by Brendan Scott
ALBANY — Whether or not you like Gov. Paterson’s decision to pick the politically connected Aqueduct Entertainment Group to run video lottery slots at Aqueduct Race Track, it’s hard to defend the sleaze-soaked process that led to it.
The debacle is the product of a scheme hatched by ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer — who resigned in scandal — and former Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno — who was convicted of corruption — in early 2008. Their mutual distrust was so great, they decided that any Aqueduct deal would need unanimous approval from Albany’s "three men in a room."
The result put one of the biggest contracts in state history — worth billions over its life — outside of the laws designed to protect taxpayers from corrupt bid decisions. "It’s a mess," said Blair Horner of NYPIRG, a public-interest group. "What you’d like to see is an open process where the award is granted to the best bidder in a combination of quality and cost. That process was essentially ignored."
Contrast that with the Lottery Division’s selection of a vendor to run its $7.6 billion gaming system last year under the normal, competitive bidding process. The bids came in. They were public, and they were final. The state selected a vendor. No harm, no foul.
Paterson more than once bemoaned the arrangement. But that hardly lets him off the hook. As governor, he could have demanded a cleaner process after taking the reins from Spitzer.
Instead, Paterson galloped headlong into the deal-making and, in October 2008, pushed Buffalo-based Delaware North.
The governor missed another chance to sanitize things after Delaware North’s bid fell apart. Rather than scrap the process and start anew, he launched an even sleazier round of horse-trading — apparently making the final decision to push for AEG without telling top aides.
The choice came on the heels of hints by AEG investor and influential Queens pastor Floyd Flake that he might endorse Paterson rival Andrew Cuomo.