The Saratoga region’s only representative on the New York Racing Association Board of Directors has resigned, effectively immediately.
Charles V. Wait Sr. of Saratoga Springs, president, CEO and chairman of Adirondack Trust Co., has been an avid booster of racing’s importance to the city and a member of the NYRA board for three decades.
Wait didn’t respond Monday to a request for comment on his departure, but speculation has centered on possible unhappiness with the Cuomo administration’s decision to extend state oversight of NYRA’s operations for another year, into 2016.
The state stepped in three years ago and took control of the most seats on the board of directors because of concerns about NYRA’s financial management following a series of scandals and a bankruptcy filing. The oversight period was to have ended this year, with control returning to NYRA as a private, nonprofit organization.
NYRA, which operates Saratoga Race Course along with two New York City area tracks, confirmed that Wait has resigned from the board.
Wait served “with distinction, and his leadership was integral to the continued, sustained success of our internationally renowned Saratoga race meet,” said NYRA chief spokesman John Durso Jr. “We are deeply grateful for Mr. Wait’s service to our organization — and his commitment to our great sport.”
Wait also resigned in 2008 in a dispute with then-state Sen. Joe Bruno about NYRA’s future direction, but he was reappointed in 2010.
The 40-day Saratoga meet, which will begin July 24, is NYRA’s most successful racing, drawing about 900,000 people annually to see top-flight thoroughbred racing. A recent study by the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency found the annual economic impact on the Capital Region to be around $237 million. Wait has spoken about racing’s importance to the Capital Region agricultural economy.
Wait is the only Saratoga resident on the NYRA board, though John Hendrickson, husband of socialite Marylou Whitney, serves as a special adviser to the board.
Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said it’s important to have someone from Saratoga on the NYRA board, because of the strong connection between the community and the racing meet, which lies at the heart of the summer tourism economy.
“I think his service has been instrumental in protecting Saratoga Springs and Saratoga Race Course and that [his resignation] leaves an enormous void that needs to be filled,” Shimkus said.
“The sooner we can achieve the goal of three years ago of putting NYRA back into private hands, the better,” he said.
State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, said she was saddened to learn of resignation.
“Charles Wait is a good man, has been an honest broker, and a dedicated, passionate supporter of our Saratoga community and New York’s racing industry,” Marchione said in a statement. “His resignation from the board is a huge loss and a much-needed wake-up call.”
She called the state’s continued control of NYRA “misguided,” and said she’d explore offering legislation to make NYRA independent again.
Wait’s replacement will be picked by the NYRA board, a majority of whose members are currently appointed by Cuomo or state legislative leaders. There is no guarantee that Wait’s replacement will be from the Saratoga region.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 885-6705, [email protected], or @gazettesteve on Twitter.