NEW YORK — The New Year will ring in renewed hostilities in what has become Gotham’s most public feud: that between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cablevision chief executive James Dolan.
The two are locked in an epic battle over the proposed $1.4 billion West Side Stadium, the cornerstone of New York’s 2012 Olympic bid and key to the mayor’s legacy as he begins his campaign for re-election next fall.
Much will be decided in the coming weeks, but on the eve of several important votes on the stadium, the mayor and New York Gov. George Pataki appear to be taking the upper hand over the mogul, even though public opinion and the editorial page of the New York Times oppose the stadium.
“The mayor is always formidable when he enters a contested situation,” former mayor Ed Koch said. “But this one is too close to call.”
On Tuesday the City Council will consider the rezoning of the Hudson Yards, over which the stadium would be built. A final vote is set for Jan. 26. Then the three-member Public Authority Control Board will vote on whether to approve the state’s $300 million contribution to the stadium, the biggest hurdle that remains for the mayor.
In February, Intl. Olympic Committee officials will visit to evaluate the city’s bid. Bloomberg wants to break ground on the stadium before July, when the IOC makes its final selection.
Straying from Garden path
Standing in his way is Cablevision’s Dolan, who has spent more than $8 million on advertising and public relations to fight the stadium, which he believes will take sporting events, conventions and concerts away from neighboring Madison Square Garden.
Dolan funds the anti-stadium campaign through the group Better Choices for New York, which represents community groups, teachers and transportation advocates who say $600 million of public money — $300 million from the city and the same amount from the state — would be better spent on public services, schools, housing and upkeep for the 100-year-old subway system.
The city faces a $3 billion budget shortfall for next year and the Metropolitan Transit Authority has said it intends to raise subway fares in 2006 and 2007.
A Quinnipiac U. poll found 77% of New Yorkers opposed the stadium if existing city funds are used to pay for it.
But Bloomberg argued on his weekly radio show that the most conservative estimate by the Independent Budget Office is that the stadium will make $900 million in 30 years.
Cablevision and a host of community groups filed suit against the city alleging a study of the effects of the new stadium is flawed, and they said they’ll file an injunction to stop its construction or at least delay it.
If they can delay the stadium long enough for the IOC to pick Paris over New York when it makes its decision in July, some of the rationale for the stadium will evaporate.
Cablevision has sought to keep a low profile in the dispute, but Bloomberg drags Dolan’s name into the mix at every opportunity, issuing a press release calling the Dolan family, which own the nation’s sixth largest cable company, “lying monopolists.”
The mayor points out that Madison Square Garden gets an $11 million tax break each year. “If they spent $11 million more on the Knicks, maybe the Knicks would be a better team that would fill Madison Square Garden,” the mayor said recently.
A Cablevision distraction?
Critics of Cablevision note the company has far more critical concerns to address than any potential effect the new stadium could have on Madison Square Garden.
The company shelved a planned spinoff of Rainbow Media Enterprises and said it would explore “strategic alternatives” for the unit, which includes satellite TV venture Voom.
But the stakes could be higher for the mayor, who faces re-election in the fall as well as the certainty that his support for the stadium will be used against him by his opponents.