A Complex at Aqueduct Is Risk-Free, Cuomo Says
By THOMAS KAPLAN
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo,
stung by widespread doubts about his support for the privately financed
construction of the country’s largest convention center at the Aqueduct
racetrack in Queens, offered a full-throated defense of the proposal on
Thursday, saying the only cost to the state if the project failed would be
"an empty building."
Dismissing concerns about the weak economic health of the
convention business, Mr. Cuomo promised that the Queens project would
"cost the State of New York bubkes," while freeing up for development
the valuable land underneath the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in
In an interview with editors and writers for The New York
Times, Mr. Cuomo sounded frustrated about the skeptical reaction to the
convention center idea, which he proposed during his State of the State address
on Jan. 4. He said the proposed development – which would include hotels,
restaurants and expanded gambling, as well as the convention center – combined
with the redevelopment of Manhattan’s Far West Side, would generate jobs and
significant tax revenues. And he voiced confidence in Genting, the Malaysian
company that runs a gambling hall at Aqueduct and proposes to spend $4 billion
on the convention center.
"What happens if they go bust?" Mr. Cuomo asked.
"First, I say, you want government to second-guess the private sector?
They’ve had a masterful track record, masterful. This is what they do. They do
it all over the world."
He added that the state would not offer Genting any tax-free
bonds to support the project, and he said the company would have to reimburse
the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the full cost of improving subway
access to the new convention center.
Mr. Cuomo dismissed concerns about its distance from
Manhattan attractions. He said the complex would attract "more of a mass,
blue-collar clientele that probably wouldn’t be going to the Broadway shows
anyway," and said many of those who patronized the convention center would
be arriving by plane.
At times, Mr. Cuomo seemed to distance himself from the
entire matter, saying that if he had been governor in an earlier time, he would
not have supported allowing gambling parlors at racetracks, or casinos on
Indian reservations, but noting that those forms of gambling already exist in
New York. And insisting that taxpayers have no risk in the project, he said,
"If we were investing money that we could lose, this could be a
The interview was conducted just two days after Mr. Cuomo
unveiled his annual budget proposal, and he expressed some frustration with
labor as he called for more rigorous evaluation of schoolteachers across the
state and for a reduction in pension benefits for future public employees.
"I’m trying to build political support to counter the
unions," Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said. He said legislators tended to test
the political winds before acting, calling it an "infuriating
Mr. Cuomo, reflecting on his occasional friction with other
leaders in the region, insisted, "I get along with everybody." He
said he had "a fine enough relationship" with Gov. Chris Christie of
New Jersey, a Republican. "I like him," he said, smiling.
Asked if he believed that President Obama would be re-elected,
Mr. Cuomo offered a reply that was both instant and succinct: "Yes."
He did not elaborate, but with some prodding he said, "The Republican side
has determined that their best bet is just to frustrate and stymie, and wait
for the election."
Mr. Cuomo also shied away from discussing the effort by
Democrats to win a majority in the State Senate. The governor, who has worked
productively with the Senate Republican majority, was asked if he would commit
to backing Senate Democrats as November’s elections neared. "No," he
responded. "I don’t want – I won’t commit to campaign or not campaign. I
don’t want to have any political conversation until after the governmental
Mr. Cuomo said talking about campaigning would turn Albany
into Washington. "I work very hard to create a bipartisan environment and
keep politics out," he said. "One of the reasons we’ve had the
success we’ve had is we haven’t become overly political."