The New York Racing Association’s Board of Directors approved a report on Tuesday with two proposals that would – according to them – return NYRA to private control. Each of the proposals, however, would ensure that Governor Andrew Cuomo would retain control of the NYRA franchise for the foreseeable future. And despite their self-serving rhetoric, either of the “new” Boards could very well consist of nothing but current Board members.
The Board, known as the Reorganization Board, was established by legislation in 2012 following the seizure of NYRA by the Governor. The stated purpose was to have racing controlled by a government-appointed board of directors for three years and then “returned to private control, remaining in the form of a not-for-profit corporation.” When they could not meet the legislative deadlines in 2015, the deadlines were extended for a year.
The NYRA report outlined three options. The first two would create a 15-member board with NYRA’s CEO being a member. Here is how the remaining members would be selected in each option:
Option 1: Governor appoints two; Senate President and Assembly Speaker each appoint one; ten members appointed by the Cuomo loyalists on the current Board.
Option 2: Fourteen members appointed by the Cuomo loyalists on the Board.
Option 3: Continuation of the current 17-member Board, with eight appointed by the Governor, two each by the Senate and Assembly, and five from the prior NYRA.
Under the first two proposals, the so-called “private” members would be recommended by the Board’s Nominations Committee and approved by the Executive Committee. The Nominations Committee has five members, three appointed by the Governor and one appointed by the old NYRA. The fifth Member is Michael Del Giudice who was appointed by the Assembly, but is such a close confidant of both Governor Cuomos that he has been quoted saying “Andrew is like a younger brother to me.” The Executive Committee has six members: Del Giudice, three appointed by the Governor, one by the Senate and one by the old NYRA. Of the 11 seats on both groups, there is only one on each that is not a government-appointee. Andrew Cuomo controls eight of the seats.
There is perhaps a misperception that the current Board consists of actual government officials or employees. In fact, of the more than 20 individuals who have served on the Board since its creation, only one, Bob Megna, was actually employed by the government.
The remaining members, except for the five NYRA-appointees, were all appointed by government leaders. While this Board is widely-recognized as government-controlled, how can a Board appointed by the Governor’s loyalists not also be viewed as government-controlled? Are there benighted souls out there who think that a Cuomo appointee is going to suddenly start acting independently? If he does – and all his appointees are men – it will be his last act as a Cuomo-appointee. What we can expect, however, is that a Board appointed under this process will have many of the current members.
Michael Del Giudice, who serves as Chair of the entire Board, said that these three options to be presented to the Governor and the Legislature are the only ones. Of course, they are not. There are any number of options, so he must have meant that these are the only ones that perpetuate the Governor’s control. I set forth a proposal in this post that would not only move towards real private control, but is based on a model that this Governor used when he addressed the crisis caused by fatalities at Aqueduct in early 2012.
Del Giudice made some revealing comments when he addressed a suggestion that the Board include as voting members, instead of their current ex officio status, representatives of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders. The former represents all owners and trainers who race in New York; the latter those who breed New York-breds.
He summarily dismissed the comment by Rick Violette of NYTHA: “We heard you. We like it the way it is.” In subsequent comments reported by David Grening in DRF.com, he added, “Expressing an opinion is one thing, but then voting their interests against NYRA interests potentially could create a conflict.”
That’s right. One group that represents the trainers whose livelihood depends on a successful NYRA in addition to the owners who spend tens of millions – if not hundreds of millions – could somehow conflict with NYRA. The same for the breeders who also expend tens of millions and contribute directly to New York’s farm economy. Does Michael Del Giudice think people come to NYRA’s tracks to see him give away a trophy?
His statements are typical of the arrogance and ignorance we have come to expect from the Cuomo Administration’s control of New York racing. “We like it the way it is.” You will not find that sentiment often expressed on the backstretch or in the grandstand.
This is an opportunity for New York to take a major step forward in restoring it to a leadership position in the industry. That will not be accomplished if the next NYRA Board is just more politics as usual.