Gov. Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic boss John Sampson picked a company to run thousands of slot machines at the decrepit raceway in dead-of-night secrecy that reeks of favoritism and fixes.
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake both for the public and the firm that won the franchise, Paterson, Silver and Sampson solicited proposals from would-be gaming interests. Six submitted credible bids.
Since then, outrageously, the trio has:
- Refused to let the public see any details of the proposals – how much money each bidder put on the table, what skeletons they had in their closets or how their building designs stacked up.
- Repeatedly changed bidding rules in the middle of the game, demanding increasingly fat upfront payments to plug holes in the state budget.
- Fomented an orgy of campaign donations and spending by politically connected lobbyists.
- Generally conducted themselves so badly that developer Steve Wynn – Mr. Vegas himself – walked away in disgust.
Stunningly, not even Friday’s choice of Aqueduct Entertainment Group as the winning bid was straightforward. Silver immediately put conditions on his okay, hinting that AEG was not the highest bidder and had a crook on its payroll.
That and the company’s inside connections to Sampson and Senate President Malcolm Smith strongly suggested it was rigged from the get-go.
Making matters worse, Paterson quickly approached a key player at AEG – influential minister and former Congressman Floyd Flake – to solicit his political support in the coming election.
The governor said he waited until the deal was done to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo. So call it a quo pro quid.
Even yesterday, the governor’s office admitted that the Lottery Division had given low marks to AEG early on. But no one knows exactly why, because it won’t make those documents public.
This doesn’t even come close to the standards of competitive bidding and good government. The public can have no faith that this was a real effort, on the merits, to identify the best outfit to install and operate 4,500 video slots at Aqueduct.
Which, by the way, the state shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
It shouldn’t be immersing itself even deeper in the business of encouraging its citizens to gamble.
It shouldn’t be diverting a big chunk of the proceeds, supposedly earmarked for education, to prop up a dying horse-racing industry.
It shouldn’t be taking a huge swath of Ozone Park – with enormous economic potential – and frittering it away on a half-baked scheme.
This is a scandal wrapped around an outrage.
Before another a step is taken, Paterson, Sampson and Silver must release every bidding document, every scrap of correspondence, every e-mail, every internal scorecard. All of it. They must convince the public this is something other than a crooked deal, or we’re entitled to assume the worst.