Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pleading the fifth

Marylou Whitney thrust her crumpled shares of Empire Racing toward gang of backstretch workers and told them to keep their eyes on ninth race. There’s no time to stick around, the Spa City’s patron goddess explained to the gaggle of Latinos; and who knows, you might just have a long-shot winner tucked in there.

Brandishing a stoically straight poker face, John Hendrickson stood up and rationalized Whitney’s most recent giveaway, which officially puts her in the back seat of the barreling Empire Racing caravan bound for the state capital. All in all, Whitney gave away roughly 1.3 shares in the broad racing coalition, which is now considered the front runner among three private companies looking wrest away the New York Racing Association’s loosening grip on the lucrative contract to run the state’s thoroughbred tracks.

The abrupt donation drops Whitney’s shares down to 2.3 percent of the total Empire pie, which is low enough that her estate won’t need to provide much of anything to the meddling Governor’s office. Prior to the donation, however, Eliot Spitzer wanted to know just about everything there is to know regarding the Whitney Estate.

For some odd reason, the fondly regarded socialite saw it more fit to throw away shares –none of the news agencies bothered to ask their value –that could rightly be worth millions if Empire is wins the governor’s affections. The Whitney Estate just didn’t have time, Hendrickson explained; getting all those financial records together on such short notice would have been a nightmare.

"It would have taken us two years,” the former boy-toy told The Saratogian Monday. "[The timing] was excessive. It was impossible for us to do."

And with Marylou having nothing but the interest of the Spa City in mind, he said putting together the records just didn’t seem worth the trifle. Besides, Hendrickson continued, Marylou had always intended on giving her shares away, once the contract was awarded.

But the perplexing question is why does Marylou own shares to begin with when she –or more fittingly her estate –has no vested interest in the investment? After all, isn’t being touched by Marylou’s blessed golden words enough to tip even the most discerning scales?

Well, perhaps it’s not Marylou who has an interest in Empire. After all, there’s a good chance Hendrickson might need to tuck away his own nest-egg for a rainy day, depending on how the prenuptial he signed in 1996 reads. Even more perplexing is the sudden trepidation expressed by Team Whitney with disclosing financial records, which, according to reports, includes everything from the past three years' tax returns, a decade’s worth of financial records and past political contributions greater than $10,000.

Oddly enough, Hendrickson tied the knot with Whitney just more than a decade ago, which raises a gnawing question about what the bizarre couple has to hide. Certainly, the assertion that someone in Marylou’s cadre of accountants knows exactly what she’s worth, especially since she’s now surpassed her 80th birthday and has already suffered a stroke. Hendrickson even conceded that sorting out her deceased husband’s estate in 1992 took nearly six years, which probably means Whitney herself has made plans long in advance of her demise.

Of course, throwing stones at the benevolent socialite is usually not a way to make friends in the Spa City, so it’s doubtful that anyone will bother to answer these questions. But the sudden departure should give those down in Albany good pause to think before they decide to privatize New York’s tracks. There are a lot of horses in this race and not too many of them who care two shakes of a thoroughbred’s rear about racing itself.

Editor’s note: Then again, there are some who feel it’s alright for the governor to make a determination without having full financial disclosure from the major principals proposing to run the state’s tracks. And the eds on Lake Avenue make a good argument for this case; they’d rather see a decision made on the same basis they decide to run articles: with little, if any information.

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