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Menino gains, Red Sox plan loses in city poll

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/10/2000

ostonians love the Red Sox and if there's a new Fenway Park, they want it to be built in the Fenway neighborhood. However, they oppose the team's plan for public funding for the $627 million project, according to a Globe poll. Nearly 70 percent of the 400 city residents polled said they have a favorable or extremely favorable opinion of the Red Sox. Fifty-seven percent identified themselves as Red Sox fans.

Yet only 34 percent of poll participants supported the ballclub's financing plan when they were presented with an outline of the proposal -- including the promise that the project would repay the public's $240 million investment. Forty-three percent said they opposed the plan.

When asked about a plan for a publicly owned ballpark, city residents were even more strongly opposed, with only 26 percent endorsing the concept and 54 percent ruling it out. Even Red Sox fans rejected the idea, 48 percent to 35 percent.

"The bottom line is Bostonians don't want public money used for this project," said Gerry Chervinsky, president of KRC Communications, the Newton firm that conducted the survey by telephone last week.

However, the team's financing plan got a thumbs-up from middle-aged Bostonians, as well as those earning more than $30,000 a year. Residents between the ages of 40 and 64, for example, said they supported the team's plan 46 percent to 31 percent.

While younger residents opposed it by a smaller margin, older Bostonians really tipped the scales against the Sox. Among respondents over the age of 65, there were 63 percent opposed and only 9 percent supporting it.

A significant portion -- 23 percent -- of those polled did not have an opinion or declined to answer the question about the team's financing plan. The question explained that the proposal calls for the Red Sox to pay $350 million to build the ballpark, the state to provide up to $100 million in infrastructure aid, and the city to spend an estimated $140 million acquiring the site and cleaning it up.

The question also noted the team's plan calls for the public investment to be repaid "through an assortment of fees, surcharges, and taxes associated with the project."

Middle- and upper-income Bostonians endorsed the team's plan by an 8 percent or 9 percent margin. Residents who said they earned more than $30,000 supported it by roughly 45 percent to 37 percent. Those earning less rejected it, 49 percent to 29 percent.

While women and blacks were split on the issue, more men and white respondents opposed the Sox financing plan. Self-described Sox fans supported the plan, but not by as wide a margin as one might expect (41 to 32), perhaps reflecting the ambivalence some feel about replacing 88-year-old Fenway Park.

More than a year after the team unveiled the design for the new Fenway Park, the question of how to finance it remains unresolved. With only three weeks left before state lawmakers adjourn, the Red Sox are engaged in tough negotiations with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The mayor, who directed the team to build in the Fenway, has offered the team $30 million less in city aid than the Red Sox sought. Menino also insisted on 100 percent payback on the city's investment.

The Globe asked Bostonians about payback options under review, including a slight increase in the hotel tax, a game-day parking surcharge, a $1 surcharge on tickets, and a special district to allow the city to retain meals and sales taxes.

A majority of respondents appeared to reject all of them by selecting the ratings "fair" or "poor" to describe the proposals. Only the so-called "fat cat tax" -- a 10 percent surcharge on new luxury suites -- won significant public support.

Red Sox chief executive John Harrington had favorable and unfavorable ratings of 29 percent and 10 percent, respectively. This ranked him far below Menino, but above some other political players, including City Council President James M. Kelly. (City politicians were the subject of another Globe poll.)

Nonetheless, far more people -- 40 percent -- did not know who John Harrington was. According to the Globe's pollster, Harrington's low profile may be part of the team's problem in securing public support.

"His ratings are better than Kelly's, but they are not as good as Ralph Martin's," said Chervinsky, referring to the Suffolk district attorney. "The public doesn't see Harrington out there selling, which is what the Sox have to do to get support for the new ballpark."

There was also a note of caution for Menino. While respondents praised his leadership in other areas, Bostonians were less enthusiastic about his handling of negotiations with the Red Sox.

The Globe poll is likely to be a disappointment to the Sox, who recently released a statewide poll showing strong support for a new ballpark.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/10/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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