John Hendrickson, appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to represent Saratoga Springs on the Board of the New York Racing Association, has resigned his position. Hendrickson expressed his frustration with a Governor and administration who “don’t care much about the industry,” according to the Albany Times Union. He was quoted saying, “There appears to be a general dislike for racing.”
Since he was appointed as a non-voting member to the Board that was created when Cuomo seized control of NYRA in 2012, Hendrickson has been an informed and independent voice. On a Board controlled by state government, the state’s appointees meekly sit through meaningless meetings and routinely approve whatever directions are handed down from the Governor’s office. It’s not surprising that the announcement of Hendrickson’s departure was greeted by a typically classless statement from Cuomo’s office that was basically “Good riddance.”
Hendrickson and his wife Marylou Whitney have campaigned major horses in New York, including Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Birdstone. The couple has also been a significant contributor to racing in Saratoga, including a program for backstretch programs that runs throughout the Saratoga meet. In short, they are a prime example of people who are committed to racing and, more importantly, to giving their success back to the sport and the community.
Despite their contributions and impact, Hendrickson could not even get a return call from the Governor to express his concerns about what is going on with racing in New York. If it isn’t blatantly obvious by now to anyone who has observed the Governor, he expects complete fealty and unquestioning loyalty from those around him.
And what he now appears intent on is taking revenues from Video Lottery Terminals that support racing and redirecting them to his own purposes. This is so even though the agreement reached when NYRA gave up control of the land on which the tracks sit gave NYRA a portion of the VLT revenues.
The Hendrickson resignation takes place in the context of proposals intended to return NYRA to private control instead of a government-run entity. None of the proposals, however, whether it be Cuomo’s or identical bills from the Senate and the Assembly, do that. The reality is that under either of the proposals, Cuomo will continue to control almost all of the appointees to a so-called “private” entity.
The Hendrickson resignation serves to highlight the future for New York racing if Andrew Cuomo is still calling the shots. As BloodHorse.com reported:
“‘I really have Saratoga as my main goal. My loyalty is to Saratoga, not the Governor….
I just didn’t feel like I could do my job if he wasn’t listening. It turned out to be a nightmarish game of whack-a-mole,’ Hendrickson said of his time serving as the NYRA board special adviser.”
I don’t have any faith in the government-appointed NYRA Board members to step up and take a similar leadership role. We can hope, however, that independent groups and the media will start to appreciate the latest scam by Cuomo to retain full control of New York racing.