Very few care that stadium is history
June 8, 2005
Since Monday's decision by a three-member board in Albany to kill the Jets' proposed West Side stadium and, almost certainly, New York City's related attempt to get the 2012 Summer Olympics, the most striking thing about the fallout has been who isn't disappointed.
A list of high-stakes winners and losers is easy to compile. A new parlor game - second guessing where the pro-stadium folks went wrong - immediately began. But some great outcry of disappointment from average New Yorkers now that both projects appear dead? No. Very little of that.
The new perspective that New Yorkers swore we'd hold onto after 9/11 - those promises to concentrate on what's "really important" - were revived in a speech on Monday by Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker for the state of New York. Silver said he refused to approve the stadium project because he was acting out of a moral obligation to first rebuild lower Manhattan, the district he represents.
"Considering our constitutional obligation to provide each and every child [in New York City] with a sound, basic education, our moral obligation to rebuild and revitalize lower Manhattan, and our public obligation to provide a safe, affordable and efficient mass transit system, I cannot in good conscience cast my vote for the proposal," Silver said.
But did the average New Yorker really believe Silver's assertion that killing the stadium was really a battle for the "soul" of New York City? Or did the average guy and girl in the street dismiss the stadium in-fighting as just another squabble among self-aggrandizing zillionaires and pork-barreling politicians, a spectacle we long ago became inured to around here?
If Jets owner Woody Johnson's flippant comment that worried Jets fans could still tailgate before games at the new West Side stadium - in, um . . . some parking lot in New Jersey, then take a ferry from there - was as callous as Marie Antionette's famous line "Let them eat cake" - as it's been suggested - then Silver and Senate majority leader Frank Bruno's refusal to approve the stadium deal constituted a sort of Everyman rebuke: If rich guys want a new stadium, let the rich guys pay for it and build it somewhere else. Anywhere but the west side of Manhattan.
The Bloomberg administration's assertion that the city's Summer Olympics would be dashed without quick approval of the stadium never really gained traction with New Yorkers. It never evoked the desired emotional response. Just shrugs.
The other day in Paris, more than a million people marched through the streets to show their eagerness to host the 2012 Games. But in New York, the louder message that came bouncing back at Mayor Bloomberg and Dan Doctoroff, his point man for the Olympics and West Side development, seemed to be we're too harried and overtaxed and inconvenienced around here as it is.
And once again, New York's parochialism stood out. We've long had this conceit that we're already the best city in the world. We'll cheer ourselves silly for the Yankees or Giants or Jets. But when it comes to the Olympics and the lofty idea of the world coming together to visit us, we go "Eh." Sometimes we act like the biggest smalltown in the world.
Bloomberg and Doctoroff seemed to grossly miscalculate the local ennui about the Olympics. There's no leverage to be gained if few people care.
Likewise, their all-or-nothing decision to forego having a backup stadium site to save the Olympic bid looks like another misjudgment.
But only if you actually believe this was ever about the Olympics at all, rather than an attempt by Bloomberg and Doctoroff to use the Olympic deadlines as a hammer to push the West Side development projects through.
Whatever the real reason, the result is the Jets' Johnson has already talked about staying across the river in New Jersey, and pitching in with the Giants to build a new stadium there rather than explore building a new home in Queens or one of the other five boroughs. All told, the tally for Bloomberg and Doctoroff reads like this: No stadium, no NFL team, almost certainly no Olympics for New York City, and a West Side development plan that now goes back to the drawing board.
And what battlin' billionaire came out on top? The shocking answer is Cablevision and Madison Square Garden owner Jim Dolan - the only sports figure in New York riding a losing streak even longer than the Yankees. Dolan - who spent millions on attack ads and a thwarted, 11th-hour land grab bid to try to kill the stadium - can now shout from the rooftops, "I finally won something!" So what if turns out he needn't have spent all that spare change?
When asked Monday if he thought the Jets stadium was dead, Silver smiled and told reporters, "It was never alive."