.T.A. deal, we were careful to make sure that when the facilities are used for another event, the city gets the money, not the U.S.T.A.,” said Harvey Robins, the Dinkins administration’s director of operations. “Except for the tournament, all other uses for the facility were returned to the public.” Not so the Staten Island stadium, which will serve as a potential moneymaker for George Steinbrenner during, as Charles V. Bagli wrote in The New York Times , “the 327 days annually that the Yankees [do] not play there.”
There are in New York thousands of athletes and coaches who play on fields that are as hard as concrete in the summer, as wet as a rice paddy in winter. As The Times pointed out in a brilliant series last year, high school sports have essentially been defunded. Programs in middle-class or affluent areas, like the South Shore of Staten Island, are assisted by parents willing to raise money for equipment, or for buses to transport teams from game to game. In central Brooklyn or the South Bronx, however, parents can’t spare such luxuries. And in those neighborhoods, athletes are forced to make do with shoddy (and potentially dangerous) equipment and lousy facilities. Seventy-one million bucks would go a long way in the Public Schools Athletic League.
Ah, but the Mayor doesn’t wear the regalia of high school teams. Like a 10-year-old who doesn’t know a hook slide from a slider, he puts on his Yankee colors in hopes of being seen as one of the guys.
The sort of guy who’d rather fight than fork over $71 million to some overprivileged bully.