by Karen M. Johnson
With the March 12 announcement of the resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer effective March 17, officials at the New York Racing Association said they don’t anticipate his resignation would affect recent legislation that grants NYRA a new franchise. It could, however, impact other aspects of the franchise moving forward.
After an arduous political process, the state legislature signed a bill Feb. 13 that provides NYRA with a 25-year franchise to operate racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. NYRA was tabbed last year by Spitzer, a Democrat, to continue operating the three-track franchise.
John Lee, director of communications at NYRA, said Spitzer’s resignation might hold up the process of “side issues” related to the franchise legislation, but it would not impact the signed bill.
“The essential thing for NYRA was to get the franchise legislation passed,” Lee said March 12. “There are many side issues needed to be hammered out. What with the issues in Albany right now, we wouldn’t be surprised if that process was slowed down. But we don’t anticipate an effect on NYRA racing.”
Spitzer, who has been linked to a prostitution ring, will be succeeded by Lt. Gov. David Paterson. It remains to be seen whether Spitzer employees involved in the franchise renewal process will keep their jobs, so there is a chance things could get sidetracked. NYRA, for instance, has a pending bankruptcy hearing and not all documents related to it have been finalized by the state.
The state is facing a budget deficit with a spending plan due March 31. Observers in Albany suggested Paterson and lawmakers have a lot on their plate right now, and the NYRA matter isn't a priority.
Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, expressed concern March 12 that Spitzer’s resignation could delay two key components of the future of racing in New York: the video lottery terminal operation at Aqueduct and the development of the land NYRA relinquished to the state in exchange for the franchise.
The bill allows for legislators to have a hand in the selection of a real-estate developer and casino operator at Aqueduct. Legislative officials said at the time of the franchise renewal they hoped the Non-Profit Racing Association Oversight Board would select a casino operator within 30 days.
“With the colossal amount of work facing (David Paterson), I hope these issues are not put on the back-burner,” Violette said. “These are issues that could be put in harm’s way. I hope the new governor and other state leaders are full-speed ahead with the selection of the VLT operator and land developer. We need to hear some hammers and nails being pounded.”
Spitzer, meanwhile, held a brief press conference March 12, two days after the allegations surfaced.
“I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me,” Spitzer said in a brief statement issued at the governor’s office in New York City. “To every New Yorker and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize.”
Spitzer, a former attorney general who easily won the governorship in 2006, said he will leave public life.