McLoughlin Take 2: NYRA needs to be wary of Cuomo

Does the NYRA's Charlie Hayward not read the Andrew Cuomo popularity ratings?

Quick, which of the following do the folks at the New York Racing Association not seem to fully understand:

A) Horses eat oats.

B) Race horses run the wrong way in England, or

C) The newest governor of New York state is Andrew Cuomo.

If you answered C, you hit the exacta or some other modest jackpot. Please tell me why NYRA President Charlie Hayward would want to mess with the meanest, baddest occupant of the Executive Mansion since … well, since approximately January 1, 1983, to somewhere in the neighborhood of Dec. 31, 1994. Does Charlie not read the Andrew Cuomo popularity ratings and all those fawning analyses of his first six months in office?

First, the outsourcing. “Extremely troubling” was Cuomo’s somewhat reserved pronouncement on NYRA’s decision to outsource its telephone betting operation to Oregon from Queens, where Cuomo grew up. That’s after the state and its taxpayers had been tapped by NYRA for about $130 millions in grants and loans to keep the racing company floating. I am told that behind the scenes, the governor had smoke coming from his nostrils, even though the labor union for the telephonic bet-takers says it had warned Cuomo’s people of the impending move.

Then Hayward, who exudes astuteness most of the time, stiffed Gov. Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Megna, by not showing for a meeting of the Franchise Oversight Board, which is supposed to oversee NYRA’s franchise, given the taxpayer involvement. Megna said publicly that members of the oversight panel considered Hayward’s absence “a slap in the face.” And if Megna was saying such things in public, you can imagine Cuomo’s reaction in private. Hayward swore that he was not trying to slap the board members about the head and claimed that his absence was unavoidable. Forgive me for saying this, Charlie, but there’s a hint of the-dog-ate-the-homework to that, and Charlie, when it comes to Andrew, hardly anything is unavoidable. You have a lobbyist at the Capitol who must have told you that, and if not, do not pay him.

Then, that little matter of the salaries, the raises and the wonderful game of “you figure it out” that NYRA seemed to be playing with the Oversight Board. Rather than supply the board with a detailed list of current NYRA management salaries and raises, NYRA gave the board a little brain-teaser. Hayward later admitted it was a “mistake” to think it sufficient that NYRA (kicking and screaming) had supplied the salaries to the board a year-and-a-half ago and then let it be known that management raises were approximately 3 percent. So NYRA thought board members could figure it out for themselves: Let’s see, back then Charlie told us he was making about $460,000, and now with that raise of about 3 percent or so, I guess that would come to about 473,800 big ones. Am I right, and do I win anything?

No doubt the governor saw the humor in this approach by NYRA. Still, it might have been better to just give up the pay info and not draw any unneeded attention to those management salaries that are substantially larger than the governor’s $179,000 per year. Remember how amused Cuomo was about all those school supers making more than he does?

Look, truth is the New York Racing Association has a large bull’s-eye on its rear. The target is easy. In a business that is dying, NYRA probably does as decent a job as anyone at making red numbers work. Go on the Web and put in “thoroughbred racing decline” and the depressed and depressing facts and figures come popping up: wagering off by about 25 percent in the past three years; too few horses in fewer and fewer race events. And this head-to-head between Albany and NYRA is not all so simple. Hayward last week mixed obsequious with defiant as he admitted his “mistake” in dealing with the oversight folks, reminding everyone, however, that the politicians have helped NYRA to reach this point.

But Charlie, even with all that VLT cash soon on the way, not a good plan, this testing of Cuomo. What if Cuomo & Co. were to decide that VLTs are so good that maybe we should have more of them, VLTs in parlors or casinos that compete with Aqueduct? Ain’t gonna happen, but what if? You gotta talk to your lobbyist, Charlie, and ask him how much the governor probably gets a kick out of jousting with you. Then you pay him.

John McLoughlin is a veteran Capital Region journalist, now at NewsChannel 13. Reach him by email at [email protected].

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