Yo, Brooklyn! Get Real about Politics and Sports

By Keating, Raymond J. | Freeman, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview
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Yo, Brooklyn! Get Real about Politics and Sports

Keating, Raymond J., Freeman

Brooklyn, New York, needs a reality check on sports-whether it comes to the borough's past with baseball's Dodgers, or its possible future with basketball's Nets.

Even though the Dodgers left for Los Angeles almost a half-century ago, for many that move still hangs like a dark cloud over Brooklyn. Some people trace the borough's economic decline to the loss of the Dodgers.

When the L.A. Dodgers were put up for sale in early 1997, New York politicians even took time to pander to those still suffering from the absence of "Dem Bums." Governor George Pataki, for example, declared: "The Dodgers belong in Brooklyn, just as the Yankees belong in the Bronx and the Mets belong in Queens. The Dodgers' temporary stay on the West Coast should come to an end."

Brooklyn's demise, though, wasn't the result of the Dodgers' leaving town. Brooklyn, along with the rest of New York City, declined because of big-government leftism, which brought with it a costly, destructive welfare state, a lack of will to fight crime, and a perverse enthusiasm for raising taxes. When one considers that crime was on the rise and that politicians imposed city personal, corporate, and unincorporated business income taxes in the mid-1960s, the reason for New York City's woes becomes pretty clear. Rudy Giuliani came along as mayor in the 1990s to deal with crime, but big government and onerous taxes remain. In fact, in recent years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city council have hiked property, sales, income, tobacco, and cell-phone taxes.

It was announced in late January 2004 that developer Bruce Ratner was buying the New Jersey Nets for $300 million. The NBA approved the sale last August. Ratner has a dream of bringing the team to a new $500-million arena that would he part of a $2.5 billion commercial and residential project in downtown Brooklyn.

Naturally, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz brought up the Dodgers in his response to the local press when the deal was first announced: "It corrects the great mistake of 1957 . . . when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to La-La Land." He added: "This is redemption. This is Brooklyn getting its respect back." Things don't seem to have changed much in almost 50 years.

in fact, it sometimes amazes me how little things change in New York City. Today's other hot sports-facility debate revolves around luring the NFL's Jets and the 2012 Summer Olympics to the city with a new stadium in Manhattan. The location for that proposed stadium-over the railroad yards on the west side of Manhattan-is the same site proposed by Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack in the 1950s when he was trying to keep the New York baseball Giants in town.

Meanwhile, the location of the proposed arena for the Nets happens to be the same spot where Walter O'Malley wanted to build a domed ballpark for his Dodgers. Like O'Malley, Ratner wants the government to condemn property for his project. Of course, the constitutional power of eminent domain was never meant for taking property from one private entity for the purpose of padding the profits of another private entity. But this is left-wing New York, so what the heck. Still, various Brooklynites who face losing their homes and businesses to government seizure for the benefit of the Nets' new owner are rallying to oppose any such land grab.

There is one big difference between O'Malley and Ratner, though. O'Malley wanted to build his ballpark with private money. Ratner seeks enormous government help for his arena, including related infrastructure costs, the donation of air rights to build over the Long Island Railroad yards in the borough, and special tax breaks to pay for the project. The breaks being discussed include so-called incremental tax revenues, sometimes known as tax increment financing, or TIFs. The basic idea is that the government floats bonds to pay for the project, and the bonds are paid off with the future property-tax revenues generated by the project.

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