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Albany watchdog group keeping close eye on new Bills stadium deal

"We think it's an awful, grotesque rip off"
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Posted at 6:29 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 18:29:35-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — An Albany watchdog group Reinvent Albany is questioning if Delaware North could reap benefits from the State’s 30-year lease stadium lease deal for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.

Some are saying it involves a conflict of interest between the Governor and her husband.

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John Kaehny, executive director, Reinvent Albany.

“The governor needs to have a really strong, clear, independent, verifiable conflict of interest policy so that nobody needs to worry about it,” remarked John Kaehny, executive director, Reinvent Albany.

Reinvent Albany is a non-partisan watchdog organization keeping an eye on the government for transparency, corruption, ethics rules, and state subsidies given to businesses.

Kaehny tells me he's concerned the state's proposed Bills stadium deal is an “opportunity” that will benefit Delaware North, a company where Governor Kathy Hochul's husband, Bill Hochul works.

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Governor Kathy Hochul took the oath with her husband Bill by her side.

“For us, the issue is — why can't the governor just simply have a policy — a recusal policy that others — independent others, like the comptroller or attorney general, can take a look at to ensure the governor is not engaged in a conflict of interest,” explained Kaehny.

Delaware North has been doing concessions at Highmark Stadium since 1992 and a statement from the company said that the concession contract is only for the current Bills stadium lease deal.

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Delaware North website on concessions at Highmark Stadium.

The Delaware North statement also states “Bill Hochul was not involved in the Bills' stadium negotiations – nor was Delaware North. We have been proud to serve as the concessions provider for Highmark Stadium since 1992.”

Last August, when Kathy Hochul became governor, Delaware North announced her husband recused himself from all state business activities.

The Governor’s press office also issued a statement Wednesday:

“Governor Hochul is committed to the strictest ethical standards and restoring trust in government. Delaware North is not a party to the negotiations and any future decisions about vendors at the new stadium would be made by the Bills alone.”

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John Kaehny, executive director, Reinvent Albany, Zoom interview.

“We think it's an awful -- grotesque rip-off of taxpayers,” Kaehny declared.

Still, Kaehny tells me with taxpayers footing $850 million toward a new Bills stadium his group is keeping a very close eye on the wheeling and dealing as it continues to roll out.

“It’s on the governor to make it clear that she does not have a conflict of interest,” Kaehny noted.

According to the MOU for the stadium agreement, obtained by 7 News, the Bills will remain in control of confession rights.

The Bills tell 7 News the concession agreement with Delaware North ends when the current stadium lease expires in 2023 and then the Bills would seek new bids for service.