It was like watching a government version of "The Sting," only with B actors instead of Newman and Redford.
I'm referring to last week's vote by the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to award the New York Jets the right to build the world's most expensive football stadium over Manhattan's West Side railyards.
The MTA board members did exactly what their bosses, Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg, wanted them to do.
They picked the Jets even though the team was the lowest bidder against two competitors, MSG/Cablevision and TransGas Energy.
But hey, don't believe me.
This is what Pataki appointee James Simpson, chairman of the MTA board's Real Estate Committee, said in front of television cameras before voting for the Jets:
"MSG's proposal is worth at least $200 million more than the Jets' proposal."
Likewise MTA Vice Chairmen David Mack and Edward Dunn. They also admitted Cablevision's cash bid was higher than the Jets'.
In the days before the vote, you heard a lot of noise in some press accounts about the Jets' "generous" $720 million offer.
Anyone who bothered to examine the actual bids - and the MTA board was legally bound to do so - could see the Jets' offer was smoke and mirrors.
Their cash offer for a piece of property appraised at nearly $1 billion was $210 million.
They also threw in an offer of $440 million by a group of real estate developers to buy air rights from the railyards site, if the developers could use those rights to construct buildings elsewhere in Manhattan.
The problem is that the City Council would never approve the transfer of any such development rights off the site because Council leaders vehemently oppose the stadium.
On top of that, the MTA's own bid requirements specified that no "proposal that is contingent upon a change in existing zoning requirements will be considered."
A bidder had to offer money on an "as is, where is" basis.
MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow and his board knew they would be flouting their own bid requirements if they accepted the conditional add-on from the real estate developers. Instead, they claimed the MTA will sell those air rights itself in the future.
That's why the agency ended up simply taking the Jets' $210 million for the actual site "as is."
But Cablevision's offer was $400 million cash up front, with no conditions. The company said it would assume all risk in seeking any zoning changes for the residential and office building complex it proposed for the site.
In addition, Cablevision offered an additional $360 million to build a platform to cover the railyards. In the Jets' bid, all the money for that platform, as well as for the stadium's retractable roof, is coming from $600 million in corporate welfare from the city and state.
In other words, the Cablevision bid would have saved taxpayers $600 million directly while giving the cash-strapped MTA nearly $400 million more.
So how did the MTA board justify choosing an outrageously lower bid from the Jets?
We have to save the No. 7 subway extension, several board members said.
If they hadn't chosen the Jets bid, they said, the MTA would have endangered the $2 billion subway extension project that City Hall is financing.
But the agency never mentioned the subway extension in its bid requirements. In fact, the Council already has approved floating the bonds for a 7 line extension.
To link the 7 line to the Jets stadium was just a flimflam - moving the goal posts on the final drive so the Jets could win.
Remember, public officials wanted to give the site to the Jets without any bids. Only a last-minute public outcry forced Kalikow to open up the bidding. Now Bloomberg and economic development czar Daniel Doctoroff are supporting this new rigged process, which may finally be exposed in the courts.
Like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "The Sting," they keep hoping nobody will ever figure out the horse race wasn't real.
©Copyright WestSideStadium.org, 2004