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Councilors vow to block Fenway deal

Some challenge mayor over lack of say in talks

By Steven Wilmsen and Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff, 7/27/2000

ngered that they have been shut out of negotiations with the Boston Red Sox and feeling disrespected, some city councilors are preparing to block the $665 million plan for a new Fenway Park.

With 9 of 13 councilors saying they are against the deal reached after months of negotiations in the mayor's office and on Beacon Hill, the city's legislative body is girding for war with the mayor - a battle intended at least in part as retribution for being left out of the talks, and one that could last for months.

''Shame on the mayor for not reaching out to the council,'' said Council President James M. Kelly of South Boston. ''I don't see any reason to be optimistic at this point. The council is going to vote, and it's going to say, `You've been treating us like ugly stepchildren.'''

Mayor Thomas M. Menino's chief of staff, James Rooney, who began trying to woo Kelly and other councilors yesterday, said he is confident the mayor can win the council's approval when a final vote is taken, which may be weeks or months from now.

''Ultimately, there will be enough to do the project,'' he said.

It is not clear how tenacious the councilors will be in their opposition, and some of their resistance could be driven not by the issue but by a long-simmering frustration that the council is mistreated by the administration.

But the councilors could put Menino in the awkward position of scrambling to trade political favors and apply whatever pressure he can in order to convert enough councilors to support the plan.

The plan, which involves the city taking 10 acres of land in the Fenway area by eminent domain, needs approval from two-thirds of the council, or nine of its 13 members. Yesterday, nine members of the council said they opposed it, including some who had previously voiced support.

''I haven't been adamantly opposed to it in the past,'' said Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy. ''But how do you justify this? If the vote was today, it'd be dead. There's no doubt about it.''

At a press conference yesterday afternoon on the city's plans to combat the West Nile virus, Menino said he is not worried, at the moment.

''I'm always concerned about the council's opposition, but it's a little premature,'' Menino said.

The Fenway agreement, reached Tuesday night, requires the city to provide up to $140 million for land acquisition and site preparation and $72 million for a new parking garage. The state would contribute another $100 million in infrastructure costs, and the Red Sox expect to spend $352 million on construction of the new stadium.

The city would be repaid $12.1 million a year with revenue from a $5-per-car game-day parking charge, a 5 percent ticket surcharge, a 15 percent surcharge on luxury boxes, and a share of hotel taxes.

''We're not spending city money,'' Menino said. ''We're getting it all back.''

Governor Paul Cellucci is expected to file the financing bill tomorrow in preparation for a public hearing on Beacon Hill, also tomorrow. The Legislature plans to work through the weekend and vote on the deal before the legislative session adjourns Monday.

Cellucci said he is confident the deal would win the two-thirds vote needed from the Legislature. It would then be sent to the council, which would probably hold its own public hearings.

The council has made no secret of its opposition. Last week, as state and city officials haggled over several proposals, seven of 13 councilors said they would oppose any of the plans that had been floated. Yesterday that number had increased to nine.

Councilor Maura A. Hennigan of Jamaica Plain said she could not defend the project to her constituents, who would be inconvenienced by traffic, then by added costs.

''You burden the fans, you burden the taxpayers, you burden my constituents who have to drive through there,'' she said. ''Why don't we talk about an appropriate site with a private partner with deep pockets who can afford to do this?''

Other councilors also worried about congestion, and said the Fenway neighborhood is the wrong site for a larger ballpark.

''The location is very innappropriate for a ballpark that's going to expand,'' said Councilor Chuck Turner of Roxbury. ''When you think of the traffic another 10,000 seats is going to generate, it's going to have a disastrous impact.''

But the Fenway agreement may test the willingness of the council to buck the mayor on a significant public issue. Just last month, city councilors loudly demanded that linkage payments from developers to the neighborhood be accelerated. However, at Menino's insistence, they tabled their demands.

Menino staffers say privately they think they can easily switch several members, including Turner, Murphy, Maureen E. Feeney of Dorchester, Councilor at Large Peggy Davis-Mullen, and Brian J. Honan of Dorchester.

Some councilors who call themselves opponents say they would vote for the pact if the city worked out labor agreements with city workers, including firefighters and teachers, who have picketed over low pay increases and poor benefits.

''If the mayor can get those things worked out, I could come around,'' Murphy said.

Menino rebuffed the complaints about union contracts, noting that Fenway Park was not competing for other city funds because the city would float bonds to pay for the project, and the bonds would be repaid by Fenway fans.

The councilors will also face pressure from building trade unions, which are lobbying for the construction of a new park and make up an important constituency in city politics.

''I'm sure they'll threaten people, but there's plenty of work in the city right now,'' said Davis-Mullen. ''We're not saying we don't want a new Fenway Park. We're saying let the Red Sox build it themselves. Is that what organized labor has come to? Bully people into doing something they feel in their hearts is not right to do?''

The Fenway deal is the latest episode in growing tensions between the Menino administration and the council, which has struggled for power and recognition in the Menino administration.

From the last-minute approval of a new convention center in South Boston two years ago to a vote on a hospital merger of the Boston City hospital, councilors have increasingly turned their complaints about disrespect into a united front against the mayor. They have stalled votes on some of the mayor's pet projects.

More recently, the council has scrapped with the mayor to get more legal autonomy by hiring its own lawyer, rather than relying on the city's corporation counsel. Some city political sources speculate that councilors may try to demand their own lawyer in exchange for support of the Fenway Park project.

But the Fenway standoff is most affected by the damaged relationship between Kelly and Menino, who remain at odds over their two-year-old agreement on the South Boston waterfront development.

The now-disputed agreement, which promised Kelly's South Boston district the bulk of the public proceeds generated by building on the waterfront, was borne out of the council's eleventh-hour vote on the convention center. At that time, similarly squeezed to approve the complex legislation and state and city funding scenarios for the convention center, the council president used his power to extract unprecedented benefits for the neighborhood, a promise now being revisited by all the parties under political pressure.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/27/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

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