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Another team wins a big one for the Red Sox

Ball club's lobbyists, title help get funds for Fenway

They once traveled the halls of Beacon Hill, occupying powerful positions and brokering behind-the scenes deals. Now well-connected lobbyists, they were signed up this year by one of the state's best-known special interests: the Boston Red Sox.

With the help of their lobbying team, the Red Sox accomplished the politically difficult task of persuading legislative leaders to agree to spend as much as $55 million in public money to spruce up the area around Fenway Park and the neighboring Longwood Medical Area.

They did it by making key alliances with neighborhood and area business groups and by gaining access to top legislative leaders. They even brought the World Series trophy to an Election Day luncheon for Senate President Robert E. Travaglini shortly after last year's Sox victory.

For the Sox, the funding would protect the ownership's investment in the fabled 93-year-old ballpark that is at the heart of the team's legendary history. The money would also serve the team's emerging plans to become a major real estate developer in the vicinity of the ballpark, though the proposed spending is causing some grumbling from development watchdogs who say the team has vaulted over other transit needs. The New York Times Co., parent company of The Boston Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox.

''If you are surrounded by the wrong development, it doesn't make sense to put $200 million into a ballpark," said Larry Cancro, the team's vice president for Fenway affairs.

Five years ago, lawmakers approved $100 million to complement the team's now-abandoned plans to build a new Fenway Park. When the team changed ownership, the state spending, which was to have rebuilt nearby transit stations and improved streets, was left in limbo.

But all that changed after the Sox announced they would remain at Fenway Park.

Early this year, Sox officials, including chief executive Larry Lucchino and their lobbying team, joined by representatives from neighborhood groups, began making rounds at the State House. Travaglini's office reports that the Red Sox and others pushing the plan held four meetings between early March and mid-October with Travaglini, his staff, and other senators.

The Red Sox strategy team includes William F. Kennedy, chief of staff and legal counsel to former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran. Also hired was the Karol Group, whose principals are the former House chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Committee, Stephen J. Karol, and W. Paul White, a Dorchester Democrat and former assistant majority leader in the Senate.

Cancro said the team turned to Kennedy because, as Finneran's former chief aide, he was at the center of legislative approval of the $100 million aid package for the Red Sox in 2000. He said the team hired Karol and White because their company is a leader in state transportation issues.

The Sox are also drawing on a politically wired public strategy and public relations firm, Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications. One of the firm's principals, Larry Rasky, has worked for top Democrats over the years.

But with Rasky's expertise comes baggage from a feud with Mayor Thomas M. Menino that goes back two decades and stems from a dispute over a cable television company in Charlestown when Menino was a member of the City Council. Some think it played a role in Rasky's being cut out of bidding for the public relations contract for the Boston Convention Center a decade ago.

Cancro, a veteran Red Sox official, is well known on Beacon Hill and has particularly good personal connections with Travaglini. For example, the Sox official showed up at Travaglini's Senate reelection victory party with the team's World Series trophy.

Travaglini said that his relationship with Cancro goes back 20 years and that he considers him a friend. But he said Cancro and the other lobbyists involved were not a determining factor in his decision.

''To suggest somehow that this is to give $55 million to Larry Cancro is totally off the mark," Travaglini said. ''The question is, does the project have merit?"

''I am only concerned about merit, not who's working for whom," Travaglini said. ''Lobbying doesn't weigh that heavily in my deliberations."

Travaglini said that the hospitals and educational institutions near Fenway made compelling arguments that heavy traffic congestion, particularly in the Longwood Avenue and Boylston Street intersections, is choking the area.

''We have to make these investments," he said. ''Ambulances can't get patients through to the hospitals. Just on that alone we should do it."

He added he did not ask that Cancro bring the World Series trophy to a luncheon that Travaglini throws each Election Day in East Boston.

Under the Senate's $55 million plan, the money would go to re-configure streets and rebuild mass transportation stations. A key component was a strategy to marshal strong backing from neighbors and area community associations and embrace much of their development agenda.

Cancro's influence did not carry as much weight in the House, where Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi included only $12 million in a House spending bill for the neighborhood. DiMasi is advising the Red Sox to work with the MBTA to seek more public money.

The House and Senate versions of the bill will be negotiated by lawmakers in the coming weeks.

''The Red Sox are a big economic driver in that area," said state Representative Daniel E. Bosley, House chairman of the Committee on Economic Development. ''There is some legitimacy to their concerns, regardless of whether the $55 million is a good idea." He said none of the team's State House lobbyists have talked to him.

In the weeks since the Senate plan was announced, the success that the Red Sox and their lobbying team are having on Beacon Hill has drawn criticism that the sports team, with its iconic standing in Boston, is getting special treatment while other needs are going unfunded.

Menino is rankled that state lawmakers ignored the city's planning for the Longwood area in favor of the Red Sox development plans. An environmental group says the Red Sox project is leapfrogging other long-promised transit improvements that the state pledged as part of the Big Dig project.

''People who live on the B and C line have been begging, and people on the Blue and Red lines have been clamoring," said Julia Bovey, spokeswoman for the Conservation Law Foundation.

''How come this poor guy in Jamaica Plain can't get the Arborway line restored?" she added. ''The state had a legally binding commitment on that project, and he's been jumping up and down about that for 20 years? But the Red Sox have lobbyists, so they get their project funded."

Many state officials traditionally have been reluctant to funnel money directly to a sports stadium. In 1999, when the New England Patriots were considering a move to Connecticut, the state agreed to spend $70 million on infrastructure improvements near the team's new stadium, with Robert Kraft paying back $1.4 million a year and giving an easement on his land.

In the case of the Red Sox, the team reached out to Fenway neighbors, who have in the past been at odds with the Red Sox management, to present a solid front. Community leaders say that transportation upgrades and other improvements that the team and nearby hospitals are pushing have long been on the agenda of the Fenway Park area.

''The reason why the money starts flowing is because groups like the Red Sox are actively pushing it, but it's been the desire to improve the public transportation in the area for some time," said Marc A. Laderman, who sits on the Boston Redevelopment Authority's citizens advisory committee on the future of turnpike air rights and is also a board member of the Fenway Community Development Corporation.

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