Santa brought me not one, but two interesting new insider accounts. (I guess I was good boy last year!)
The first account concerns NYRA and the controversy over its “takeout.” The second concerns the development of a new engineering school in New York City.
Both matters have received a lot of media attention recently, but in neither case have reporters gotten to the bottom of things.
With regard to NYRA, a retired insider who was involved in setting up the pari-mutuel takeout rates many years ago, posed some fascinating questions. This individual took note of how state budget director Robert Megna recently slammed both NYRA and the State Racing and Wagering Board for failing to catch the mistake in the takeout rate. Megna wrote to officials at both agencies saying that they had failed “the most basic accounting task.”
Megna’s overblown response, the insider says, was curious because the primary oversight for NYRA’s takeout is not the Racing and Wagering Board, which focuses primarily on harness tracks, but another entity called the Franchise Oversight Board. NYRA reports directly to this board on takeout and other matters.
“Why no mention of the Franchise Oversight Board?” the insider asks. “Who is in charge of that board and where was he over the last 15 months when NYRA was charging bettors and extra 1 percent takeout and accruing $7 million in overpayments?”
Well, it turns out that the chair of the board is none other than Mr. Megna himself.
So, what gives? Why would Mr. Megna, whom most people regard as a straight shooter, be so disingenuous? Maybe reporters will ask and we’ll all find out.
With regard to the new engineering school in NYC, everyone is now marveling at how Cornell miraculously came from behind to win the competition to develop the facility. The New York Times and others are citing brilliant strategic moves by Cornell to outmaneuver Stanford in the competition.
“BS,” says an insider close to the process. “Mayor Bloomberg is an engineer. It was his vision to create the school, and he wanted Stanford, which he regarded as the premier engineering school in the world. He and Schumer, too, were solidly behind Stanford and it was a done deal.”
So what changed? The insider says that people close to Governor Cuomo intervened. They first had to kick the Cornell folks in the pants. “Cornell wasn’t going to buck Bloomberg or Schumer. They didn’t have the stomach for it.”
It was Cuomo’s people who rallied the higher education community in New York on the issue of “brain drain.” Their pitch: “Do you really want Stanford to get established in New York? First an engineering school, then a law school, and a medical school. Why don’t you just say goodbye now to all of our best talent? ”
The insider says powerful alums of New York schools start making calls to Bloomberg and Schumer, and it didn’t take long for both men to realize they’d be disappointing a lot of influential people. Stanford was then told it wasn’t going to happen, and they pulled out.
The end result, the insider said, is the right one. New York City gets a first rate new engineering school, and higher ed in New York is strengthened instead of weakened.
My thanks to these two insiders. As always, I provide the same caveat: I cannot vouch for the veracity of their comments. My only claim is that I think their viewpoint is worthy of consideration especially during a week that is light on news.