There’s an old joke told about the Mexican politician who arrives in town during a campaign, descending from his helicopter with a blizzard of promises:
“Vote for me, and I will put in a new school!” he says, and the people cheer.
“Vote for me, and I will put in a new road!” More cheers.
“Vote for me, and I will put in a new bridge.”
The applause gets going until an old man standing in front thinks to mention one detail to the politician: “But sir, there is no river here.”
The politician doesn’t miss a beat. “When I am elected, I’ll even put in a river!”
Not a great joke, but take my word, it does sound funnier in Spanish.
Say what you want about the state of Mexican politics, you have to give the politician credit for one thing: Unlike our governor and county executive and their Kennedy Square stadium mirage, he didn’t keep his bridge a secret. It is mind-boggling to think that, in a city that has already spent two years and is expected to spend another three years planning for what to do with one of our highways, that someone could ask us to approve a half-billion-dollar stadium project in a matter of weeks.
The Kennedy Square stadium pitch is an insult to Syracuse. It may be a good idea; it may be a bad idea. But you have to wonder what would have happened if the news hadn’t leaked before Gov. Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Joanie Mahoney were ready to tell us. They would have come to us at the last minute with a take-it-or-leave-it offer, like a car dealer who tells you that the deal on that car your kids love won’t be available tomorrow.
Whenever someone says you have to sign on the line today, it’s time to walk away from the deal. Did the governor think we were that desperate? We all owe Mayor Stephanie Miner thanks for refusing to sign on without reading the fine print. She gets criticized for being stubborn, but in this case that characteristic paid off for all of us.
Thanks to some stellar journalistic work by our colleagues at the thrice-weekly across town, we now know that the county executive was working with the governor, with Syracuse University officials and private developers to build a new sports arena for SU on the spot where the Kennedy Square housing project stood until it was torn down in January 2013. At the time it was leveled, we were told that Kennedy Square would be redeveloped by Upstate Medical University and COR Development. Plans were vague, but Dr. David Smith, then president of Upstate, went on the record saying that redevelopment would be privately financed and would pay property taxes. No mention was made of plans to wedge a stadium in next to it, although COR, we now learn, had drawn up such plans at SU’s behest two years earlier.
Just think of all of this going on behind the scenes. . .
. . . while thousands of people are involved in a process to decide what to do with I-81, which involves getting people into and out of downtown, including for Carrier Dome events.
. . . while the fire station closest to the proposed stadium was closed last year due to budget cuts, over objections from the firefighters union. The deployment of emergency response resources citywide was restructured based in part on the low density of population in that area.
. . . while tens of thousands of us regularly trudge up the hill to inhabit the concrete Dome, never hesitating to stomp our feet and clap our hands, unaware that our athletic director considers it obsolete. (Didn’t they just outfit the roof so rainwater and melting snow would flush the toilets? That sounds pretty modern to me.)
. . . while Housing Visions and other community groups have been building houses and trying to improve that neighborhood, with no clue what was coming. You can bet on this: If nobody asked the mayor, for sure nobody asked the neighbors.
If any good can come out of this, it might be that our new SU chancellor, Kent Syverud, sees from the outset of his tenure that being a good neighbor means not keeping secrets about important matters from the rest of us.
Welcome to Syracuse, Mr. Chancellor.