Mover Moag comes out of hiding, with a team Stadium Authority chief sees behind-scenes work, risky strategy pay off

November 07, 1995|By Jon Morgan and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Jon Morgan and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

As he shuttled between cities, trying to hustle an NFL team for Baltimore, John Moag made a point of keeping his movements secret and reporting only to those aides and supervisors with a clear need to know.

Then, when the deal was done with the Browns, he made only two copies of the lease, locking one in his desk and leaving the other with the team. Fewer than 10 Marylanders knew precisely what was up until word began to leak out, forcing the two sides to reveal it yesterday instead of waiting until a planned Dec. 17 announcement.

Such secrecy and behind-the-scenes maneuvering is typical for the 41-year-old lobbyist who has adroitly worked Capitol Hill and this year became the unpaid chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"The strategy worked. We have a team in Baltimore and John Moag deserves much of the credit for bringing it here," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a friend of Mr. Moag's and the chairman of the city's Senate delegation who has been critical of the strategy.

Assessing the city's 11-year effort, which repeatedly had failed to land a franchise, Mr. Moag and Gov. Parris Glendening decided early this year on several key changes. "We sat down and made two decisions early. One, we would only go to the end of the year. And two, there would be nothing in the press. I believe the state and the city were used as leverage," Mr. Glendening said.

The strategy carried risks. Threatening to rescind the stadium funding, heresy to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, meant a team could become available after the city gave up. And the fanatical secrecy froze out some of the financial and political heavyweights who could be useful in such a deal.

"The bad part of the strategy was that it got very lonely. It was very quiet," Mr. Moag said.

Mr. Glendening was effusive in his praise for his appointee yesterday, comparing Mr. Moag's trips between cities to those of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's frantic search for world peace.

"There's been furious activity over the past three months. John Moag has engaged in his own Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy and has put a great deal of personal sacrifice into this," Mr. Glendening said.

Described by friends as a political insider, deal-maker, bon vivant -- and fan of the Grateful Dead -- Mr. Moag is considered bright and ambitious but given to bouts of overconfidence, even brashness.

His father, John A. Moag Sr., a retired marketing executive for the Chessie System, offered one word for his son's success where others were stymied: "Tenacious."

Born in Chicago as the first of six children, he moved as a youngster to Baltimore and spent his early years living in a home near Memorial Stadium where young Johnny, as his father still calls him, parked cars in the yard during Colts games. While in Baltimore, he attended St. Bernard's School on Gorsuch Avenue.

When he was 9, the family moved to Pittsburgh, only to return to Baltimore 4 1/2 years later.

The family moved to a home in North Baltimore at the beginning of 1969, when John was enrolled in Loyola High School. He graduated in 1972 -- the year he first became involved in Democratic politics as a supporter of George McGovern's presidential bid.

Later that year, after enrolling at Washington College in Chestertown, he headed the Kent County organization for the unsuccessful Mr. McGovern. He later headed the student government association at the college.

To date, his career has been almost entirely congressional, but very impressive: from his start as a $25-a-day driver for then-gubernatorial candidate Steny Hoyer in 1978, Mr. Moag rose to become the congressman's legislative director and, later, key aide on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

In 1987 -- just six years after obtaining his law degree from the University of Baltimore -- he became the youngest partner in the history of Patton, Boggs & Blow.

Mr. Moag resides in the exclusive neighborhood of Murray Hill in Baltimore County. He is married to the former Peggy McManus, who teaches pre-first grade at McDonogh School, where the couple's daughters, Lauren, 12, and Alexandra, 10, attend school.

Stanley Heuisler, who had worked with Mr. Moag in 1987 to get the Inner Harbor development off the ground, described him as "a very talented guy" who was "in the right place at the right time."

Mr. Heuisler said the current chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority worked under different circumstances than those who went before him.

"I think that John is a good, smart lawyer with a lot of experience in public policy who was given a clear mandate by his boss -- and he had an impending deadline," Mr. Heuisler said.

"Those kinds of things tend to simplify options," he said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke credited Moag with a well-defined strategy, but also noted the fortuitous timing: several football teams, under financial stress from the changing economics of the NFL, are looking for new homes.

"I think we were just very fortunate that we hit a year when a lot of teams went to move," Mr. Schmoke said.

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