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Saving face and looking silly

The latest move in New York City's Olympic saga is just bizarre:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg committed last night to help the Mets build a stadium that could be converted into the centerpiece for the 2012 Olympics in an 11th-hour deal to salvage the city's bid for the Games.

The Mets would pay the cost of the stadium, which would open in 2009 and be built adjacent to the existing Shea Stadium in Queens. It would be converted for use for the Olympics if the city is chosen as the host for the Games.

The city and state would contribute $180 million for improvements to the infrastructure around the stadium and would pay an additional $100 million to convert the stadium to Olympic use.

The Mets' principal owner, Fred Wilpon, said he would not know the cost of the stadium until a design was selected, but he estimated that it would be $600 million.

This might be a good deal for both parties. Who knows? But here are the facts as we know them.

1. This is the first we have heard of such a partnership. To this point, the mayor has refused to acknowledge even the possibility of using Queens as a site for the Olympic Stadium.

2. Paris and London are laps ahead of New York in the race for 2012. A quick switcharoo on the stadium plan is a huge longshot to claim the bid for New York.

3. The public has been told repeatedly what a tremendous project - a "catalyst" and "anchor" for development - that a stadium would be for the West Side of Manhattan.

4. In choosing the site alongside Shea, the Mayor and Co. are giving up on the development theme, unless they plan on filling in Flushing Bay.

Those are the facts. What does one make of them?

My take is simple: the stadium as development theme has been exposed as a mere politician's ploy. If the story were true - stadiums are worthy of public investment because they are a unique catalyst for development - the benefits of the Manhattan stadium are still there to be realized.

The impending award of the games to Paris would give New York time to get the pieces in place for the Olympics of 2016 - time to sell a skeptical public on a plan that the administration believed in. But the Manhattan location was abandoned like a car taken for a joy ride. Like a child, the city's administration wants their Olympics, and wants them now. The rest is just a sideshow.