State Dems Pushing Back in Racetrack Case

The Senate wants to avoid precedent of releasing internal emails

Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010  |  Updated 7:00 PM EDT
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State Dems Pushing Back in Racetrack Case

New York State Senate Democrats will fight subpoenas seeking information about the awarding of the lucrative video slot machine contract for Aqueduct racetrack.

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The Democratic majority in New York's Senate will fight subpoenas from the state Inspector General's office seeking information about the awarding of the lucrative video slot machine contract for Aqueduct racetrack.

The Senate wants to avoid setting a precedent of releasing internal e-mails and turning over legislators to testify, said Senate majority counsel Shelley B. Mayer on Wednesday. The Senate Democrats are protecting their independence as a branch of government separate from the executive branch, she said.

Inspector General Joseph Fisch is charged with reviewing the activities of the executive branch. His authority to subpoena records and testimony beyond that branch will be tested in the court fight next Wednesday in Manhattan.

Fisch has subpoenaed documents from the Senate and documents and testimony from Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada and Senate President Malcolm Smith. Smith has hired his own attorney to fight Fisch's subpoenas.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had welcomed Fisch's review and is "cooperating fully," a spokesman said.

Fisch declined to comment Wednesday.

Aqueduct Entertainment Group was chosen by Gov. David Paterson, Silver, Smith and Sampson in January to operate video lottery terminals at the Queens horse track of the same name. The deal is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the state alone.

Concerns were quickly raised over whether a political deal was struck to favor AEG because one of its minor stock holders was the Rev. Floyd Flake, an influential former congressman and leader in the minority community. Flake has since withdrawn, and Paterson removed himself from the process.

Instead of honoring the subpoena, which is temporarily suspended pending the court action, Sampson said he will have Senate lawyers review records and release those deemed appropriate for public review.

Senate majority counsel Mayer said she is reviewing e-mails requested by Fisch but noted the chamber hasn't released e-mails in the past.

The Senate is a deliberative body that requires a free flow of ideas not subject to public review, she said.

Paterson on Wednesday said the re-awarding of the bid is likely to take several months. He and state officials had hoped the process — part of eight years of delays — would be completed in a few weeks, so revenue could flow to the state facing a $9.2 billion deficit.

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