James Dolan is reaching back to his old playbook as he fights to keep Madison Square Garden’s lucrative tax break — cozying up to one of the state’s three most powerful pols.
MSG’s embattled owner put Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at center ice to drop a ceremonial puck at the Rangers’ Black History Night game last week as efforts heat up to force his company to pay $43 million a year in city property taxes.
And while you could hear a pin drop inside a packed Garden when Heastie was announced as the honoree, Dolan’s message was clear,
“He’ll do whatever it takes,” veteran Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said of Dolan.
“He’s making nice with the speaker, having him throw out the first puck at the Rangers game. If nice doesn’t work, he’ll go to war.”
An Albany insider also said Dolan’s favor to Heastie was a desperate attempt to mount a power play while he’s facing state probes over his vengeful use of surveillance technology.
“His team is freaking out,” the source said of MSG’s top execs. “They are legitimately worried about the debacle Dolan caused around facial recognition.”
Heastie (D-The Bronx) posted a photo of himself at center ice ahead of Wednesday’s game, in which the Blue Shirts beat the Vancouver Canucks, 4-3.
“Proud to celebrate Black History Month with the @NYRangers,” Heastie gushed on Twitter. “Thrilled to be a part of tonight’s ceremonial puck drop! Go Rangers!”
Fans in the World’s Famous Arena greeted the event with a yawn, however, unlike when they booed far-more-recognizable Gov. Kathy Hochul during “Women’s Empowerment Night” last year.
Dolan and his dad, Charles, formerly granted favors to the speaker’s power-broker predecessor, Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver, who died last year while serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence for official corruption.
In 2006, The Post revealed that Silver’s then-pregnant daughter, Esti Fried, was hired as a temporary office worker at the arena under a directive that a source said “came from the top.”
Silver, an avid Rangers fan and Orthodox Jew, also got special treatment in a private hospitality area called Suite 200 where he enjoyed a kosher banquet with separate dinnerware, sources said.
Those scoops came after Silver sided with the Dolans in 2005 to block then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to build a stadium for the Jets on Manhattan’s West Side, with Silver claiming the project would have hurt the post-Sept. 11 redevelopments of Lower Manhattan.
A bill pending in the state Legislature since 2013 would revoke the Garden’s property tax abatement, which has been in place since 1982.
On Monday, the Reinvent Albany good-government group threw its weight behind that effort.
“MSG and James Dolan’s property tax break scam has cost New York City $875 million. Why should any New Yorker pay property taxes if the billionaire owner of the Knicks, Rangers, and Garden doesn’t?” the non-partisan organization said. “The state Legislature needs to end this monument to unfairness and pay-to-play.”
Dolan is also seeking a permit to operate the Garden in perpetuity after its city permit expires on July 24.
He sought the same concession when the original, 50-year permit expired in 2013, but the council only gave him a decade.
Dolan faces an uphill battle in convincing the city Planning Commission and the City Council to grant his wish, one city lawmaker said.
“Ultimately, all sides are going to be under a lot of pressure to get a deal done,” the source said. “But James Dolan hasn’t been doing himself any favors in attacking all the local lawmakers.”
Under a proposal outlined Monday by the Department of City Planning, any renewal would require MSG to grant permission for $7 billion worth of renovations to Penn Station, located under the arena.
Meanwhile, state Attorney General Letitia James in January began looking into Dolan’s use of facial-recognition technology to ban his foes — primarily lawyers from firms suing MSG — from entering the arena and Radio City Music Hall, which is among its other venues.
The State Liquor Authority also questioned Dolan over the practice last week after slapping him with a subpoena and warning him that he could lose the right to sell booze if he keeps it up.
And state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would target the tech by expanding a law that prohibits “wrongful refusal of admission” to cover sporting events.
MSG has defended the controversial practice “as a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys from firms pursuing active litigation against the company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved.”
In a statement, an MSG spokesperson said, “Madison Square Garden is a significant job creator and an economic leader within both our community and the city.”
“Our tax abatement is no different than the government subsidies that every single stadium and arena in New York city and state receive and in fact, is less than most other venues,” the rep added.
A spokesperson for Heastie — who’s been boycotting questions from The Post for the past month — didn’t return a request for comment.
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