Stadium plan opens P.G., Baltimore rift City's legislators far more supportive of state financing

2 would be built for football

Delegations agree that they need each other's backing

February 04, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and Frank Langfitt | Thomas W. Waldron and Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Laura Lippman contributed to this article.

With few exceptions, Baltimore legislators support spending $273 million in state funds to help build two football stadiums, but their colleagues in Prince George's County remain opposed or unpersuaded.

A proposal by Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to spend $160 million of his own money on a new stadium in Prince George's -- assisted by $73 million in state funds -- has won support from seven of the county's 29 legislators, a survey by The Sun found last week.

Five of the 29 lawmakers said they supported Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal for the state to build a $200 million stadium to lure the Cleveland Browns to downtown Baltimore.

Meanwhile, legislators from Baltimore -- citing the what they called the economic benefits and the civic pride of having a National Football League team -- remain almost universally supportive of the two stadiums, according to the survey.

Both sides in the debate agree that to win approval, the projects need overwhelming support from Prince George's and Baltimore, with each jurisdiction voting for the other's stadium.

But the ambivalence in Prince George's County, which would get the biggest share of any benefits from a new Redskins stadium, indicates that proponents must shore up their own support before the issue is voted on by the General Assembly in several weeks.

"I think it's somewhat baffling that Prince George's doesn't want a privately invested major project like the Redskins stadium," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Cumberland who supports both stadiums.

"But I don't live in Prince George's, so I don't know," he said.

Mr. Glendening has committed $73 million in state funds for infrastructure and road improvements at the site of the proposed Redskins stadium near Landover.

Can it be justified?

Echoing others in the delegation, Del. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's Democrat, said he was concerned about the state's committing so much money for sports projects while it cuts social spending and fires hundreds of workers.

"How can you justify the cutting of these programs and laying off people who are willing to work every day, for nine or 10 ballgames?" he said.

Stadium proponents said some of the Prince George's legislators' reluctance can be attributed to the loud opposition many of them are hearing from people who live in the Landover-Largo area, near the proposed stadium site.

And some of the opposition in the State House, supporters said, is early-session posturing by lawmakers looking for political favors from the governor or legislative leaders.

At about the same point in the 1987 session, they noted, the proposal for a Camden Yards stadium complex appeared to face similar opposition. By late March of that year, after intense political arm-twisting, the measure was passed with strong majorities in both houses of the Assembly.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, predicted that the county's legislators will "absolutely" end up supporting both projects.

"When the smoke clears, the overwhelming majority of legislators in the metropolitan Washington area will vote for both stadiums," Mr. Miller said.

Officials of the Glendening administration said that they, too, think that Prince George's lawmakers will fall into line behind the stadium proposals.

On Friday, the administration released a poll commissioned by the Redskins that found 60 percent of Prince George's County residents surveyed supporting the local stadium project.

"I think this shows there is more support in Prince George's County than some legislators might think there is," said John W. Frece, a spokesman for the governor.

Many Prince George's lawmakers said they have been flooded with complaints about the Redskins deal.

"People meet me in the Giant Food store and say, 'Don't you dare vote for that bill,' " said Del. Mary A. Conroy, a Democrat who opposes both projects.

The poll, which included details of the stadium's private financing and potential benefits in its questions, found that statewide, 51 percent of respondents opposed the Prince George's stadium and 42 percent were in favor.

That was more support than was found an independent poll released earlier in the week.

In that survey of Maryland residents, 69 percent said they opposed the Redskins project and 62 percent were against the Browns stadium. The poll provided little information about the stadium projects.

"The better job we do telling people what the benefits of these stadiums are, the more public support there will be," Mr. Frece said.

Baltimore sees benefits

Most legislators from Baltimore seemed to be convinced of the benefits of both projects, according to the Sun survey.

Twenty-seven of the 35 city legislators said they would support the Browns stadium, seven said they were undecided and one was unavailable. Twenty-five said they supported the Redskins project, and nine said they were undecided.

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