Bill de Blasio has privately told Major League Baseball that he will do everything he can to stop Steve Cohen from buying the Mets.
The Post has learned that Hizzoner called MLB commissioner Rob Manfred earlier this month and told him outright that he opposed the idea of a hedge-fund billionaire buying a local team and would be using his oversight power of the city’s control of the Citi Field lease to prevent the sale from being finalized.
A source inside City Hall confirmed to The Post that de Blasio did call Manfred, but said the mayor’s message to the MLB commish was “very close to what the mayor has been saying publicly.”
City Hall has maintained that de Blasio and his team are merely doing “due diligence” on Cohen’s purchase of the Mets, something they are entitled to do thanks to a clause in the Citi Field lease that allows the mayor to weigh in because the ballpark sits on land that is technically a city park.
“The Mayor did call Commissioner Manfred, but the rest of this isn’t true,” City Hall spokesman Bill Neidhardt tweeted in response to The Post story. “The NYC Law Dept is doing their due diligence of examining a new lease on incredibly valuable city-owned land. That’s what the call was about.”
What the mayor has said publicly and what he has told people inside city government appear to be at odds, and multiple sources have told The Post the mayor has been pushing the city’s lawyers to find a way to halt Cohen’s sale by using a clause buried in the Citi Field lease.
“The ‘due diligence’ line is bulls–t,” a source familiar with City Hall told The Post. “He’s told [Major League] Baseball he doesn’t want Cohen and he’s told his Law Department to find a way to stop it.”
That language that de Blasio is most interested in precludes “[a]ny Person that has been convicted in a criminal proceeding for a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude or that is an organized crime figure” from leasing Citi Field.
The Post has also obtained new information from a group of well-connected opponents of the Mets’ sale to Cohen, which is expected to be approved by MLB owners on Friday.
They argue the Citi Field lease gives Hizzoner — a Red Sox fan — a clear right to block the deal, pointing to a provision in the lease that prevents a transaction with a “prohibited person.” A prohibited person includes not just an individual who was convicted of a felony, but anyone “who controls any person or entity that has been convicted of a felony.”
Cohen’s former hedge fund, S.A.C. Capital Advisors, pleaded guilty to insider trading charges in 2013 and paid $1.8 billion in fines. Eight traders from S.A.C. were either convicted or pleaded guilty to similar charges, but Cohen, 64, reached a civil deal with SEC that reprimanded him for failing to oversee his people properly and agreed to a two-year ban from managing outside money.
That outcome does not make Cohen guilty of any actual crime, but the new interpretation of “prohibited person” could give de Blasio an avenue to block the lease.
The City Hall source confirmed the Law Department is “looking into provisions of the lease that could affect” the sale of the Mets.
But de Blasio might be stymied by reality.
A source close to the Mets sale told The Post that the team hired two law firms to look into this matter before the deal closed. After close study, both firms concluded the city would have no standing to oppose Cohen’s purchase and felt more than comfortable moving ahead with the sale.
“Multiple law firms investigated this already,” the source said.
But sources also told The Post the mayor is privately taking political fire from both sides of the Mets issue.
Politicians on one side are warning de Blasio that he is overstepping his role to get involved in the private $2.4 billion sale of a local sports franchise because of his continued campaign to “stick it to billionaires.”
“Mets fans have been tortured for too long to have this glimmer of hope snatched at the last moment,” City Councilman Keith Powers said. “The Law Department should be reviewing this under the rules. If this is a political excursion to make sure one person can’t buy a team, that feels out of bounds to me.”
On the other side of the debate is the aforementioned well-connected opposition group, which appears to be using language eerily familiar to that of the revolt movement that scuttled the city’s development deal with Amazon.
“These are disturbing new revelations about a once-in-a-generation sale of City-owned land,” one person inside the opposition group told The Post. “It is urgently important that any deal includes a generous, comprehensive community benefits package that actually serves the people of the surrounding neighborhood and all of New York City.”
A key player opposing Cohen is State Senator Jessica Ramos, who was also a vocal player in the Amazon fiasco. Sources confirm that Ramos has been in contact with City Hall about the Mets sale.
Ramos also penned an op-ed in July endorsing the sale of the Mets to the group led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez.
A source close to the so-called “J-Rod group” told The Post they think de Blasio wants to derail the Cohen deal and also believe he can. They see a glimmer of hope in the mayor’s machinations over Citi Field.
That glimmer, however, seems very dim.
“De Blasio can make this ugly and he can even try to stop it,” said one lawyer with knowledge of the situation. “But he has no real standing, and Cohen will sue him. And Cohen will win.”