2010-11-05 / Top Stories

Pols No-Show For Racino Groundbreaking

By Howard Schwach

In the wake of a state Inspector General’s report detailing the wrongdoing of several Queens politicians, including State Senator Malcolm Smith, the long-awaited groundbreaking for the Aqueduct Racino went on without three state leaders who signed off on the deal to give the contract to the politically-connected Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG).

While Governor David Paterson attended the event, Senate President Malcolm Smith, Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson and Senate Racing Committee chairman Eric Adams did not, further focusing the spotlight on the trio, two of whom are widely expected to face charges of criminality in connection with the Racino deal.

Sampson, as conference leader, selected Aqueduct Entertainment Group, while Smith formally signed the document on behalf of the Senate. Adams was involved in the selection process as well.

All three were heavily criticized in Inspector General Joseph Fisch’s report, issued late last week, on the tainted selection of AEG for the project. AEG ultimately was rejected when the state Lottery ruled it was “unlicenseable,” and Genting New York was chosen for the project after a new bidding process.

According to the Fisch report, Smith was still heavily involved in the selection process and backing AEG’s application, despite the fact that he said that he was recusing himself.

All three Senate leaders attended a victory party at the Albany home of AEG lobbyist and former state Senator Carl Andrews after Paterson named AEG as the winning bidder for the billion dollar Racino deal.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was criticized in the report for knowing about AEG’s problems but doing nothing to stop its initial selection, also skipped the groundbreaking.

Genting New York, which organized the groundbreaking, wouldn’t comment on whether Sampson, Smith, Silver or Adams was invited. Genting spokesman Stefan Friedman said the Legislature will be represented by Sen. Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, two Democrats whose districts include the Aqueduct site in Queens.

Both Pheffer and Addabbo were criticized in the report as well for focusing too much on how the winning bidder would interact with their communities and not enough on the weaknesses in the financial plans and in those investing in the companies involved.

And, while the report was sent to both the state’s attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney for possible charges against Smith and Sampson, no such recommendations were made in relation to Addabbo or Pheffer.

Addabbo, however, took tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Democratic Senate Committee, some of it allegedly from Racino lobbyists, and refused to return it, sources say.

Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran wasn’t aware of the groundbreaking, but said the leadership is too focused on the upcoming elections to have been able to attend anyway.

Republicans have been using the Fisch report against Democratic incumbents and challengers across the state.

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