Cooke deal's a bad deal for Maryland

January 19, 1994|By Jack Gilden

JACK Kent Cooke is trying to convince Marylanders that moving his Washington mercenaries to Laurel is a good deal. But is it?

The answer is no. It's a terrible deal. That it is such may come as a great surprise to those who have swallowed Mr. Cooke's rhetoric.

Mr. Cooke reportedly has been working behind the scenes for years to keep Baltimore from regaining a National Football League franchise. Now he claims not only that he will bring football back to the state, but that he will foot the bill himself, purchasing the land and paying for stadium construction. He says his proposal will save the state about $150 million in addition to providing jobs, tax revenues and tourist dollars. All that, plus the Laurel Redskins would give Baltimoreans a replacement for their dearly departed Colts.

Corroborating Mr. Cooke's assertions are a handful of suburban Washington politicians, the most vocal of whom is state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. He's turned civic pride in his region into a kind of poor man's nationalism that subverts long-standing state goals and ignores the best interests of every Maryland citizen.

The sad truth is Mr. Cooke is a much bigger winner in the deal than the good people of the state. The city of Laurel is unsuitable for his purposes. Roads and improvements would have to be financed by Maryland taxpayers at a cost ranging from $30 million to $100 million.

Cooke supporters are quick to point out that this is still a $50 to $90 million savings over the building of a stadium at Camden Yards in Baltimore with money already in the bank.

Now the honorable Mr. Miller would have Marylanders footing the bill for roads and other public works that promote the District of Columbia and serve Virginians. Why open that Pandora's Box?

Cooke, Miller and company might argue that a Laurel stadium will at least move the NFL closer to those other Marylanders -- the ravaged but still rabid football fans of Baltimore. Unfortunately, Baltimoreans don't want the Redskins, never have, never will.

The majority of Baltimoreans don't wish to move the Redskins closer; they'd like them at a greater distance -- say, in Richmond. Each evening since the issue was first raised, the city's radio sports talk shows have resounded with resentment.

As for the employment opportunities, one Laurel man at a town meeting found the prospects laughable. He opined that few would benefit from $3-an-hour jobs selling beer and hot dogs.

An increase in tourist revenue also is unlikely. There are only eight home dates a year, and it stands to reason that those few who come from elsewhere for the games -- the Redskins have been sold out for years and have a long waiting list for season tickets -- will spend their time and money in the nation's capital.

Even the publicity value of the team will be negligible. Do the New York Giants or the New York Jets, both of whom play in East Rutherford, N.J., conjure attractive images of the Garden State?

Of course the Marylanders most damaged by the Redskins' move would be the people of Laurel. They would have to put up with more traffic, more noise. Perhaps that is why the good people of Alexandria, Va., already have said no to Mr. Cooke's generosity.

Of course, some would benefit from a Redskins move to Laurel. With the team placed right in the heart of the Washington/Baltimore corridor, both cities and their suburbs would belong to Mr. Cooke and his heirs until the end of time -- or until they get a better deal somewhere else.

And what if Maryland's leaders stand up and reject Mr. Cooke's bullying and Mr. Miller's poor judgment? The Redskins would be forced to remain in the District, or they would move to northern Virginia, where the commonwealth's taxpayers can foot the bill for preparing a location that is still convenient to Marylanders.

Maryland citizens are best served with football in the state's marquee city. The central location is convenient to all Marylanders. Road and rail already serve it. The site is ready. The funds are in place. Maryland businesses stand to gain the most from it. Every Marylander wins.

Most important, holding the line against Mr. Cooke and his friends is a victory of the people over the avarice of a few businessmen and the stupidity of the politicians who support them.

Jack Gilden writes from Baltimore.

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