I mentioned previously that when Tony Carbonetti invited me to dinner with himself, Rudy and John McCain we went to a restaurant in Little Italy called Da Nico. Da Nico was a favorite haunt of Tony's. He and I went there many times. One of the main reasons, besides the last minute reservations and special attention, was that a check was never presented. You see Tony had done Annette and her husband a big favor. One that would reap big financial rewards for Da Nico's owners. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of New York City taxpayers. It also provided Tony with thousands of dollars worth of free meals. Before he accomplished this favor he received the meals in anticipation of its success. After, he received them as thanks.
What was the favor? Well, if you have ever been to Da Nico you would know that it has one of the, if not the, largest outdoor seating areas in Manhattan. It is a major revenue generator for the restaurant and gives it most of its charm. When you sit outside you are surrounded on three sides by the rear of various apartment buildings. It's a very New York setting. It turns out that Da Nico didn't own the land the restaurant used for outdoor seating. It had been leasing it from the city's Department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD). For years Da Nico's owners had been trying to convince HPD to sell them the land but HPD regularly refused. HPD had at times various schemes for the use of that space. I don't think any of them were very serious but it was extremely valuable real estate. By housing standards it is a very large parcel of land.
I knew none of this until one evening while Tony and I were dining there Annette came over, gave him a big hug and kiss, and thanked him profusely. "What did you do for her?" I asked. "She had been trying for years to get HPD to sell them this space," he started to answer. "Wait, you mean HPD owns this land?" I interrupted. "Yea, I'm trying to tell you that they have leased this for years from HPD and made offers to buy it but HPD refused." "Let me guess," I said, "they're not refusing anymore?" A big smile came over Tony's face. "They just closed the deal, Annette got very good terms, that's why she's so happy," Tony concluded.
While it is nice to have outdoor seating areas throughout the city, even private ones accessible only to restaurant patrons, one must weigh that against the larger good of hundreds of units of very much needed housing. HDC could have surely partnered with HPD and a developer to provide subsidies through one of HDC's programs to develop really great middle-income housing on that site. It could easily have accommodated hundreds of units. I also imagine that the price that HPD got in that sale was far less than the going rate. Due to Tony's intervention, not only to force HPD to sell, but in making sure that Da Nico got a good price, the city must have surely lost out on a great deal of money. I cannot even imagine what that parcel would go for on the open market to a housing developer. I am equally sure that over the last five years the free meals have kept coming as a continuing thank you for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
It is rumored that one constant thorn in the side of George Steinbrenner was the Yankees having leased out the center most luxury sky box in all of Yankee Stadium, rather than keeping it within the control of the Yankee organization. I am speaking of course of what we now are referring to as the old Yankee Stadium. Many years ago Ed Arrigoni and his company, New York Bus Service (NYB), had leased that box. It is said that Steinbrenner wanted it back ever since. Having been in that box a number of times I can tell you that it is smack center behind home plate. It has the perfect view of the field and the stadium. I can easily see why the team owner would want that box for the team's use. But, apparently, as long as Arrigoni paid the annual fee the Yankees could not yank the box from him. We used to joke that Steinbrenner wanted a new stadium just so he could get that box away from Arrigoni and regain control of the center field view.
Why am I mentioning this? Starting very early on in the Giuliani Administration Tony Carbonetti began being invited to that box as a guest of Ed Arrigoni. New York Bus had provided some transportation for us during the '93' campaign and especially on election day. As the years went by Tony would only go to Yankee games if he was in Arrigoni's box (or later sitting with Rudy in Steinbrenner's box next to the dugout). As Tony's power increased so did his visits to that box. Arrigoni is not a stupid man. He ran a business regulated by the City (New York Bus Service, its equipment and routes, was acquired by the MTA in 2005). I would estimate that over the eight years of the Giuliani Administration Tony must have been an Arrigoni guest in that box at least 200 times. If you add play-off games and world series, I might be very conservative at 200 games. If you assume that one of those tickets averages $75 - and I believe the average is probably double that amount - and you multiply that by 200, you're talking $15,000 worth of Yankee tickets paid for by someone else. Add in all the tickets that Arrigoni put at Tony's disposal for guests (myself included) and that number becomes really big. So what? You say. If Ed Arrigoni had no business before the City I'd agree with you - so what. But the NYC Department of Transportation, overseen by the Mayor's Office of Transportation periodically renews franchises, sets terms and conditions, and routes for bus companies. As a favor to Arrigoni Tony pressured Seth Kaye, the Director of the Mayor's Office of Transportation, to obtain much more favorable terms for New York Bus when the franchise was up for renewal. I remember being at a game where Arrigoni thanked Tony for just that. I also happened to be in Seth Kaye's office in Tweed when Tony mentioned it to him.
I don't know what those concessions made by DOT and Seth Kaye were. I know from Seth that he wasn't happy about it. He did it because Tony came down hard on him. Seth generally didn't like people meddling in his bailiwick but he had played the game long enough to know when to fight and when to be accommodating. It may all be a mute point since those routes are now the property of the MTA. But what if the terms, routes and conditions arranged by Tony for NYB made the deal that much more enticing to the MTA and enhanced NYB's value down the line prior to the sale? I would say there is no doubt that was the net effect, intended or otherwise. A six million dollar pay-out and a two million dollar annual lease payment probably could help pay for one of those new luxury suites at Yankee Stadium. Just not one directly overlooking center field.