Newark Mayor Booker: Devils chairman has left city feeling very betrayed

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Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker joined Morning Joe this morning to discuss an issue that’s most likely given him some headaches as of late: His long-running dispute with Jeff Vanderbeek, the NJ Devils chairman and managing partner. The dispute has been over back rent and parking revenues surrounding the Prudential Center in Newark, which has been home to the Devils since the arena opened in 2007.

“He has looked our city in the face and lied to us,” Booker said this morning to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Here’s how the Star-Ledger characterized the issue last week:

“That relationship flared anew on Tuesday, after an arbitrators panel found the city — which invested $210 million in the arena — was owed $14.7 million in back rent and relocation expenses. But the arbitrators also said the city owed the Devils $15.3 million in parking revenue, excess taxes and capital costs.”

The decision infuriated Booker. Calling Vanderbeek “one of the most despicable owners” in the National Hockey League, the mayor labeled the Devils owner a “highfalutin, high-class huckster and hustler.”

Mayor Booker discussed how his relationship and opinion of Vanderbeek has changed since 2007. Booker warmly received Vanderbeek at the time because, according to Booker, promised to devote money to job training, youth programs and a recreation center in Newark.

Booker also said the city of Newark devoted “$300 million worth of public money” to help fund the construction of the Prudential Center.

“The arena itself is making many collateral benefits for the city,” says Booker. “…but when an investor comes into your city and says ‘Hey, I’m going to give money to job training, and in fact, I’m going to sign a contract to do that. I’m going to build a recreation center, and in fact, I’m going to sign a contract to do that. I’m going to do job training and help youth programs, and I’m going to sign a contract to do that.’ And then does not fulfill those promises, it leaves a community feeling very betrayed.”

Included below is a statement from Devils Arena Entertainment on the issue:

Statement from Devils Arena Entertainment

“Devils Arena Entertainment, through the families of Ray Chambers, Mike Gilfillan and Jeff Vanderbeek, have invested over $300 million in the team and Prudential Center, including $185 million to help build the arena – the largest private investment in downtown Newark in the city’s history.  With almost 8 millions visitors to date, the Rock is a vital component in helping to change the perception of Newark.

The mayor has referred to Jeff, Mike and Ray as a visionaries, angels and courageous.  He has specifically referred to Jeff as a “lifelong friend of mine … and of the City of Newark,” a “mensch” and a “straight shooter.”  Now that he doesn’t like a decision in a legal process that his administration started, he turns tail.  Remember this is the same mayor who told the Star-Ledger that he’d ask friends to shoot him before running for a third mayoral term.

The mayor is playing fast and loose with the facts.  It is important to note Prudential Center did not start this legal process.  Rather it was the Newark Housing Authority, chaired by the mayor’s chief of staff Modia Butler, that made the decision to initiate both the litigation and, more critically, the binding arbitration.  Now that the mayor doesn’t like the resulting rule of law he is looking to change the rules – it’s Booker law not constitutional law.  That should be of great concern to any business considering investing in Newark.”

Newark Mayor Booker: Devils chairman has left city feeling very betrayed

Updated