Opening Yankee Stadium as a safer-alternative site for voting in the November election would establish a bit of goodwill with a neighborhood that’s been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, some Bronx residents say.
“Allowing the people to come here and vote during COVID, that’s very important,” said Nelly Mobley, 46, whose Grand Concourse apartment of 14 years is just down the street.
“Nothing can stop me from going to vote. I don’t care where it is. But I think that for some people, especially those people with underlying conditions, [voting outside] becomes a very important factor.”
“It would have a major impact,” said Leonardo Coello, a 2021 Democratic candidate in the City Council district that covers much of the South Bronx. “Because of COVID, people don’t feel comfortable going to these small schools, these small polling sites. With a place like Yankee Stadium, you can socially distance better.”
According to a source with intimate knowledge of the Yankees organization, the Yankees and the city Board of Elections are discussing using the stadium in some way for the election, but not as a polling site. The source did not disclose what that might mean.
[Update: On Oct. 19, the board and the Yankees announced that the stadium’s Great Hall would be used for four days of poll-worker training sessions, ahead of the start of early voting on Oct. 24.]
“I actually think this is one of the most glaring symbols of the problems of the ‘tale of two cities’ in New York City—the Yankees being able to keep Bronx residents out of their stadium to vote,” said Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District. The BID represents nearby small businesses, many of which have been hurt by the impact of games being played without fans in this truncated MLB season.
A district in need
Yankee Stadium sits in New York’s Congressional District 15, the poorest in the country. Only 32.5% of eligible residents voted in the 2018 midterms, down from 49.3% in the 2016 election, ABC7 reports.
Bronx residents remain frustrated by the loss of parkland and parking spaces since the construction of the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009 despite deep opposition from the surrounding community. Some feel that the Yankees could be doing more to support the neighborhood during the pandemic.
“This is world-famous Yankee Stadium,” Reggie Green, 58, a former employee at Stan’s Sports Bar on River Avenue, said at a BID rally last month. He hasn’t been able to work at Stan’s since the city’s initial shutdown in March. “The community supports Yankee Stadium, the stadium should support the community.”
As the pandemic transforms the way people vote, New Yorkers have faced misaddressed absentee ballots, incorrectly disqualified votes and a projected shortage of poll workers. Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center agreed to open as polling sites as a condition of ending the NBA players’ strike after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Board of Elections declined to use Yankee Stadium’s interior as a polling site, said the source familiar with the situation, given certain security measures required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Yankees plan to release more information next week about how the stadium will be used on Nov. 3. The elections board did not respond to requests for comment.
“People would feel more encouraged, knowing that the greatest sports organization, New York Yankees, are encouraging people to come out and vote,” said Coello.
Disagreement over support
The 161st Street BID has recently been asking for the stadium to be used as a polling site as a measure of support for the community. It held small rallies outside the stadium on Sept. 17 and again on Sept. 30. The source said the Yankees’ dialogue with the elections board began before the BID’s campaign.
The Yankees say the team has contributed several million dollars to local organizations over the course of the pandemic, declining to name a specific amount. The organization also created a $1.4 million coronavirus relief fund for stadium workers to cover some qualifying expenses.
Under the terms of their 2006 deal with the city, the Yankees pay $1 a year in rent for the land beneath the stadium and no property taxes. Instead, the team makes tax-exempt Payments in Lieu of Taxes that go toward the Yankees’ construction-bond debt.
The agreement also established a charity meant to disperse millions in grants to the surrounding communities. Instead, the New York Times reported in 2017, the charity overwhelmingly directed funds to wealthier areas in the borough and “operated with little oversight or public accountability.” The link for the fund’s website, bronxyankeesfund.com, no longer appears active.
Mobley said it feels like the city and team ignore the neighborhood when there aren’t Yankees games.
“The upkeep is definitely up when Yankees are playing in season, and there are actual games where they know that tourists are going to be here,” she said. “Does it benefit us? Sure. But what about when they’re gone? What about when it’s off season?”
In a district where a third of residents live below the poverty line and over half pay more than 30% of their income in rent, the stadium hasn’t always felt like a good neighbor.
“The Bronx is actually burning again, but burning in a different way,” said Coello, referencing the mythic phrase that came to define the borough in the 1970s and 80s.
“We’re burning with COVID, we’re burning with a lack of health care, we’re burning with lack of affordable housing. And Yankee Stadium continues to just kind of obliviously live right here next to us.”