Rudy's running out of time

by Philip Lentz

There is barely seven months left in the reign of Rudy -- not enough time, it would appear, for the city's 107th mayor to complete many of the Big Projects he yearns to include in his legacy. From stadiums to airports to subways, it looks as if these accomplishments will become ribbon cuttings, or headaches, for some other mayor.

This is not for a lack of trying. In the last few months, Rudy Giuliani has been pushing hard to gain deals that will brand his name into the infrastructure of the city for decades to come. But after seven years of fighting, snapping and snarling at other politicians and political institutions, the mayor no longer has the clout nor the allies to pull off one last big deal.

Governor George Pataki, weary of battling with the mayor, would just as soon wait until next year. The next mayor will probably be a Democrat, but the governor's people say Gracie Mansion's next occupant cannot help but be more cooperative than Rudy.

The City Council is run by Speaker Peter Vallone, who wants to be the next mayor. He has little incentive to endorse any deals that could hamstring his ability to run the city.

And the Legislature has always been hostile to this mayor. The Republican Senate does not trust him because of his endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo in 1994. And the Democratic Assembly does not like him because he is a Republican running a Democratic city.

Despite these obstacles, Giuliani pushes on.

STADIUMS

At the top of his agenda are new stadiums for the Yankees, Mets and Jets. But the mayor's announcement a few weeks ago that stadium deals were close was greeted by skepticism by the teams themselves. All the teams want some public subsidies and it is unlikely the City Council or the Legislature would agree to such expenditures in the current fiscal climate, with multi-billion dollar budget deficits looming in the near future.

The mayor's people talk about getting around the City Council, such as floating taxable bonds through the city's Industrial Development Agency, which does not require council approval. But it is hard to see how such a plan could be signed and implemented -- and withstand court challenges -- in just seven months.

For the Yankees, there is not even agreement on where a new stadium would be built. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is said to be resigned to staying in the Bronx, as opposed to the West Side of Manhattan. But would a new stadium be a rehab of the current ballpark or built in a city park next door?

The Mets know where they would like their new stadium to go -- in the parking lot of the current Shea Stadium. But they want to see how much public money George gets from City Hall before they sign on the dotted line with Rudy.

The Jets are further along in their discussions with the mayor and the governor over a new stadium on Manhattan's West Side. But those talks have run afoul of a long-running dispute between the mayor and the governor over expanding the nearby Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The Jets have proposed sharing a new stadium with an expanded Javits center. That would give it a public purpose and, ostensibly, a rationale for public support and public dollars.

The Javits folks -- Pataki appointees all -- are amenable and they are talking with the Jets. But what they really want to do is expand Javits northward, to 42d Street, to gain new exhibition space. Meanwhile, the mayor believes that all Javits needs is a stadium to create more convention space. Thus, an impasse. And Javits officials say they will not agree to a Jets-stadium deal until the mayor agrees to support northward expansion-something he has resolutely refused to do for six years. Until that knot is untangled, it appears the Jets will make little progress toward a new Manhattan stadium.

AIRPORTS

Giuliani is also intent on signing a privatization deal that would kick the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey out of the city's two airports. His minions are busy negotiating with BAA USA Inc., a private airport management firm. Under the proposed deal, BAA would initially be the city's airport consultant, then take over management of the airports in 2016 when the Port Authority's leases expire.

Normally, such lease arrangements require council approval. But when Vallone withdrew his support from the mayor's privatization plan, the mayor's aides said he would sign a management contract instead, which meant no council approval would be required.

And to make the contract stick, the mayor's people plan to include a "poison pill" provision requiring the city to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to BAA if some future administration tries to cancel the contract. The mayoral candidates have howled about this costly attempt to bind the next mayor, but Giuliani is intent on wounding the Port Authority any way he can before he hands over the keys to City Hall.

TRAINS

Another of the mayor's Big Ideas is a subway that would offer an easy one-seat-ride connection from Manhattan to La Guardia Airport. At his insistence, the project was included in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's new $17 billion five-year capital plan. And the mayor has set aside the city's annual contribution to the MTA -- $889 million over the next five years -- for that project and expansion of the No. 7 line to the far West Side.

But despite the mayor's enthusiasm, the La Guardia rail link is near the bottom of the priority list for the MTA. With the agency struggling to fund a commuter rail connection to Grand Central Terminal and the Second Avenue subway, there does not seem much left over for a La Guardia rail link. And the next mayor may want to use the city's MTA contribution for projects with more public support, like the Second Avenue subway.

TUNNELS

There is one major project, however, that the mayor has been able to move forward--and which is supported by his potential successors. That is a rail freight tunnel to Brooklyn. This costly project -- estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion -- is years away from groundbreaking. But the mayor has taken the necessary preliminary steps to enable the next mayor to advance the proposal. He initiated a federally-funded study that provided a rationale for the tunnel--taking trucks off city streets. And he recently started an environmental impact study that could lay the groundwork for a funding request to Washington and Albany (and the City Council too).

Mayor Giuliani is sure to have much to say about his Big Projects during his remaining few months at the helm. But his ability to move them from the talking to the building stage has already eroded badly, leaving it to the next mayor to decide which ones the city winds up pursuing.

Philip Lentz is the political reporter for Crain's New York Business

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