02/01/2008 1:00AM

NYRA board member resigns

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Charles Wait, the president of the upstate New York bank Adirondack Trust, resigned from the board of the New York Racing Association on Wednesday, one day prior to openly criticizing senator Joseph Bruno for his role in negotiations over a long-term franchise for the association.

Wait, a board member at NYRA for 23 years, criticized Bruno, a Republican, in his annual note to Adirondack stockholders published on Thursday. In the note, Wait – who is also a Republican – faulted Bruno for refusing to compromise on a 30-year extension for NYRA that is supported by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, and said that Bruno’s position was putting the upstate economy at risk. Adirondack is headquartered in Saratoga, a district represented by Bruno that is also the location of NYRA’s Saratoga Race Course.

“As of this date, the Senate has still refused to compromise, putting the citizens residing in Senator Bruno’s district at risk of seriously adverse financial consequences,” Wait wrote. “It is entirely within the power and ability of Senator Bruno to solve this problem immediately and without delay.”

Bruno released a statement on Friday in response to Wait’s criticism that called the deal supported by Spitzer and Silver “not in the best interest of taxpayers,” but also said that he expected a long-term deal to be completed within the next two weeks.

“We’ve made clear that the old racing model does not work and that significant changes are necessary to make racing even better for horsemen, for communities that host the tracks, for employees of the racing industry and for fans,” Bruno said. “That has been our consistent focus and it is a goal we will soon achieve.”

Wait’s criticism underscores the anxiety felt by many residents of Saratoga County, where the six-week Saratoga meet, which runs from late July to early September, is a significant economic driver for small businesses and homeowners. NYRA has been unwilling to sell tickets for the meet because of uncertainty surrounding the franchise, and some real-estate agents are allowing potential renters to sign leases that will become void if a meet is not held.

NYRA’s franchise to operate Saratoga and two downstate tracks, Aqueduct and Belmont, expired on Dec. 31. However, the association continues to operate the tracks and racing business under a short-term extension granted by the Non Profit Racing Association Oversight Board. The short-term extension expires on Feb. 13.

Negotiations over a long-term franchise extension have been ongoing since early December. Bruno has objected to the length of the extension, favoring a shorter time frame, and has also been pushing for the involvement of outside companies in NYRA’s operations, including a yet-to-be-built casino at Aqueduct. The two sides also are in disagreement over the composition of NYRA’s board.

In his resignation letter, Wait said that he felt compelled to quit the board because “publicly articulating a position of disagreement with a popular and powerful Senator may not be well-received.” NYRA distributed Wait’s resignation letter.

“Should there be retribution, I have no desire for NYRA to be the target,” Wait wrote in the letter. “In addition, some might regard my support of NYRA as a selfish desire to promote my own interests as a member of the board of trustees.”

Wait did not return phone calls early on Friday.