Magna Group Hires Second New York Lobbyist

With a decision on the sale of the lucrative New York City Off Track Betting Corp. imminent, one of the groups vying for the contract has hired another influential lobbyist in Albany to help close the deal with state officials if it should emerge victorious in the bidding.

The group, led by Magna Entertainment, confirmed Thursday it has retained as its second lobbyist William Powers, who until only last month was the state's powerful Republican Party chairman.

"He's going to be representing us," said Robert Baker, who along with fellow Thoroughbred owner William Mack and Greenwood Racing are partners with Frank Stronach's Magna in the bid for the NYCOTB contract.

Baker declined to say how much Powers is being paid, and documents detailing the terms of the deal have not yet been filed with the state Lobbying Commission. Powers, a tough-talking former Marine who ran the state GOP with an iron fist, as well as associates at his new lobbying firm, did not return calls for comment.

Powers last week also began lobbying for Vernon Downs, an upstate New York Standardbred track that on Wednesday was given a 90-day temporary license by state regulators to begin racing this year despite a scathing review of the track's finances by state auditors.

The hiring of Powers comes just a week after the Magna group retained Patricia Lynch for $110,000; Lynch until December was the top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Baker declined to say specifically what Powers will be doing for the group. The hiring of Powers and Lynch assumes the Magna-led group will beat out the other bidders competing for NYCOTB, which includes the new formidable alliance between the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs Inc., and the TV Games Network.

Racing insiders have wondered why the Magna group would hire such expensive lobbyists before New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has announced his pick for the NYCOTB winner. At that point, the proposed sale would be hashed out by the legislature.

"We're a very serious group," Baker said.

It is unclear how Powers' lobbying firm would resolve the conflict of interest created by the retainer with the Magna group. The lobbying firm Powers joined has been lobbying for the TV Games Network, which is a part of the NYRA and Churchill team.

Last week, Hal Handel, chief executive officer of Greenwood Racing, said the hiring of a lobbyist should not be taken as a sign his group is convinced it will win the NYTOTB bidding or that it has been given any advance word on anything. He characterized it merely as good business-planning.

On Thursday, Baker declined to say if Powers is being retained to lobby Giuliani, who will be making the sole decision whether or not to sell NYCOTB and to which bidder. Powers was instrumental in helping Giuliani win his two mayoral elections, and Powers used his party post over the last year to regularly praise Giuliani at a time when the mayor was feuding with fellow Republican Gov. George Pataki.

Even after the winner is announced -- that was to happen this week, though now there is some doubt about that happening by Friday -- the next phase, at the state Capitol, may prove as bumpy as the bidding process. Lynch is tight with Assembly Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Powers is a longtime friend of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Their backing of the NYCOTB deal will be crucial.