November 20, 2004
Jets Guided Anti-Cablevision Bill, Documents Show
epresentatives from the Jets were conspicuously absent when two state assemblymen appeared outside City Hall on Tuesday to announce legislation that seemed tailor-made for the football team: the repeal of a tax break for Cablevision, the most aggressive opponent of a new stadium for the team.
The Jets, as well as Cablevision, have tried to avoid much notice in the dispute over building the stadium, but there is little doubt about who the dominant players are. In fact, a closer look at Tuesday's event shows that the Jets were deeply involved in trying to get the anti-Cablevision bill introduced in Albany long before any lawmakers had actually agreed to do it, according to plans that were circulated among the Jets, their lobbyists and some legislators in October.
The plans, which were faxed between the Jets and Greenberg Traurig, a law and lobbying firm hired by the team to work on stadium issues, included a draft of the bill and described an effort to "put together a press conference to announce the introduction of the legislation" and to "provide visuals and create other press around the bill."
"The legislation will call for funds from the repeal to go toward critical needs such as affordable housing and education," according to the plan, which named two lawmakers who were expected to introduce it, Assemblyman Jose R. Peralta of Queens and Senator Martin Malave Dilan, who represents parts of Brooklyn. Scrawled beneath the lawmakers' names was the handwritten note, "No commitment to do."
The legislation to take away Cablevision's tax break was eventually introduced by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz of Brooklyn and Mr. Peralta, who joined him at the news conference on Tuesday. Mr. Dilan, who did not take part, and Mr. Peralta could not be reached for comment.
In an interview, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz insisted that it was his idea to sponsor and introduce the bill. He said he was unfamiliar with the planning documents that describe discussions about it back in October, but added that he had met with both the Jets and Cablevision before deciding to submit the legislation.
The behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Jets' role is the latest reminder of how each side has tried to stay in the shadows while helping others to get out front on their behalf. Their goal is to convey an impression that they represent a broad constituency.
"Of course we try to enlist outside support," said an executive on one side of the fight, "because the alternative is to stand alone and be demonized." Like several others interviewed for this story, the executive spoke only on condition that he not be identified, saying he did not want to draw attention to his organization's role in the dispute, which has become increasingly bitter in recent weeks.
Cablevision regards the Jets stadium as competition for Madison Square Garden because the stadium, planned for the West Side of Manhattan, would have a retractable roof, allowing it to be used for indoor events all year.
Cablevision has paid for television ads lampooning Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's support for the project. Mr. Bloomberg proposes a total of $600 million in city and state money for the stadium, while the Jets would spend $800 million, and the ads accuse the mayor of financing the deal on the backs of city workers.
The mayor has responded by labeling Cablevision "a disgrace" and criticizing the company for continuing to reap $11.7 million a year from a 22-year-old property tax abatement for the Garden that he said is unwarranted. Jets ads have attacked Cablevision, saying the company is, in effect, financing its effort to sink the stadium and the jobs it would create by using the money saved through its tax break.
In waging their campaigns, Cablevision and the Jets have sometimes been open about their roles, but at other times have gone to great lengths to leave no fingerprints.
When told of the documents describing efforts to introduce the anti-Cablevision legislation, Matt Higgins, a spokesman for the Jets, acknowledged that the Jets had been involved, but he played down the team's role.
"There are many organizations and individuals, including the Jets, who believe the public should know Cablevision is using tax dollars to fund their job-killing campaign," Mr. Higgins said.
Mr. Higgins then took aim at Cablevision's tactics, saying, "We don't feel the need to create a front organization and hide behind it."
He was referring to an anti-stadium group, New York Association for Better Choices, which is financed by Cablevision's Garden subsidiary. While the group says it has many members, its spokesman, Whit Clay, works for a public relations firm paid by Cablevision, and Cablevision refers all questions regarding the stadium, or the Garden's tax break, to him.
Mr. Clay defended Cablevision's role in the group, saying that the company, through its Garden subsidiary, has "helped give voice to the stadium opponents through N.Y.A.B.C.," which he said was necessary to keep them from being "steamrolled" by City Hall.
"But that is far different from dispatching elected representatives to do your bidding and attack your opponents to try to deflect attention from the $600 million in taxpayer subsidies the Jets want to build their football stadium," he said, referring to the Jets' role in the effort to repeal Cablevision's tax exemption.
A news release about the legislation that went out under Mr. Cymbrowitz's name included statements of support from several people, including James Whelan, executive director of the Hudson Yards Coalition, an alliance of business and labor groups.
Mr. Whelan said yesterday that while the release came from the assemblyman's office, the coalition helped with the legislation and the news conference announcing it, with help from the Jets.
"Certainly, I've had discussions with the Jets on this subject," he said. "They weren't discouraging of the idea."
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