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By Bill Wichert April 12, 2012

Cory Booker claims Jeff Vanderbeek “took us into arbitration” in dispute over Prudential Center

A day after a panel of arbitrators ruled that Newark owed money to the New Jersey Devils, Mayor Cory Booker stood outside the Prudential Center and lambasted Jeff Vanderbeek, the team’s managing partner.

But the mayor should remember it was city officials who initiated that arbitration process.

Yet Booker claimed twice during his April 4 news conference that Vanderbeek "took us into arbitration."

"He’s dragged my team through courts for five and a half years, millions and millions of dollars of legal fees he has swept up from the city pressing frivolous claims," Booker said. "How do I know they’re frivolous claims? Think about how much of a pathetic penny pincher he’s been.

"He took us into arbitration, not just for that one letter that I mentioned. He took us into arbitration because he said, ‘Oh, you didn’t get the streets straightened in time.’ He was responsible for the construction of this arena, but he said, ‘Oh, it wasn’t done on time,’" the mayor continued. "Every legal manipulation and exploitation he could pursue to get another dime and dollar out of our city, he’s gone after."

After reviewing the arbitrators’ decision and an application filed on the city’s behalf, PolitiFact New Jersey determined that Booker is wrong. The arbitrators’ decision resulted from an arbitration request filed in 2010 by the Newark Housing Authority, which owns the arena.

In a series of e-mails, Booker spokeswoman Anne Torres acknowledged that the authority initiated the process, but claimed that the Devils left city officials with no choice.

"The Newark Housing Authority would never have demanded an arbitration if the Devils had paid their rent, however, because of their recalcitrance and failure to follow through on their commitments, the Newark Housing Authority and the city were forced into arbitration," Torres wrote. "It should be noted that these were the facts behind the Mayor’s statement."

Torres later added, "The Mayor knows that the Housing Authority initiated the arbitration, that’s no secret.  What I am saying is that when he says ‘they took us into arbitration’, he’s saying this because they left us with no choice."

Let’s explain the timeline of events leading up to arbitration.

The Devils and the authority approved a lease agreement in February 2005 for the Prudential Center, which later opened in October 2007. But the two sides became divided over a host of issues, including unpaid rent and parking revenues.

Following years of negotiations, the authority sent a "notice of dispute" to the hockey team, starting the process toward arbitration, according to a May 2010 Star-Ledger article. The lease agreement provides for arbitration as a method of resolving disputes.

In June 2010, the authority filed a "demand for arbitration" with the American Arbitration Association, according to the arbitrators’ decision and the application filed at the time.

The arbitrators’ decision released last week addresses the unpaid rent, parking revenues and other issues, but ultimately leaves Newark owing about $600,000 to the Devils.

Our ruling

At an April 4 news conference outside the Prudential Center, Booker claimed twice that Vanderbeek "took us into arbitration."

But as a spokeswoman for the mayor acknowledged, the Newark Housing Authority initiated the arbitration process. We rate the statement False.

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Our Sources

Video of Cory Booker news conference, April 4, 2012

Arbitration decision in dispute between Newark and the Devils, accessed April 9, 2012

The Star-Ledger, Newark mayor Booker slams Devils owner following arbitrators' ruling against city, April 5, 2012

The Star-Ledger, Judge rules $2.7M parking payment letter is not enforceable contract in Newark, N.J. Devils dispute, Oct. 28, 2010

The Star-Ledger, Court to decide on revenue dispute between Newark, N.J. Devils, Oct. 16, 2010

The Star-Ledger, N.J. Devils, Newark Housing Authority abandon negotiations on Prudential Center rent, head to court, June 16, 2010

The Star-Ledger, Newark Housing Authority says NJ Devils owe millions in back rent on Prudential Center, May 15, 2010

Lease agreement between Newark Housing Authority and the New Jersey Devils, Feb. 2, 2005

Demand for Arbitration filed by the Newark Housing Authority, June 2010

E-mail interview with Anne Torres, spokeswoman for Mayor Cory Booker, April 10-11, 2012

Phone and e-mail interviews with Robert Sommer, spokesman for the Prudential Center, April 11, 2012

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Cory Booker claims Jeff Vanderbeek “took us into arbitration” in dispute over Prudential Center

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