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7th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 7, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

On Wednesday, the City Council approved the land use portion of the deal that promises to ultimately lead to the long-anticipated construction of a new Yankee Stadium and the retention of the iconic team in The Bronx.This caps over two decades of effort to retain the team.

Had the Yankees departed,the effect on the borough would have been akin to having the White House and Capitol building moved from Washington, D.C. It would have signaled the end of hope for better days for a borough that has been in steep decline for nearly half a century. A borough that has a population more than twice that of the nation’s capital, which is now home to a one-year-old baseball franchise, having twice previously failed to support a baseball team.
Amid the good news is one annoyance, a “Community Benefits Agreement” proposed by the Yankees, which led to the approval by the Council. Under this agreement, the team will give Bronx nonprofit and youth groups $800,000 every year for 40 years. Fine and dandy — I have no problem with Tampa resident and Cleveland native George M. Steinbrenner III kicking some cash back to The Bronx. It is the way I find objectionable. The money will come from the Yankees, but be channeled through a new entity appointed by Bronx politicos (that is the Democratic Party machine). In other words, a slush fund.

There has to be a better way, and I have a modest proposal.

If the intent of the Yankees is to help the youth of the Bronx,why not directly fund every one of the borough’s 14 Little Leagues? The selection of the groups getting help would thus be monitored by the national officials of Little League baseball, presumably free of influence from the Bronx County Democratic boss, Jose Rivera, the former boss, Roberto Ramirez (whose consulting firm, Mirram Associates was paid over $300,000 by the Yankees to orchestrate the approval of the deal), and other power brokers, current and future.

The last time the current gang got involved in the Little Leagues was when they gave their support (and public money) to the now-defunct and disgraced Rolando Paulino Little League, which was discovered to have “fixed” the Little League World Series and whose leaders were ultimately banned from Little League baseball for life.

It is clear to me that local children are underserved when only 14 leagues serve a borough of one-and-a-half million. Expanding this to, say, 20, would mean that each league could receive $40,000 a year, which would cover most of the typical Little League budget, and would reach into every corner of The Bronx.All of this would be governed by a non-partisan, existing structure with headquarters in Williamsport, Pa.

I can see a patch with the Yankee logo on every child’s uniform, acknowledging the gift, promoting enormous goodwill for the team for generations.

Chris Amarosa, the president of the Van Nest Little League and the head of District 22, which governs the teams in The Bronx, noted that such an arrangement “would change the way we do business immensely,” easing the annual cash crunch that afflicts all of the borough’s teams.

As part of the current deal, the Yankees will provide to the politician-dominated panel 15,000 tickets to home games. How about a ticket for each Little Leaguer, a league at a time, invited onto the field before the game to have their pictures taken with Yankee players. Do you think that the children might prefer to have their pictures taken with Mr. Ramirez? So why funnel the money through him?

Another idea could have the Yankees funding a new charter school each and every year. $800,000 could go a long way toward outfitting a school, and the prestige of the Yankees would make additional fund raising a snap. Again, the children of The Bronx could be helped in a tangible way without the stench of Bronx County’s often corrupt, incestuous political establishment.

The president of the Yankees, Randy Levine, isn’t worried.He assured me that all will be well,and that the Yankees wouldn’t allow the new structure to sink into corruption. Excuse my skepticism. I live in a borough where, somehow, public money earmarked for the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club wound up financing a left-wing radio network.

This type of community benefits agreement is nothing new. Back in 1997, then-Council member Guillermo Linares, by his own description, went to bed one night, couldn’t sleep, and by morning had changed his vote on the construction of a new Pathmark Supermarket in East Harlem. During that fateful night also magically appeared a $150,000 community benefits agreement to ease Mr. Linares’s troubled conscience. It was Mr. Linares’s change of heart that led to the approval of the supermarket.

These projects are done on a borough-by-borough basis, in part by law and in part through tradition. The full City Council was glad to side with its Bronx counterparts. After all, many have much to look forward to.

In Queens, the Mets are slated to build a new stadium. In Brooklyn, developer Bruce Ratner is attempting to build an arena for the Nets basketball team. Even in Staten Island, there are opportunities in a proposed NASCAR auto racing facility.

New projects, new patronage? Or can we nudge the teams to do right by the community by providing their largesse directly to the children? Then perhaps the politicians can look at these projects on their merits and not on patronage potential.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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