Corzine has informal partnership with Kushner

Updated: August 27, 2003, 10:20 AM ET
Associated Press

FORT LEE, N.J. -- U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine acknowledged Tuesday that he is part of an informal partnership with friend and developer Charles Kushner in preliminary talks to buy the New Jersey Nets.

But Corzine said he would oppose any state subsidies toward the purchase or operation of the Nets or their co-tenants at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, the New Jersey Devils.

The partners' group requested $100 million in subsidies during a conference call Friday with officials from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, several newspapers reported Monday.

Corzine said he did not participate in the conference call.

George Zoffinger, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, would neither confirm nor deny that the funding request had been made. However, he said the authority -- which operates the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, the current home for the Nets and the Devils, not run a deficit to help underwrite the teams' operations.

"I think New Jersey would be a very big loser if the Nets were to leave,'' Corzine said Tuesday.

George Zoffinger, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said Tuesday that Gov. James E. McGreevey ordered him not to consider any requests for subsidies.

"At the direction of the governor, the sports authority has terminated discussions with both the current and prospective team owners of the Devils and Nets about any public subsidies,'' he said. "We hope the teams stay in New Jersey, but we need to protect the taxpayers in difficult economic times.''

In his first public comments on the possible purchase, Corzine, who was a member of the basketball team at the University of Illinois, said this was not his first look at professional sports ownership. He said he considered buying the New Jersey Devils before running for Senate in 2000.

Corzine denied reports that his former Senate colleague, Robert Torricelli, has had been trying to broker a deal and said he didn't know how Torricelli became involved.

"He's not my broker,'' Corzine said.

Torricelli said Tuesday that he had not spoken directly to Corzine, but that he has been working on an informal basis as a "friend'' of Charles Kushner on a deal to buy the Nets and keep them in New Jersey.

"These are the only two teams in New Jersey that use the name of our state,'' Torricelli said, underscoring the importance of keeping the franchises in New Jersey.

Torricelli also said he had not requested any subsidies from the sports authority as part of the deal.

The state said it would not provide the subsidies, even if such assistance would help keep the team in the Garden State, according to published reports.

"We have worked very hard to take the sports authority out of public subsidy and we have no intention, for anybody, to reverse that direction,'' Zoffinger told The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The Star-Ledger, the Asbury Park Press of Neptune and The Record of Bergen County all reported Monday that the partners sought the help because they are wary of the financial problems facing the team. The Nets, who played in the NBA finals the past two seasons, have not made money and are expected to operate at a loss this year because of a rising payroll.

The Nets and Devils are owned by the YankeeNets sports conglomerate.

"I do want to save (the Nets and Devils) in New Jersey,'' Zoffinger told the Asbury Park Press. "I want them to stay in New Jersey. But if New York and Long Island want to put together big, subsidized packages, we're not going to compete.''

The latter comment refers to the two other groups interested in buying the Nets.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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