Friday, February 15, 2008

Bronx politicians, Yankees President in a smackdown over stadium

(Randy Levine in photo)
Juan Gonzalez
Daily News

A breakfast meeting between Yankees President Randy Levine and Bronx lawmakers about the team's new stadium erupted into a heated shouting match, with one assemblywoman so mad she stormed out.

The fireworks began after Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. asked Levine for the number of Bronx residents hired to work on the $1.2 billion stadium.

When the Yankees president could not give precise numbers, Diaz and other lawmakers became visibly upset, several people who attended last week's meeting said.

A few minutes later, Levine became embroiled in a second dispute with Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who wanted to know why a community foundation that was supposed to dispense $800,000 annually in Yankees contributions to Bronx nonprofits had taken more than 18 months to hold its first meeting.

Levine told Arroyo to ask Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión about the delay. She then blasted his response and angrily walked out.

A few participants said they were even more angry at Carrión and the borough's City Council delegation than at the Yankees.

Less than two years ago, Levine signed a much-publicized "community benefits agreement" with Bronx pols that was filled with grand promises about jobs for local residents and a new Yankees community foundation. The team made those promises to win City Council approval for huge public subsidies for the new stadium.

The agreement committed the team to employ Bronx residents for "at least 25%" of the total construction workforce. The Yankees promised that a quarter of stadium contracting would go to Bronx businesses.

Yankees spokeswoman Alice McGillion said Thursday the team had met its 25% goal and had done even better in contracting.

No one has verified those claims. The agreement called for the creation of a "construction advisory committee" of community leaders to monitor compliance and to get monthly reports on how the Yankees were meeting their goals.

That committee has never met, and the board of the new foundation did not even hold its first meeting until two months ago - only after reporters started asking about it.

"It's deeply troubling that a project of this magnitude, which will have such an immense impact on the people of the Bronx, has so many seemingly unanswered questions," Diaz said Thursday.

Diaz and Arroyo declined to say what happened at the meeting.

"None of us have ever seen anyone go toe-to-toe with Randy Levine the way Ruben did," another participant said.

In addition to Diaz and Arroyo, other state lawmakers who attended the meeting were Assembly members Michael Benjamin, Carl Heastie and Aurelia Greene and assistants of several others.

Amazingly, neither Carrión nor any of the Bronx Council members who originally signed the Community Benefits Agreement with the Yankees were present.

"Adolfo and the Bronx Council delegation boycotted the meeting," one source said. "They know they dropped the ball, and they don't want to answer any questions."

Carrión did not respond to calls for comment, but he should know about the Yankees employment practices. After all, Bennie Catala, the man the Yankees hired to administer its employment program for Bronx residents, came from Carrión's office.

Catala's office, according to the CBA agreement, gets $450,000 yearly to do its work.

Another no-show at the meeting was Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic Party chairman, who said he was "too busy" to attend.

Rivera, more than anyone else in the Bronx, is responsible for the original deal with the Yankees. He acknowledged not knowing if any advisory committee had met since the agreement was signed.

"I've been told the Yankees are meeting their promises," Rivera told me. "If it turns out they're not, I'll be the first one to raise hell."

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