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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says review of Mets' sale to Steve Cohen is not about 'personal feelings'

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio throws

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Citi Field on March 31, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Nearly 11 months after his pursuit of the Mets became public, Steve Cohen’s $2.475 billion deal to buy the team will be voted on by MLB owners on Friday. That is the final step on the league side of the process, and Cohen is expected to gain the necessary approval from at least 23 of the 30 baseball bosses.

But there is one additional loose end that needs tying before the deal closes: approval from New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday downplayed multiple reports from Wednesday night that said he is opposed to Cohen owning the team and expressed as much to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

He characterized New York City’s review of the sale as a "fiduciary responsibility as a city" that will be done soon. The city is involved because it owns Citi Field and the land it sits on.

"Some folks are trying to ascribe it to personal feelings," de Blasio said. "It’s not. It’s a legal responsibility that we have to undertake appropriately. That’s what this is all about.

"I’ve been asked this several times and I’ve said literally exactly what is going on. What matters is that we have a responsibility to New York City. It’s our land. There is a legal requirement that if there is an ownership change, it has to be evaluated. Our law department is doing that evaluation based on the law and why? Because it’s about protecting the interests of the taxpayers of New York City and making sure that the transaction is appropriate given what it means for the city’s ownership of land."

He described it as "due diligence" and said "that process will resolve very soon."

That is the same sentiment he expressed repeatedly earlier this week, though he declined Thursday morning to be more specific about when the city’s look-see might be done.

"It is winding down," de Blasio said. "I’m not going to give you an exact day and hour, but it will be very soon. We understand MLB has their process, that’s understood. But we have our process we need to go through the right way and very professional people are doing that work."

De Blasio confirmed that he called Manfred to tell him the city would be doing this.

"I want to respect the private conversations, so I won’t go into a lot of detail," he said. "I’ll just give you a very simple point: I reached out to Commissioner Manfred simply to let him know that we had this legal responsibility and we were pursuing it and doing due diligence and that we intended to, obviously, go through that process as quickly as possible."

Does de Blasio personally think Cohen should own the Mets?

"It’s not appropriate to be commenting on the people involved," he said. "The law department is handling this. Very, very professional operation, looking at these facts. Again, this will be concluded quickly, but I’m not going to issue personal views in the middle of that kind of review."  

Cohen, a Great Neck native and a hedge fund titan worth an estimated $14 billion, has been trying to buy the Mets for at least the better part of a year. On Dec. 4, the Mets announced that he was in talks with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase a majority stake of the team. That deal fell through in February over details about the Wilpons’ continued role, so they reopened the bidding — a process that ended with Cohen offering the highest price, with no window of continued Wilpon power. The Wilpons and Katzes will retain a 5% stake in the team.

Amid the de Blasio goings-on, Cohen did receive an endorsement from one prominent baseball figure: Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who is on the Yankees’ payroll as a special adviser.

"Wishing my friend and New Yorker Steve Cohen, a successful MLB vote Friday to join Baseballs fraternity," Jackson wrote on Twitter. "He’s a lifetime fan. He’s wanted the team since the day I ‘Met’ him. I’m sure he’ll get the great Met franchise back on its winning ways. MLB and the city need him. Go my man."

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