Campaign ends in bitter defeat for Schaefer

December 01, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

ROSEMONT, ILL — ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The distance Gov. William Donald Schaefer walked from his hotel room to the speaking area was about 20 yards, but it seemed to last forever.

Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke led Baltimore's four-persoentourage, which was moving as slowly as a funeral procession.

It was time possibly to end Baltimore's bid for an NFL expansion team, an effort that resulted in humiliation at the owners meeting yesterday near Chicago.

Jacksonville, Fla., was awarded the second franchise yesterdayCharlotte, N.C., was granted the first Oct. 26.

" 'I guess you heard, huh?' " said Schaefer, repeating the phrase over and over again. "That's how the NFL told us. Some guy from the NFL comes up and says, 'I guess you heard, huh?' They never told us why we didn't get a team. I've never been in anything like this before. I guess that's the way they do business.

"I'm not going to give you my true thoughts right now. I learned a long time ago that, when you are as unhappy and angry as I am, to wait 24 hours before you say anything."

Schaefer didn't have to say much. His face told the story. His cheeks were red, and so were his glassy eyes. Occasionally, he stared blankly out a window as other members of his group spoke.

"We appreciate the governor of Maryland, his support and effort. He's been out here three times," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "He didn't have to go through this humiliation and insensitivity."

As he stepped on an elevator to leave the hotel, Schaefer made jokes to ease the pain. But once Schaefer started walking, traces of the anger began to surface with each question.

"We have a man by the name of Herb Belgrad who is an honorable individual and plays exactly by the rules. Never once did he deviate," said Schaefer. "They said don't lobby, we don't lobby. . . . Get the stuff in on time, we're always ahead of time. The others didn't have to do that, only us. And then when we did all of it, we lose. I don't understand that process. Right now, it's a little bitter. I'm not thinking about legal action. I just need 24 hours to let the dust settle.

"This is the second time I've been hit hard by this," said Schaefer.

The first was nearly 10 years ago, when the Baltimore Colts left for Indianapolis after an eight-year dispute over a new stadium.

Schaefer, then mayor of Baltimore, had funds approved for renovations to Memorial Stadium, but Colts owner Robert Irsay would not sign a long-term lease.

Irsay said he would call Schaefer if he was going to move the team. The call never came, only the Mayflower vans to move the Colts under the cover of darkness.

Since the Colts moved, Schaefer has fought hard to bring the NFL back. In 1987, his first year as governor, he persuaded the General Assembly to approve funding and construction of two downtown stadiums, one for football if the city got a team, the other for what became Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

But the extent of Schaefer's commitment came Nov. 15, when he endorsed Cleveland-based businessman Alfred Lerner over Florida-based investor Malcolm Glazer and Baltimore-born retail executive Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass as Baltimore's prospective owner.

Schaefer's endorsement of Lerner alienated a number of blue-chip community members who had become involved with the Weinglass group at the urging of the governor.

Schaefer felt Lerner was needed because neither Glazer nor Weinglass generated sufficient enthusiasm from NFL owners.

"I wouldn't have done one thing differently than we did," said Schaefer. "I thought we had the best presentation, and was told so by several owners. I thought we had the best package. Maybe the owners conned me, I haven't an idea."

Bringing pro football back to Baltimore maybe would have allowed Schaefer to leave office in a final blaze of glory, but yesterday no one seemed to know how he would rebound.

"He was disappointed, just like the rest of us," said Schmoke.

Said Belgrad: "He was humiliated, and he has a lot of thoughts running through his mind. He took the news extremely hard."

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