For years now, New York State has been trying to upgrade the facilities at the deteriorating Aqueduct raceway in Queens. Then last month, Gov. David Paterson suddenly handed the lucrative contract for video lottery terminals to a company called Aqueduct Entertainment Group. The company has promised jobs, a $300 million bonus for the state and “a casino concept that celebrates New York.”
We don’t see a lot to celebrate. Indeed, this contract seems designed primarily to bolster Governor Paterson’s political fortunes — and enrich at least one important friend. Consider these facts:
One of the investors in Aqueduct Entertainment Group is the Rev. Floyd Flake, who is among New York’s most influential and politically savvy black pastors. Only a week before the announcement, Mr. Flake had been saying nice things about Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is likely to be Mr. Paterson’s main competition in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Then, three days after awarding the contract, Governor Paterson invited the pastor in for a chat about whom Mr. Flake plans to back for governor. Both men deny any connection between the Aqueduct deal and the election. But here’s the next reason to worry: Given the secretive contracting process, who’s to know the truth?
Governor Paterson’s aides are quick to point out that the process was set in place before he took office and was intentionally crafted to give all three of Albany’s top political leaders — the governor and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly — the final say. But Mr. Paterson never objected to the process and reportedly overruled analysts inside the administration who rated other bidders higher than Mr. Flake’s group.
The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, is so angry about the results that he wrote the governor warning that he would not sign off on the deal until certain conditions are met, including assurances that no one connected to this company has been denied gaming licenses elsewhere or convicted of a crime in the last 15 years.
Mr. Silver may have preferred another bidder. But his demands seem more than reasonable. He should also insist that the governor release documents showing how this bid was chosen. It shouldn’t stop there.
The Aqueduct deal begs to be investigated. Mr. Cuomo; the Commission on Public Integrity; the state’s inspector general, Joseph Fisch; the comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli — at least one of them should be on the case.