N.Y. members defend naming rights

Updated: February 11, 2009, 10:00 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- New York House members want the Obama administration to ignore the little-town blues of a couple of out-of-state congressmen who want a $400 million stadium-naming deal between Citigroup and the New York Mets to disappear.

The six New Yorkers came to the defense of Citigroup's 20-year naming rights deal for Citi Field, the Mets' stadium scheduled to open in April. Last month, Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Ted Poe, R-Texas, urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to demand that Citigroup cancel the deal because of $45 billion the bank received in government aid.

In their own letter to Geithner released Wednesday, the House members from New York said they "strongly disagree" with that call. That letter was signed by Democrats Eliot Engel, Joseph Crowley, Yvette Clarke, Gregory Meeks, Anthony Weiner and Steve Israel.

The Treasury Department was staying out of the dispute.

"While we have implemented new restrictions on executive compensation and luxury perks, we will not get involved in individual companies' marketing decisions," Treasury spokesman Isaac Baker said Wednesday.

In their letter, the New York lawmakers noted that there are several other stadium naming deals with banks that have received government money, such as Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

"It is deceitful and unreasonable to single out Citigroup for an agreement signed several years ago," they wrote, "without referencing the many other companies who have stadium naming rights deals and also received federal assistance."

"Are we ready to remove their names from those stadiums?" Engel asked in a statement. "Or is this a rule to apply solely to Citigroup and the Mets?"

Poe said he agrees that Citigroup should not be singled out.

"All companies that came to Washington with their hands out for taxpayer money should have to answer to the taxpayer as well," he said. "This is the consequence of getting in bed with the federal government -- they are going to tell you how to spend your money."

The New Yorkers added in the letter that canceling the deal would have "broader implications on the local communities' economic development."

"We believe that the principle of the sanctity of a contract, once it has been signed, is very important," they wrote. Both the Mets and Citigroup have insisted they're committed to the contract.

Kucinich said that if Citigroup had filed for bankruptcy rather than taken the government money, the stadium deal would have been terminated. So the Troubled Asset Relief Program, he argued, "in effect, has propped up the overpriced Citi Field naming rights deal at a time when Citigroup is also planning to lay off 50,000 employees. It makes you wonder, Is that what TARP funds were intended to accomplish?"


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press