11/30/2010 1:01PM

New Jersey's racing industry deserves answers


TUCSON, Ariz. – I am neither happy nor pleased to have to gnaw on this battered bone again, but I have to keep at it or I might bite both of its owners. Make that three. I don’t know the others involved on the now infamous Hanson Commission, and I don’t savage strangers.

The three are Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and aggressively and ambitiously looking for more; Jon Hanson, his very successful real estate hatchet man who knows all about the potential profit of the Meadowlands from his days as top boss there; and Bob Mulcahy, valued and admired as a friend during the 19 years he ran the Meadowlands and made his reputation there, but now, as far as known, not lifting a finger to save it.

These three powerful men, charged with public trust, seem to be flagrantly flouting it. They are threatening to throw thousands out of work and destroy careers and an industry and environmental treasure on the pretense of saving their state money.

The reference to money has raised some serious questions that need to be answered, but the king is not speaking to commoners these days and talking only to those who agree with him.

New Jersey’s political elite have fallen into the Massachusetts mode, the home of the bean and the cod, where the Hansons speak only to Christies, and the Christies speak only to God.

Even fellow pols are complaining about that.

One important one, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, told the influential Asbury Park Press that she couldn’t get a hearing with Christie on the issue of arbitration reform. Christie’s response seemed arrogant, but the governor called Oliver a liar, saying she didn’t ask for a meeting. Legislative aides then produced e-mail messages that showed a request for a session. It went unanswered, the newspaper reported.

The Speaker wasn’t the only one ignored.

Tom Luchento, president of the horsemen’s association that supplies most of the trainers and drivers who race at the world’s greatest harness track, the Meadowlands, can’t get in to see the governor. Luchento told followers last week that he was hoping to talk to Christie, who told horsemen last year while looking for votes that he would talk to them but never showed up.

“Meanwhile,” Luchento said, “he’s pot-shotted us from every angle out there.”

If Luchento ever gets to talk to Christie, or more importantly if he ever gets Hanson to answer some direct questions about how he got to his numbers about the track losing millions of dollars, there are a few questions he should ask. He certainly is entitled, given his role, and especially since Christie and Hanson have accused the Meadowlands of losing tens of millions, to hear their answers, and Mulcahy’s as well.

Is it true that the Meadowlands was – and may still be – billed for the maintenance of the entire Sports and Exposition complex in East Rutherford?

The perimeter of the huge Meadowlands complex and its roadways cover six miles or so. When it snowed and the huge parking lots had to be plowed, did the tab for doing it, for the entire complex, land on the Meadowlands books?

Was security for special events like Giants football and Nets basketball and Devils hockey and concerts galore billed to the Meadowlands?

When football or concerts at the stadium conflicted with racing at the track and racing was canceled, was the track billed for operating expenses at those events?

If all or any of those unsubstantiated rumors turn out to be accurate in a session with the men who ran the Meadowlands and now want to wreck it, what would the true loss of the Meadowlands look like?

The cost and losses of the aquarium in Camden and the convention center in Atlantic City certainly weighed down expenses of the Sports Authority, which runs them. Hanson, who served as chairman of the authority, and Mulcahy, who ran the Meadowlands complex as president and chief executive officer, certainly know the facts. It would be interesting if might share them with the commoners who will lose their livelihoods if the Meadowlands closes.

It is ironic that both Mulcahy and Hanson have major sports backgrounds. Hanson was chairman of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame for 12 years and is a director of Yankees Global Enterprises, principal owners of the New York Yankees. Mulcahy was director of athletics at the state university at Rutgers after leaving the Meadowlands and a teammate of Hanson’s on the football foundation and hall of fame. While still at the track, he was hailed by the New York Times for his “fervor and foresight in establishing the Meadowlands as one of the nation’s leading sports and entertainment complexes.”

Now, two guys who are into sports big time threaten to icily destroy one because of their political power.

If you believe in justice, somewhere down the line these two will lose out again as they did at the Meadowlands. Christie will be with them. And a big and growing crowd will be waiting and cheering their comedown.