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Foes align as Sox get set to pitch

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 03/30/00

As the Boston Red Sox prepare to make their pitch for public investment to build a new Fenway Park, the effort is fast taking on aspects of a political campaign.

Yesterday, opponents showcased the new Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies, an umbrella organization for 13 politically divergent groups opposed to the team's $600 million proposal.

Just days after liberal activist Ralph Nader blasted public subsidies for a new ballpark, the group also touted antitax crusader Barbara Anderson's support for their cause.

"Why would anyone think we should give a state subsidy for a game?" Anderson said, announcing that her group, Citizens for Limited Taxation, was joining the antistadium coalition. "For us, it's the principle involved. CLT has always been against corporate welfare."

Red Sox supporters were busy yesterday, too.

Five labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, all of which endorsed the team's plan as an "appropriate economic development scheme," sent a letter excoriating ballpark opponents for "demeaning" the blue-collar jobs that would be created by the new facility.

"It will mean not only more jobs, but better working conditions," said Ed Sullivan of Local 254 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents over 200 Fenway ushers, ticket collectors, maintenance workers and cleaners. "For a lot of folks, it's a second job they need to support their families. So I'm insulted at the suggestion that these jobs are somehow beneath consideration."

The Red Sox are expected to formally present their proposal, and request for public infrastructure aid, to the Legislature within the next two months. With the legislative session ending in just four months, time is short for both sides.

If they can't kill the plan, ballpark opponents hope to at least delay a vote on public aid until next year, giving them more time to make their case.

Worried that rising interest rates and land values will translate into tens of millions of dollars in additional construction costs, the team hopes to win state and city support before lawmakers adjourn in July.

The team's quest for a new ballpark is an issue campaign, with both sides trying to shape public opinion. Some analysts cast the campaign as an insider versus outsider contest.

"The Red Sox have mounted a tight inside game and the opponents have developed a good outside hand," observed Lou DiNatale, senior fellow of the McCormack Institute. "But I think in the end it's a development deal, and that tends to favor insiders."

Both sides are making a big push on Beacon Hill.

In addition to rounding up more coalition members, opponents recently distributed a study and a book criticizing public subsidies for sports facilities to every state legislator. They're also using the Internet to seek support from Fenway Park fans across the country who consider the 89-year-old ballpark hallowed ground.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have sent lawmakers a series of mailings underscoring support for the team's plan from numerous labor and business groups, including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Business Roundtable, and the New England Council.

Lawmakers also received letters from several state charities, including the Home for Little Wanderers and the antipoverty group ABCD, urging them to adopt the Red Sox plan. Many of the charities receive funding from the Yawkey Trust, which controls the team. They also stand to make a windfall once the team is sold, presumbly after a new ballpark is built. As The Boston Globe has reported, trust documents specify that up to 70 percent of the proceeds from the team's sale must go to charity.

The legislative session is short this year because lawmakers are running for reelection. Onetime presidential campaign adviser John Sasso, who is now leading the Red Sox's political pitch, knows the team has to provide politicians with a strong rationale for supporting the project if they're to approve up to $250 million in public aid and land acquisition assistance.

While some have questioned whether the team missed an opportunity to request public funds in the afterglow of last year's All Star Game, others argue it's unlikely the Sox could have assembled a political consensus on a financing plan while state lawmakers were mired in a long budget stalemate.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care's problems and the Big Dig funding crisis are hurdles to the team gaining funding this year because they're likely to require substantial state aid. However, Governor Paul Cellucci, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, House Speaker Thomas Finneran, and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino all recently signaled their willingness to consider the Red Sox plan this year.

"I think that given his experience in state government, John Sasso has a good sense of our priorities and when our attention is required by other, far more pressing issues," Finneran said. "I don't think it's too late for the team to make their case. And when they do we will give them a respectful audience, just as we will give the opponents."

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