Md. aims to calm football debate

December 14, 1993|By John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky | John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers

After an emotional week of slinging brickbats and threats over the Washington Redskins proposed move to Laurel, the Schaefer administration yesterday calmed its rhetoric and began move toward a more objective review of the state's options.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer directed his economic development secretary, Mark L. Wasserman, to join Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad in a meeting today with General Assembly leaders and legislators representing the Laurel area.

One well-placed administration official made clear that Governor Schaefer "has not given up on Baltimore. That continues to be his driving consideration."

The governor, for example, has not yet returned last week's telephone call from Redskins' owner Jack Kent Cooke and his press secretary, Page W. Boinest, said the reason is simple: "He's not ready to talk to Mr. Cooke yet."

And administration officials are still skeptical about Mr. Cooke's true intentions, remarking how odd it seemed for the owner to invite the governor and governor-elect of Virginia to his RFK Stadium box during Saturday's Redskins' game if his plans are to move to Maryland.

Nevertheless, it seemed clear that after a weekend of reflection and some gentle prodding by state legislators, the cold reality of the situation was beginning to sink in.

Last night, for instance, Redskins' officials shared their preliminary plans with the mayor and city council of Laurel for about 40 minutes, the latest in what they promised will be a series of meetings with local and state officials and community groups.

"This isn't a ploy. We're here. We'd like to locate in Laurel. And we aren't using this against the District [of Columbia]," said Walter Lynch, project manager for the Redskins. "We've cut off negotiations with the district."

For Mr. Schaefer and his aides, it was becoming increasingly clear that:

* The Redskins may be moving to Maryland, whether or not the governor likes it.

* Baltimore may not get the National Football League team the state has been seeking since the Colts left nine years ago.

* And, if Mr. Cooke is successful in building a Meadowlands-type sports complex in western Anne Arundel County, the Bullets' basketball team and the Capitals' hockey team may one day move in, leaving an empty arena in Largo.

Just days after threatening to do everything in his power to stop Mr. Cooke's plans in Laurel, Mr. Schaefer yesterday answered every question about the football feud with the same two words: "No comment."

At least one legislative leader saw that as a good sign: that the governor was no longer inflaming the situation.

"We're seeing sort of a mellowing of everybody's positions here," said a hopeful Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's.

"There was a long week of initial first reaction, one of initial trauma for everybody. There are a lot of questions we don't know the answers for: What are the infrastructure costs at Laurel going to be? What is the real possibility of getting an NFL team from another city [for Baltimore]? What kind of terms is Cooke looking at from the state?"

"When we have all that on the table, we can evaluate it and make a rational judgment," he said.

To begin to sort through those questions, Mr. Schaefer instructed Mr. Wasserman, who for years has been one of his most trusted lieutenants, to meet with legislative leaders.

Mr. Wasserman declined to comment about the meeting. But administration officials appeared determined to make sure that if a Redskins move to Maryland is unavoidable, that the state can maximize its interests. Toward that end, the administration seemed interested in establishing a sense of cooperation with the legislature rather than engaging in a debilitating political civil war.

"After a period of time, when he becomes convinced there is not an opportunity for an NFL franchise to come to Baltimore, he might embrace the idea of a state of Maryland team and perhaps negotiate with Mr. Cooke for all of Maryland," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, an early backer of the Redskins' proposed move.

"Maybe if he welcomes this as a Maryland team, he can have Mr. Cooke consider disenfranchised Colts' fans, in terms of ticket allocations," he suggested.

State Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Democrat who represents the western Anne Arundel County district where the proposed 78,600-seat Jack Kent Cooke Stadium would be built, said he was surprised and pleased that administration officials previously "Hellbent against" the Redskins' move were now at least willing to discuss it.

He said his constituents are worried about traffic congestion around the stadium, and said such issues would have to be addressed. But he said the tax and other economic advantages are so obvious from the state's standpoint that is should be "a no-brainer" what the state should do.

Last night, Mr. Lynch told Laurel officials that Mr. Cooke had looked at several potential sites in Maryland before settling on Laurel because of its proximity to major north-south highways and rail lines.

Mr. Lynch said Mr. Cooke began looking for privately owned land in Maryland because of the governmental complications involved acquiring and building on the federally owned land in D.C.

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