Booker Calls Devils Owner ‘Huckster and Hustler’

By Davide Cruz

Newark Mayor Cory Booker lashed out at Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek — calling him a “Wall Street Millionaire,” “pathetic penny pincher,” “bamboozler” and more — for going back on promises to build a recreation center and fund a variety of community jobs and training programs.

“What Jeff Vanderbeek has proven after five years of trying to work with him is that he is a high falootin’, high class huckster and hustler,” Booker said at an afternoon press conference outside the arena today. “The facts speak for themselves.”

The mayor’s sharp criticism comes a day after a panel of arbitrators ruled on the long-running rent dispute between the team and the city. The ruling called for the team to pay around $14.7 million in rent, but the team was awarded over $15 million in unpaid parking money and other costs. It’s a deal that will have the city, which used over $200 million in city funds to help build the arena, actually paying the Devils to play at the arena. Critics say that the city’s reliance on big-ticket items, like Downtown arenas, has never served its citizens well.

“How do you cut a ribbon, knowing that this is going to occur. You just can’t take a word from someone,” said Councilman at Large Luis Quintana. “Both the mayor and Mr. Vanderbeek … should have made an agreement in writing, instead of a verbal agreement. Both parties are at fault.”

The Devils issued a statement today, saying “We recognize it is hard for the Mayor to accept a legal loss and understand what must be his frustration with his housing authority’s dubious decision to initiate this arbitration.”

Revenue at the arena has been steadily growing, according to the city. Last year, it was one of the top 10 sports and entertainment facilities in the country. City officials say it took in over $10 million in revenue, after expenses, none of which it shares with the city.

Keith Kinard, who runs the Newark Housing Authority, which actually owns the arena, says the dispute centered on an agreement between the business administrator from the previous administration (Richard Monteilh) and Vanderbeek, which should not have been binding because it didn’t get city council approval.

It was suggested by some that the heated rhetoric might motivate the Devils to pack up and move back to the Meadowlands, which Kinard thought was unlikely.

“Right now, and for about the past five years, they’ve had about the best deal of any professional team in the entire country,” said Kinard.” They’ve paid no rent. They’ve paid no sports training money; they’ve paid no job training money and, as the mayor pointed out, these aren’t just hundreds of thousands of dollars of obligations that Mr. Vanderbeek has walked away from. This is $500,000 a year. This is a $15 million obligation just in sports and jobs alone.”

Booker says Vanderbeek broke numerous personal promises to him and, by extension, Newarkers. He said he will exhaust every legal option, but added that the city’s most effective weapon may simply be the power of shame.