Cooke finds kind climate in Annapolis

April 04, 1995|By Jon Morgan and John A. Morris | Jon Morgan and John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writers

When Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke last visited with a Maryland governor, the exchanges were, well, spirited.

Participants reported fists pounding on tables in the closed-door clashes between the strong-willed team owner and equally intransigent Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

But yesterday, when Cooke returned to the State House for the first time in the Glendening administration, the climate was considerably more temperate. Gov. Parris N. Glendening was out, but Cooke left kind words and a gift: a football autographed for the governor's 15-year-old son.

A jovial Cooke stood before a Redskins flag and was flanked by two of state government's most powerful men: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who were effusive in their praise for the owner and supportive of his intention to build a stadium in Maryland.

Cooke himself winked and joked: "It's slightly different than when I was here previously."

In fact, Cooke and the Redskins find themselves in a dramatically more hospitable political environment since November's elections, one dominated by Washington-area lawmakers whose districts are rich with Redskins fans and with a governor who lacks Schaefer's single-minded devotion to returning Baltimore to the NFL.

The results are tangible. After years of failed efforts, legislators succeeded over the weekend in diverting some of the money being set aside for a Baltimore NFL stadium. Some of it even will be used to upgrade Memorial Stadium for Baltimore's Canadian Football League team, which Schaefer viewed as a potential impediment to an NFL franchise.

And when the new head of the Maryland Stadium Authority suggested publicly that the state should explore suing the NFL for blocking the city's efforts -- bellicosity common in the Schaefer years -- top lawmakers were critical.

"What is emerging is a sea change in the attitude toward the RTC Redskins," said Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for the CFL and Redskins.

Although Taylor and Miller were receptive to Cooke, Schaefer vowed to veto any attack on Baltimore football funding and to block roadwork necessary for a Redskins stadium in Maryland. He blamed Cooke for Baltimore's failure to get an NFL expansion franchise.

Now, state leaders talk about having two NFL teams in the state.

"I was hoping that we could continue to work to get two teams here. But I don't want to risk having none," said Taylor, who announced yesterday that the Redskins' preseason training camp would be moved to Frostburg State in his district.

Taylor supported the effort to divert money from the stadium authority in a compromise that would preserve the bulk of the money -- and the bonding authority -- for at least another year as Baltimore continues to try to get a team.

But, he added, "I think that whole issue will be at risk until we get a franchise in Baltimore."

The compromise struck over the weekend calls for $20 million to be taken from this year's appropriation to the football fund if no team has committed to the city by May 1996. The money then could be spent on school construction.

The timing would give next year's General Assembly an opportunity to reconsider its decision if circumstances should change.

Lawmakers also have diverted $800,000 from the football fund appropriation to make emergency repairs at Memorial Stadium and have authorized the stadium authority to spend $1.2 million from its surplus fund for the same purpose.

Glendening also directed more than $11 million in lottery revenues originally earmarked for the football fund to pay for other programs.

Miller, the biggest Redskins fan in the State House last year, says he will push road-building assistance if Cooke builds a stadium with his own money in the state. Cooke says his preference now is to build somewhere in Prince George's County -- home of Miller and Glendening.

"I would be willing to put many, many projects on hold to be able to assist the man," Miller said.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who has been trying to move an NFL team to Baltimore, said he doesn't like the reduction in stadium funds, but can live with it. He acknowledged that enthusiasm for Baltimore's NFL hopes have faded in Annapolis, but predicts that will be short-lived.

"I think there have been a number of failed efforts, and that's normal -- people get discouraged. Legislators are people," Angelos said.

"I think there's tremendous support on the part of the governor and legislators for an NFL team in Baltimore. Those funds will stay there."

Miller and Taylor questioned the prudence of comments last week by John Moag, chairman of the stadium authority. Moag said the state ought to explore suing the NFL, accusing it of violating antitrust laws by keeping Baltimore out. Such a suit would accuse the league of illegally protecting the Redskins' turf.

Taylor compared the comments to "throwing down of the gauntlet," and worried it could imperil efforts to get the Redskins into the state.

Miller said: "As head of the stadium authority, he has got to look at the state as a whole. I'm confident once he has a grasp of all the facts, he might rethink his position."

John Pica, head of the Baltimore Senate delegation, acknowledged that a Redskins move to Prince George's "would cement the NFL's position that a franchise should not be awarded to Baltimore. But it does not affect our ability to attract an existing franchise, because that decision will be based on money."

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