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OP-ED

Sox disrespect City Council

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist, 6/23/2000

his may be the beginning of the end for a new Fenway Park. Actually, it could be the beginning of the end-around. The public has a reason to be more suspicious than ever that the team has no intention of respecting the sentiments of taxpayers in trying to get $275 million in public funds for its $627 million baseball stadium. Monday night, the Boston City Council held a public hearing on the new stadium.

One would think that if you wanted $275 million in public funds, $140 million of it coming directly from the city, you would try to make as many friends as possible in city government. The Red Sox need friends since a recent poll by Mass Insight found that opponents of public funds for a new Fenway outnumbered supporters 54-42 percent. Those friends do not include the City Council. Neither chief executive John Harrington nor general manager Dan Duquette showed up at the hearing.

For 13 months, the Red Sox have told us how much a new Fenway would benefit the public. On the team's Web page, Harrington urges fans to ''let your elected officials know that the Red Sox are an important part of the city and this state and that their support of the ballpark project would be a good thing ... For Boston residents, we ask that you contact your city councilor as well and tell them the Red Sox are an important part of this city.''

It is odd that the Red Sox want fans to bug the City Council even as the team treats the council like a gnat. Instead of sending top officials, the Sox sent lackeys from the business community and trade unions. If the Sox wanted to send a signal that they intend to shove the taxpayers aside to get the ballpark, this was a pretty good way to do it.

To be sure, the City Council is a weak body with primitive leadership. Council President James Kelly is a one-man wrecking crew on the city's image on race relations and waterfront development. These folks are nowhere as sexy to deal with as the mayor or the State House. But city councilors are elected by the very people from which the Sox want so much money. After all, if the Boston public schools have to go through the drudgery of having its budget approved by the council, what gives the Red Sox the notion they can stiff the council with no fear of consequences?

The answer lies in what happened two nights later. A mere 48 hours after blowing off the council, Harrington and Duquette were at the State House, wooing Boston's state representatives and senators. Some of the reps seemed quite happy with the attention. ''There seemed to be pretty strong support to get something done this year,'' South Boston Representative John Hart told the Globe. ''As they went through the financing deails, it appeared they were being quite creative in their approach. So I think the Red Sox left the meeting feeling encouraged.''

If this true, then the Red Sox are following the national pattern of teams using state government to bypass the people. In the 1990s, voters in Seattle, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh rejected new taxes for baseball stadiums. The teams are still getting their stadiums.

In Seattle, despite a ''no'' vote, the governor, the Legislature and the King County Council slapped a tax on area residents. In Milwaukee, despite a ''no'' vote, the governor and the legislature slapped a tax on metropolitan Milwaukee.

Pennsylvania slapped the citizens so hard, the legislators should be arrested for assault. In 1997, Pittsburgh area voters, by a 58-42 margin, said ''no'' to new stadium taxes for the football Steelers and baseball Pirates. But Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge said ''yes!'' louder than Marv Albert. As the baseball and football teams in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and people connected to them made lavish campaign contributions to Ridge and key state lawmakers, Ridge put together a staggering package in which each of the four teams would get a new stadium and rural legislators would get money for their own cultural and leisure projects.

The project cost of the deal was $1 billion, out of which at least $650 million will come from the public. No one actually knows what the final public costs will be since Philly's stadiums are already $217 million over budget.

So much for the people in Seattle, Milwaukee, and Pennsylvania. Boston may be next. Harrington said he did not attend the hearing because the invitation came late and he needed to be at the old Fenway for a game with the Yankees.

How rude. You do not ask a city for $140 million and then say you cannot miss a few innings of a game to testify why you need the cash. City councilors are surely scrubs compared with the mayor and Beacon Hill. But Harrington's low regard for them is a warning that this may be only the beginning of the the team's bad manners. This may be the beginning of the end - the end-around.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe columnist.

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 6/23/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

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