Cooke vows it's Laurel, 'come hell or high water'

February 24, 1994|By John W. Frece and Jon Morgan | John W. Frece and Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writers

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke now says that with or without the support of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, he is moving his football team to Laurel.

"I intend to build a stadium in Laurel, come hell or high water -- whether the governor helps or hinders," Mr. Cooke said in a statement released to news organizations yesterday.

The governor later dismissed Mr. Cooke's comments as "just talk" that is "not really scaring me to death."

But the exchange seemed to escalate the war of words between the two men over their competing plans to move a National Football League team to Maryland.

The two also overshadowed efforts by members of their own staffs, state legislators and even U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley to find a compromise that all parties to Maryland's stadium controversy can live with.

Mrs. Bentley persuaded Mr. Cooke to join her at lunch in her Washington office yesterday so he could meet Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, whom Mr. Schaefer has enlisted to try to buy an NFL franchise for Baltimore. None of the participants would discuss the meeting publicly, but sources familiar with the exchange said it was at times heated and, at best, inconclusive.

"I will confirm that there was a meeting, but I won't talk about it," said Mrs. Bentley, the Republican from the 2nd District of Maryland who is a candidate for governor.

A longtime friend of Mr. Schaefer's, but also a supporter of the Redskins' proposed move to Laurel, Mrs. Bentley acknowledged that she was trying to bring the two sides together.

"I'm a great believer in communication," she said.

In Annapolis, meanwhile, two of Mr. Cooke's top aides -- Walter E. Lynch, the project manager for the proposed Laurel stadium, and Stuart A. Haney, the Redskins' general counsel -- met privately for more than three hours with Mark L. Wasserman, one of the governor's closest advisers, and with House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Again, none of the participants would talk about the discussion.

People familiar with the meeting, however, said the governor's representative was seeking assurances that Mr. Cooke would not block Mr. Schaefer's attempts to bring a team to Baltimore, and that Mr. Cooke's aides were seeking assurances that the governor would not impede the Redskins' effort to build a stadium in Laurel.

Ultimately, the two sides hope to commit some type of an agreement to writing.

While that meeting, too, was inconclusive, one participant said, "Everybody left the meeting with a little more trust, and respect, and a willingness to try to cooperate. That is a big step forward."

The 81-year-old Mr. Cooke says he will spend $160 million of his own money to build a 78,600-seat stadium in Laurel that would be ready for the 1996 season.

But he says it is unfair for the state to ask him to compete against an NFL team just 14 miles away playing in a taxpayer-subsidized stadium at Camden Yards.

Mr. Cooke said he issued yesterday's statement about his determination to move to Laurel because he felt compelled to "clarify" a comment he made Tuesday to editors and reporters of The Sun.

Asked during the taped interview if he would still want to move to Laurel if another NFL team decided to relocate in Baltimore, Mr. Cooke replied, "I doubt that very much."

Yesterday, however, the team owner criticized a headline on The Sun's story about the interview.

The headline said Mr. Cooke would "likely quit" his Laurel stadium plans if the governor were successful in luring a team to Baltimore.

"I didn't say anything of the sort," Mr. Cooke protested. "I said, 'I doubt that I'd proceed.' I didn't say anything further."

Referring to what he has characterized as a twice-given promise from Mr. Schaefer to drop all efforts to bring a team to Baltimore if one had not agreed to move to the city by Feb. 14, Mr. Cooke continued: "I'm counting on him honoring his word -- even though some nine days have passed since he assured me, and others, that he only wanted until Feb 14th to 'run the string out.' "

Mr. Schaefer, meeting with reporters in the State House late yesterday afternoon, seemed almost bemused by Mr. Cooke's more strident stance.

"Mr. Cooke is getting mad; he's getting mad," the governor said. "He never said that before, 'Hell or high water, I'm going to build.' Well, he's going to build with a Baltimore football team there? Then be my guest.

"All he's got to do is say, 'I'm going to build, and I'll let Baltimore build,' and we don't have any problems," the governor said. "But to make threats he's not going to stay here, threatening that it's all my fault, threatening he's going to build it without any help from the state. That's just talk."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.