Honor ‘Usually Reserved For Dead People’

Naming the stadium at SUNY Stony Brook after New York State Senator Ken LaValle is illegal and provides the incumbent state senator with an unfair advantage in elections, says Greg Fischer. Independent/Courtesy SUNY Stony Brook

The New York Mets sent shock waves through the sports industry when the team sold naming rights to its new stadium to Citibank for a whopping $200 million over 20 years.

It’s not just professional sports teams. The University of Albany — hardly a Division I powerhouse — received $10 million to rename its football field.

It’s not only sports. The Richard S. Shineman Science Center at SUNY Oswego set the Shineman family back $5 million.

At SUNY Cortland, everything is for sale. A SUNY Board of Trustees-approved naming program offers donors the opportunity to attach a name to a designated facility or space, or to a non-physical asset, such as a school, department, faculty position, or scholarship.

At Stony Brook, the crown jewel in the SUNY system, naming rights would figure to bring in a small fortune. The school plays Division I big time schedules, and the field holds 12,500 and often sells out.

Yet Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at SUNY brings in no revenue — it’s named for the longtime Senator Ken LaValle, who as chairman of the State Higher Education Committee, has a significant say in budgetary matters at the university. He doesn’t pay anything to see his name in lights, and that rankles his opponent in the upcoming election, Greg Fischer.

“Does it hurt my chance of getting elected against a 41.5-year incumbent if he has a very large, long-term in-kind campaign contribution ‘election advantage’ of having a SUNY Stony Brook sports stadium named after him?” Fischer asked.

The candidate is filing suit, claiming the name of the stadium is illegal by law, and over-limit, even it were deemed a campaign contribution.

SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley, in announcing the gift of the Shineman family, acknowledged state law and SUNY regulations are in place to monitor such gifts. In accordance with state education law and state university regulations, Stanley, the Oswego College Foundation, SUNY Oswego College Council, and SUNY Board of Trustees all had to sign off on the deal.

Fischer filed a notice of claim against LaValle, SUNY officials, the State Board of Elections and the Brookhaven Town Department of Highways, among other entities.

The suit charges that LaValle has held the naming rights since October 2002 “without reporting the proper full market value of the in-kind campaign advantage. Nor has he reported the advertisement value of printed and media announcements which cause the
garnering name recognition . . .” the suit states.

The heart of the claim is that LaValle, in his position as the ranking member of the State Education Committee, helped procure $22 million for SUNY for the purpose of building the stadium. Fischer calls the money “pork” in court papers. He also said it was ludicrous for a sitting member of the legislature to have such an honor bestowed on him. “Most people who have a field named after them are dead,” he quipped.

Fischer wants the court to force LaValle to amend all his campaign filings since 2002 and for a special prosecutor to consider criminal charges.

The notice was originally filed in October 2016.

According to SUNY guidelines: “The naming of a physical or non-physical asset of the University is appropriate when a significant gift is received for the benefit of the University, directly or through a campus-related foundation, and to honor the character, service, or other positive merits of the donor or the donor’s honoree.”

Senator LaValle did not return calls for comment.

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