Within the halls of Albany roams a lawmaker, unelected and unseen, with one role: to introduce legislation no other state senator wants to be associated with. “Senator Rules” is his (or her) name, and he (or she) is the lead sponsor of a bill currently in the Senate’s Rules Committee that will alienate what is now parkland to allow the United States Tennis Association to expand its presence in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The legislation literally lists “Rules” as its sponsor, reflecting the committee’s ability to refer bills to itself. It is part of a common practice in the Senate, sources with knowledge of Senate practices told the Chronicle.
“Senator Rules” is the resulting fictitious lawmaker jokingly referred to in the halls of the state Capitol for such bills. But intrigue surrounds who exactly pushed for the USTA alienation bill. Several lawmakers demurred at speculating who pushed the Rules Committee to take up the bill, but several sources said a Republican-controlled Senate committee would not grant anonymity to a Democratic lawmaker.
“Senator Rules” commonly introduces bills that increase taxes in Republican districts, said one source with knowledge of the Senate’s machinations. The fictional lawmaker also sponsors legislation on behalf of municipalities — which may point to the USTA bill’s author, which some sources believe to be the Bloomberg administration.
The last line of the bill’s sponsor’s memo reads, “Accordingly, the Mayor urges the earliest possible favorable consideration of this proposal by the Legislature.”
“The bill seems to have been submitted directly from the Mayor’s Office,” said one source, who asked to remain anonymous.
An inquiry with the Mayor’s Office prompted a terse response stating Bloomberg supports the USTA’s plan, but no specifics about the administration’s role in the legislation’s genesis.
The bill does not have a companion piece of legislation in the Assembly.
“When you think about it, that’s a real disgrace,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has opposed the plan. “That they’re going to bring something to the floor without attaching their name to it; they’re obviously trying to hide.”
The proposed expansion of the USTA’s National Tennis Center has been navigating the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure since spring, with a vote before the City Council coming before the end of the month.
It calls for the upgrade of the Louis Armstrong Stadium, new retail facilities and expanded parking. The plan also includes the creation of a new grandstand on land already leased to the tennis nonprofit during its first expansion. The USTA has argued it needs to expand pathways to allow for the smooth flow of pedestrian traffic within the NTC. As a result, the proposal includes 0.68 acre of what is currently mapped as parkland, which must be replaced.
The proposed replacement parkland has been a source of contention though, as some park advocates have deemed it more akin to a “swap.” The 1.56 acres of land is currently within the USTA’s leasehold.
The nonprofit would give back parkland it leases from the city, but continue to use it as if it’s paying rent. The deal represents no net gain in the acreage of mapped city parkland.
The prospects for Senator Rules’ bill are still bright, according to Avella, who has promised to debate the measure on the floor.
“There’s a good chance of it passing, because first of all, the tennis people have been lobbying people up here in Albany for the last two weeks,” he said. “They’ve been donating to elected officials.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), whose district includes the segment of Flushing Meadows used by the USTA, showed some semblance of support for the bill’s current incarnation.
“My position has been that the USTA has to replace any parkland taken up by an expansion of the tennis center and that the USTA needs to be a better neighbor and end its anti-union hiring practices,” he said. “While I would like to receive additional community input, it is encouraging that the USTA has a reasonable plan for replacing the parkland, has agreed to build union and has committed to being a better neighbor.”