The New York legislature has approved a new law to replace the temporary “reorganization” law from 2012, but it guarantees that Andrew Cuomo retains control of racing at Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct. While the legislative leaders and various media sources proclaim this is a glorious return to private control of the New York Racing Association, the reality is far different.
Under the budget law for the new fiscal year, signed by Cuomo, the governing board of NYRA has been dramatically restructured. The Board will remain at 17 members, but allow two entities that represent horsemen and horsewomen, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, to each have a vote. The Senate gets two appointments as does the Assembly.
The remaining 11 seats are controlled by the Governor. The NYRA CEO and President – currently Chris Kay, who is effectively a Cuomo appointee – will be on the Board. The Governor makes two direct appointments. The remaining eight seats, however, will be appointed by a current NYRA Board committee that is dominated by Cuomo loyalists. Cuomo also appoints the Board Chairperson from the members of the new board.
It is that NYRA committee that permits the fiction that NYRA will be under private control. Of the six committee members, three are appointees of Cuomo, one of the Senate, and one from the former NYRA Board. The sixth member of the group, and the chairman, is Michael DelGiudice. Although he was appointed by the Assembly, if there is any doubt about his allegiance to Cuomo, he has said “Andrew is like a younger brother to me.”
Now it is true that all six of the committee members are private citizens, although five of the six are appointed by the state government. Indeed, of the fifteen members on the Reorganization Board, there was only one government employee. Nonetheless, the agency committed to overseeing New York’s public records law and open meetings law, the Committee on Open Government, concluded that the appointment of a majority of that Board by government officials was an important factor in deciding that it was a public entity.
Perhaps you think that appointees of Governor Cuomo are capable of exercising independent judgment and will select Board members who are independent and competent. You must also be eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Easter Bunny this weekend.
The only truly private members of the new Board are from the organizations representing the breeders, owners and trainers – the people responsible for ensuring that New York has horses that enable it to have horse racing.
So we have gone from a “government-controlled” Board in which 12 of the 17 members were appointees of the government to one in which 15 of the 17 are either appointed directly by the government or are controlled by the government. This is privatization?
The Reorganization Board that is being replaced had five truly private members from the predecessor NYRA Board. In all candor, those five did nothing over the last five years to provide a check on the Governor. They were, after all, part of a toothless board that rolled over and allowed Cuomo to seize control of racing back in 2012 following a brief campaign of threats, intimidation and baseless allegations of inappropriate behavior. They will not be missed.
New York had a unique opportunity to come up with a different approach. While it already has the best racing in the country, it could also have innovative and thoughtful leadership that would grow the fan base and lead to sustainable growth. Instead, we have the small-bore leadership of a Chris Kay and now a structure that will remain a patronage haven for hacks and campaign contributors that will not move the sport forward.
It is a shame.