State leaders announced their appointments Thursday for the interim board that will run the New York Racing Association, including a familiar face in Saratoga Springs serving in a new role.
The 17-member board, with a majority of government appointees, is set to run the troubled private nonprofit corporation for the next three years, when it will revert to private control. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature moved to create the board following the disclosure of a takeout error by NYRA that cost bettors about $8 million.
Remaining on the board, but in a special advisory role, is former NYRA board member and local philanthropist John Hendrickson. He will serve as a special adviser for Saratoga, which is a non-voting position created by Cuomo and isn’t included in the enacting legislation for the board.
Hendrickson said he was honored and humbled to serve and promised to do his best to represent the interests of Saratoga Springs on the board.
“I think the governor understands that the Saratoga race meet is the most important one in the world, and he wants someone around to protect and enhance that experience,” Hendrickson said.
Regarding the makeup of the new board, Hendrickson said, “I think it is a good day for racing and an even better day for Saratoga.”
The new board will be led by Cuomo appointee and Cornell University president David Skorton, who Hendrickson credited with looking at problems from the inside.
“If his past is any indication of how he is going to lead,” Hendrickson said, “we have a terrific leader.”
Cuomo’s other appointees were television chef, restaurateur and horse owner Bobby Flay, Tribecca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonardo Riggio, Administrators for the Professions CEO Anthony Bonomo, Bond Street Holdings Executive Chairman Vincent Tesse, Navigant Managing Director Joseph Spinelli, and state Budget and Franchise Oversight Board Director Bob Megna.
The state Senate appointees are Beechwood Organization Founder Michael Dubb and Mack Company senior partner Earle Mack. The Assembly appointees are Rockland Capital Energy Investments Chairman Michael Del Giudice and NBC Universal Vice President Rick Cotton.
Hendrickson also confirmed that NYRA’s five appointees to the board are outgoing Chairman Steve Duncker, Barry Ostrager, Stuart S. Janney III, Stuart Subotnick and Charles Wait.
Cuomo touted the makeup of the new board, which has seven fresh faces with diverse backgrounds. He said the new leadership is charged with reforming NYRA for the benefit of taxpayers, fans, industry workers and the horses.
NYRA is responsible for racing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
“It sounds to me like an interesting mix of people with certainly a lot of business expertise,” said Jack Knowlton, co-owner of Sackatoga Stable and a fixture of racing in Saratoga. “As a horseman, I’m pleased to see that there are people who understand horse racing and participate in horse racing.”
Hendrickson said the diversity of the new board will ensure the future of racing in New York is viewed from a variety of perspectives and by people who have a history of success.
He was also encouraged by the new board’s ties to Saratoga Springs, as he noted that Wait is a resident of the city, Del Giudice has a summer home in the city and Mack, Flay, Dubb and Riggio are regulars at the track each summer.
The appointees from Cuomo include people with close ties to him and his administration. Skorton serves on one of Cuomo’s regional economic development councils and Rosenthal, Riggio, Bonomo and Tese have contributed more than $250,000 to the governor’s political ambitions over the last decade.
Hendrickson added that he was pleased to have a current government official, in Megna, serving on the board. He said it emphasized the fact that NYRA and the state are working together on this venture, as opposed to the combative relationship in the past.
Megna will remain as the head of the FOB, which is one of a handful of state bodies that directly oversee NYRA.
One of the board’s first priorities is finding a new CEO to run the corporation. Cuomo has called for a national search to replace fired President and CEO Charlie Hayward, who was ousted in connection with the takeout scandal.
Knowlton said this search and an initiation of NYRA’s capital plan should be the early focus of the board.
Hendrickson also hoped that development of new facilities for backstretch workers in Saratoga Springs remains a big priority, and he said he would extend an invitation to the new chairman to tour the backstretch.
A meeting has not yet been scheduled for the new board, but Hendrickson said that first meeting should be open. He has been an advocate of transparency with NYRA, which he said has been to secretive in the past. “I think it’s in the best interest of the fans and government to have these open,” he said.
Cuomo has not committed to open meetings for the board.
The board is also tasked with creating a plan to hand off control to private control after three years. There has been some talk from the governor’s office that this transition could include bringing in private operators to run NYRA’s three tracks, but it isn’t clear whether that is legal under existing state law.
The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and New York Thoroughbred Breeders will also have non-voting members on the board.
A full breakdown on the biographies of the government’s appointees can be found on the Capital Region Scene at www.dailygazette.com.