- The Head Chef just called from the Spitzer's Manhattan residence. Nah, I don't like to namedrop and brag or anything, eh? You may recall that she got hired to work on the catering staff for what we believe was a fundraiser for the Governor a couple of weeks ago. Today, it's a luncheon held by Ms. Spitzer (try saying that ten times fast). I told her to see if they have any Seabiscuit posters hanging on the wall, thinking that perhaps the Governor is a closet degenerate who just pretends to not care all that much about the sport.
Mr. Spitzer isn't there, but he might as well have flown down
on a state helicopter for lunch for all the good his being in Albany is doing at this time. Yesterday's special Senate session was so uneventful that it didn't even merit a separate story in the NY Times; merely a paragraph in its Metro Briefing section. The Senate did grant raises to state judges, but Senate officials privately acknowledged that the move was made largely to antagonize Democrats. [NY Times]
The chamber did actually address an issue that could eventually effect the racing franchise; Matt Hegarty of the Form seems to be only reporter who noticed that they passed the bill giving racino owners a larger share of the revenues from slot machines at the expense of horsemen and the state's education fund. That is the measure that Vernon and Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural is insisting upon lest he shutter his tracks; but the Assembly likely will not be convening to take that, or any other matter up. (And a sign posted at Vernon this morning announces that the barns will close as of Monday; it blames the closure on Joe Faraldo, whose harness horsemen's group opposes the bill.) If passed and signed into law, the measure would make the Aqueduct racino that much more lucrative to.....er, whoever will be running it.
Negotiations continue behind the scenes on the franchise, but with the legislature all but certain to be done for the year, any agreement will have to be in the form of a "handshake" deal to keep racing going until it can be formally ratified once lawmakers return on January 9. After taking some hits from Senator Bruno, who has clearly been trying to shift the blame for any potential shutdown on the other parties, Spitzer's office fought back to pin the responsibility for any stoppage on Bruno. Spitzer's budget director Paul Francis figuratively put Charlie Hayward in "the room," increasing its occupancy from the usual three to four, and thereby further isolating the Senate Majority Leader.
“In the last few days, we’ve begun to see serious movement and real progress, but the Senate is still holding onto positions that would make it impossible for a deal by year end.."James Odato, writing in the Albany Times-Union, puts the number at five, including the Oversight Board which would, in theory, take over racing operations should no deal be reached by Dec 31. But either way, despite Sheldon Silver's intransigence and disinterest, as well as his opposition to VLT's at Belmont aside, it's Bruno who remains the obstacle, with the other parties in agreement on the basics.
“If there is no four-way deal, there is a real risk racing will cease on Jan. 1, which will be very damaging to the industry," said Francis, who is negotiating along with Patrick Foye and Richard Rifkin on behalf of Spitzer with legislative aides. “We need to have the Senate move closer to the position of the other three parties for a four-way deal." [Bloodhorse]
A major sticking point involves simulcasting. The Senate has been insisting on taking the lucrative simulcasting business away from NYRA and awarding it to an outside company. It has not publicly revealed who should get the contract. The Spitzer administration considers the Senate position a poison pill that will prevent a final deal.(The accounts on Bloodhorse.com are, as usual, written by Tom Precious, the State Capitol correspondent for the Buffalo News who continues his outstanding work reporting on the matter.) The length of the franchise extension, and the nature of a new public agency to oversee NYRA remain issues as well.
“NYRA needs to keep that," a state official said.
Also unresolved is the insistence by Bruno that the NYRA board be dissolved and replaced by a new slate of directors. Bruno has said NYRA's many problems over the years require a new team be brought on to run things.
“It’s just not going to happen. They are NYRA," said a source who has been involved in the lengthy talks in Albany the week of Dec. 9. [Bloodhorse]