There will be a golfing fundraiser for the re-election of Gov. Andrew Cuomo Thursday at Saratoga National Golf Course, though it remains unknown whether Cuomo will actually be there.
Those who have organized the WhoaCuomo campaign objecting to the state’s continued control over the New York Racing Association said he will be welcomed, despite their opposition to his position on the New York Racing Association’s control.
“We’re pleased he’s going to be spending some money here and inviting some friends to one of the best golf courses in New York state,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and one of the organizers behind the WhoaCuomo campaign.
“We’re not planning any protest, we’re not going to fly a (banner) plane over,” Shimkus said. “We want him to do business with us. We don’t want to hurt Saratoga National.”
Neither Cuomo’s office or his re-election campaign would comment on whether the governor would attend the all-day event, being held at an exclusive golf course in a city where Cuomo has come under a lot of criticism in recent months.
“I hope he does come, because at least he’ll get a little taste of Saratoga,” said Maureen Lewi, chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing. “I’m glad he’s coming; I hope he’s coming.”
She noted, however, that Cuomo has never attended a race at Saratoga Race Course in his five years as governor.
The golf course is just off Union Avenue on the outskirts of the city, less than a mile from the race track, which is also on Union Avenue.
“It’s a little disconcerting to see him raising money in the community without visiting the most historic sporting venue in the country to talk to local people about its significance to the community,” Shimkus said.
The fundraising event, which begins at 10:30 a.m., includes a round of golf and an evening dinner at the club’s restaurant, Prime at Saratoga National. Tickets start at $2,500 for those playing golf and $1,500 for those who only plan to attend the dinner.
The Wall Street Journal wrote a story about the fundraiser last month, noting that Cuomo isn’t known to play golf, though tournaments are a common political fundraiser. Local business leaders said that’s how they learned of the fundraiser.
Cuomo has come under a lot of criticism since last summer from the city’s business community, which would prefer to see NYRA – which operates Saratoga Race Course – returned to private control.
NYRA has been under the control of a state-appointed oversight board since 2012, following operating losses and management scandals. The arrangement was originally supposed to last three years. Cuomo appoints the majority of the board members. Cuomo extended the control, however, for a fourth year in 2015.
This past June, both houses of the state Legislature passed a privatization bill, but deals made at the end of the legislative session extended that control for a fifth year, through October 2017.
The extension prompted a group of citizens, organized as Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing, to launch a WhoaCuomo campaign, urging the governor to give up control in favor of returning NYRA to private non-profit control. An airplane carried a WhoaCuomo banner over the track on Travers Day and a billboard facing the Northway also promotes the WhoaCuomo campaign.
NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay have pointed to NYRA’s financial and operational improvements since 2012 as justification for returning the organization to private control.
Defenders of state oversight, however, have pointed to the improvements made under the oversight board as reasons why state control should continue.
The Saratoga National fundraiser is taking place at a time when Cuomo has $19 million in the bank toward a potential 2018 re-election run with no obvious Republican opponent. Retiring Republican congressman Chris Gibson of Kinderhook considered a run, but ultimately decided to take a part-time teaching job at Williams College instead. Many observers believe the difficulty of raising enough money to make a run was among the issues Gibson faced.
The fundraiser also follows the indictments of eight people, including two former Cuomo aides, on charges of bid-rigging in upstate economic development contracts. The companies that benefited from contracts included those of major Cuomo campaign contributors.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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