Ackerman Act IV: The True Story Of Gary’s Retirement
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I can imagine how busy Gary Ackerman must be. He’s ducking interviews, handling phone calls and trying to control the spin on the public story of why Queens and Nassau’s favorite Congressman (sorry Joe) decided not to seek another term.
As regular readers know, Gary Ackerman started the Tribune, has been my business partner since the late 70s and a close friend for 50 years, since 1962 – he was much older then; he’s much older now. As a result of our relationship, I am able to share with you the truth about the season’s biggest political surprise; Gary’s retirement.
The truth (which will formally be announced April 1), will probably shock and surprise many but I believe it will bring joy to the people of New York City.
Let me try to tell the story chronologically:
In On Dec. 10, 2008, Bernie Madoff’s sons informed the authorities that their father confessed to them that his asset management firm was a huge Ponzi scheme.
Ackerman, whose present district includes some of the wealthiest communities on Nassau’s North Shore, met with a number of his constituents who were affected by the Madoff scandal including Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, the principal owners of the New York Mets. Gary’s district extended through Queens all the way to parts of Jackson Heights and included then Shea Stadium and now Citi Field. Gary was a Mets fan since day one and could often be found at Mets games with some combination of his wife, three kids and four grandkids. Fred Wilpon knew Gary well and confided to him the impact the Ponzi scheme could have on his personal and business empire – including his prize holding, the New York Mets.
The story basically began to coalesce the following month when Congressman Gary accompanied Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the Bloomberg jet for a visit to Israel. The two hit it off and Gary shared his perception that his favorite New York sports team was in danger of not having sufficient funds for a world-class payroll.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do,” Gary said was Mayor Mike’s reaction.
Ackerman continued to meet with Madoff victims and continue to understand that his Mets, our Mets, could be in jeopardy.
Wilpon and Katz and their Sterling Equities, were long-time investors in Madoff’s firm, and were accused by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee, of building their business empire by willfully turning a blind eye to signs of Madoff’s multibillion-dollar fraud.
Picard sought to recover nearly $1 billion from Katz and Wilpon, who, because of their sophisticated investment knowledge, should also be compelled to return their $300 million principal investment for the benefit of Madoff victims.
When the Mets started seeking limited partners, Ackerman called Bloomberg and several others of his wealthier acquaintances and friends. Ackerman put together a fund of more than half a billion dollars and enlisted some of New York’s top merger and acquisition attorneys to structure a potential deal should things continue to go bad for the Mets owners.
Ackerman and attorneys met with Mets ownership and their attorneys to agree on contingency plans should a sale be necessary.
Two weeks ago, on March 6, the court concluded the Madoff trustee was entitled to $83,309,162, which represented “fictitious profits” received by Katz and Wilpon. And as of Monday of this week, agreed to $186 million settlement.
The next week was a whirlwind of un-structuring and restructuring.
It is my understanding that the deal is done and will close before the season opener. It will have Wilpon and Katz retain a 25 percent interest in the team and they will continue to control “SportsNet New York” and SNY.tv and the broadcast rights to the Mets for a period of five years.
Ackerman will serve as Managing Partner and has promised me the Mets will soon return to greatness.
With opening day April 5, look for the big formal announcement on April 1. You’d be a fool to miss it.
And Gary, please save me two seats behind the plate.
Contempt For Fairness on District Lines
By HENRY STERN
The golden age of cooperation between the branches of New York State government appears to have settled into an era of relative tranquility, during which traditional relationships between longtime incumbents are likely to continue their gravitational impulse on each other, rather than remake State government into anything much more significant than it has been since the years of drift began.
When unexpected events occur, there are likely to be changes which may be required to avert fiscal catastrophe. To the extent that it legally is able to do so, the system will absorb these changes so as to minimize their effect. It is like the effect of well-regulated air conditioning, minimizing the variations that actually take place from time to time.
When changes are required by law, they are made at the last minute, with minimal public attention. This promotes the aura of continuity, which is a hallmark of a government of modest aspirations, acting when circumstances require action, but not generating any great activity on its own.
What we did learn this year is that government can work, in its own fashion, which ranges from lumbering - the usual pattern of activity, aptly symbolized by the donkey and the elephant - to instantaneous, when unread bills are printed in the middle of the night to comply with externally imposed requirements of law. No law requires that any bills actually be read or understood, so that noncompliance is difficult to prove.
Nor would it particularly matter if the bills were read, because the legislators rely on the decisions made by their caucuses, and the actual voting on issues is perfunctory.
I watched on the Internet the elaborate politeness with which members addressed each other, as if they were in ancient Rome. Whatever the subject, the broadcast proceedings cast the glow of an Animal House toga party over the declaiming solons, as they asked each other mock questions to which they had obviously prepared answers.
If I were younger, so much younger than today, I might have felt more demeaned by the proceedings taking place on the floor. As it happens, however, familiarity eases indignation, so one sees the antic proceedings as what they are: an attempt by people of some ability to make sense out of legal proceedings and rituals, and to have an opportunity to present their views in a setting not designed for the distribution of information so that people can make more informed decisions than they would otherwise.
Perhaps the worst part was the contempt shown for fairness and due process in apportionment. As far as money is concerned, we are used to the insiders getting more than their share; that appears to be a rule in business and life.
But denying people the right to vote, or hacking, stacking, packing and cracking the voters into packages where their influence is minimized beyond reason, with senior legislators braying in the background that they were in scrupulous compliance with the Voting Rights Act and defying anyone to contradict them did suggest the style and manners of a Southern courtroom sixty years ago. The fact that the same words and phrases are now being used to prove the opposite of what they were originally intended to mean leaves sorrow and discontent in the minds of those who worked so hard and so long for social change.
On the other hand, if you believe that people get the kind of government that they deserve, you might not be particularly disturbed by Albany. In fairness, in redistricting you see the legislators at their worst, because their own personal interests are so directly affected by the decisions that they are so deeply arranged in making and manipulating.
If one could take one sentence out of the deliberations, it should be gratitude that in our system, the powers of government are limited, because if the assemblage of our representatives had the authority to make decisions of greater importance to our lives, I would feel increasingly uncomfortable living in any area in which their writ would run.