Legislators-even former foes-feted at ballpark Lawmakers take budget-battle break

April 09, 1992|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

They scorned it as extravagant. They mocked it as unnecessary. They fought it tooth and nail. And last night, they ate it all up. A small band of state legislators who voted against spending public money to build Oriole Park at Camden Yards swallowed their pride.

They were among the 800 special fans -- legislators, their family members and friends -- who accepted free tickets, caps, pennants and food at the ballpark's Legislative Appreciation Night.

"I've been very supportive since it opened," said Del. Martha S. Klima, a Baltimore County Republican, who fought public spending on the stadium.

"It's classic, it's first class," she said, eating barbecued chicken and cole slaw. "And now that it's open, I expect everyone to support it."

Delegate Klima came with her husband, Jim Klima, a baseball fan. He saw no contradiction in his wife's accepting the tickets to the stadium's first night game.

"What do they expect us to do, cut off our own nose to spite our face? . . . It's the only game in town," he said.

"We're not going to boycott," the delegate said. "That would really be an injustice. It's a beautiful ballpark."

Some one-time foes of the project were so impressed they almost repented. "I think they have done a marvelous job," said Del. Elizabeth S. Smith, an Anne Arundel Republican. "I didn't think it was an expense we could handle. I guess I might be having second thoughts."

Other critics came, but stood their ground.

"The ballpark is great, it looks like an old stadium," said Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, an Anne Arundel Democrat, gazing across the turf toward home plate from the pregame party in the picnic area nestled among honey locust trees in an enclosure beyond left center field. "But the basic truth is, you can do wonderful things for $200 million.

"I have no second thoughts," he said. "I fully expected that if they spent $200 million they'd do a good job, and they did."

He'll come to games because he loves baseball. In fact, his father, Ben, took him to Opening Day at Memorial Stadium in 1954.

Last night, Mr. Winegrad returned the favor and took his father to the first night game at Oriole Park.

But, he said, "It's sad to think about Memorial Stadium sitting out there empty when the state is having a financial crisis."

In fact, many of the legislators looked tired after finishing a 90-day session Monday without being able to agree on a budget.

They're in an extended session now, and they were scheduled to be back at work at 10 a.m. today.

"After working hard for 90 days, we deserve a break," said Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel Republican.

Clutching two Oriole pennants and wearing his free cap, Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat, the most outspoken of the new stadium's opponents, said the park is "a beautiful job."

He said the Stadium Authority deserves "a tremendous amount of credit. I think if there's any criticism, it's of ourselves for letting them use public dollars to build it."

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Stadium Authority, played the gracious host. "There were a lot of people who, for political reasons or personal reasons, were opponents. Most of those people have become supporters," he said.

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