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Thursday, 09 June 2016 16:22

Hendrickson Stands Up to Cuomo

By | News
Hendrickson Stands Up to Cuomo
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The resignation of John Hendrickson as special advisor to the New York Racing Association’s board of directors on Tuesday, June 7, resounded like a thunderclap around Saratoga and throughout the thoroughbred racing industry. “I was appointed to help give a voice to Saratoga,” said Hendrickson, “but it is clear that the governor is not interested in listening. He’s broken many commitments made to racing.” Hendrickson, who was appointed to the position in October 2012 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, did not have voting status on the 17-member reorganization board, but he played a vital role in looking out for the interests of racing and Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said, “We certainly feel John Hendrickson has been a top notch representative of these issues that are so important for the City and its economy. It always helps to have an advocate of his stature, and he played a critical role and did a great job.” Maureen Lewi, who was recently elected Chair of the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing by the members of the committee as well as the Board of Directors of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said she was devastated by the news when Hendrickson called her. “He served in a capacity that absolutely no one else could serve in,” said Lewi. “He is the only one who could be frank and get away with it. If he felt there was something wrong at the racetrack or county or city or state government, he spoke out. I’ve been around racing 40 years and have never seen anyone be able to do that other than him. What he’s done for the sport by speaking out is amazing. I can’t tell you the number of emails and phone calls that have been coming in from Florida, Kentucky and all over. Everyone is just devastated by the news.” Lewi said many of the calls are from “horse people” who are worried that if Saratoga continues to be run by the State that it will never reach its full potential, continuing to grow and develop. She said government is just not equipped to do business, that it can’t be nimble enough for such a competitive industry like racing. “He [Cuomo] took over racing, saying it was for three years, then extended it another year without consulting NYRA – he just did it,” said Hendrickson. “If government can do it for one more year, what’s to stop them from doing it again next year?” The NYRA Reorganization Board was only supposed to last for three years, but instead of reprivatizing NYRA as agreed, Cuomo quietly retained control for an additional year of New York’s racing through last year’s state budget process and appointed Anthony Bonomo as chairman in April 2015, just days after Bonomo had contributed $50,000 to Cuomo’s campaign chest, according to campaign records. Bonomo is a horse owner and had previously served as a gubernatorial appointee on the board. He is also the president of the Administrators for the Professions, Inc., an insurance company management organization. One of the companies it operates is the Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers, the company that provided the no-show job for former NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ son, Adam Skelos. Both Skelos and his son have been sentenced to prison on federal corruption charges involving, among other things, that no-show job. Bonomo resigned his chairmanship on the NYRA board that summer, as charges and indictments against the Skelos’ were coming down. In response to the Hendrickson resignation, Governor Cuomo’s spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, issued the following written statement: “We thank Mr. Hendrickson for his service and wish him well. The Governor and the Legislature saved NYRA from yet another bankruptcy in 2012 and installed a Board and management team that, by every metric, has been a success. We seek to continue this progress.” Hendrickson’s response was to say that, far from saving racing, Cuomo dried up the VLT money that was coming in at the time. “To say the governor saved the New York Racing Association is like saying ‘I took my friend out on a boating trip and threw him out of the boat with concrete sneakers, and then I rescued him,’” said Hendrickson. Hendrickson was firmly against the governor’s decision to set aside the agreement that provided VLT revenues to NYRA in exchange for property at its three race tracks, and told him so, he said. “These are not support payments to NYRA,” said Hendrickson. “They are mortgage payments. NYRA turned over a billion dollars of land to the State of New York in exchange for these VLT payments. You couldn’t do [what Cuomo is doing] with a bank.” According to Hendrickson, in an omnibus budget bill, a thousand VLT machines at Aqueduct would go to support the Nassau County OTB. He compared that with taking a mortgage payment and giving it to someone else rather than the bank. “The only way the State could get into gambling at all was to have VLT’s connected to racing,” said Hendrickson in frustration. “Basically I resigned from the board because I got tired of the State breaking its promises to racing. It came with a heavy heart because I don’t like burning bridges. But there’s a lot going on in the dark, and the Governor still doesn’t even have a re-privatization bill, which doesn’t sound like an office committed to privatization.” According to Lewi, both houses of the Legislature and other elected officials and community leaders around the Capital Region, including the members of the NYRA board, are for re-privatization. The NYRA board approved a re-privatization plan in April, and there are identical bills in the Senate and Assembly for the State to release control of racing. “The bills have gone through committee and need to go to the floor,” said Lewi. “They are confident that they will have a favorable vote, but the question is, what is the governor going to do?” “This isn’t what I signed up for,” said Hendrickson. “My loyalty is to Saratoga, not to a politician. Marylou [Whitney] and I are committed to Saratoga and will continue the Backstretch Appreciation Program for as along as they’ll allow us. Marylou and I have several loves, but Saratoga is our first love.”
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