In a move that could boost Maryland's football fortunes in both the NFL and the General Assembly, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has apparently agreed to support the shift of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.
Mr. Cooke has notified Gov. Parris N. Glendening that the Redskins, who as recently as November vehemently opposed the move of the Browns to Baltimore, would vote for it Friday when the National Football League owners take up the issue at their meeting in Chicago, State House sources said yesterday.
The news was one of several developments yesterday that boosted the spirits of supporters of the governor's stadium deals.
Aides to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry will issue a joint letter today urging legislators to approve new football stadiums for their jurisdictions.
And Mr. Glendening continued to meet with legislators to try to sell his plans to spend $273 million in state funds to help pay for the stadiums in Baltimore and Prince George's County.
Mr. Glendening has proposed spending $200 million to build a stadium for the Browns at Camden Yards and $73 million on road and infrastructure improvements for the proposed Redskins stadium near Landover.
"Supporters are now standing up and expressing their positive sentiments about the stadiums," said Dianna D. Rosborough, the governor's press secretary.
Mr. Cooke notified Mr. Glendening in a recent phone conversation that the Redskins would vote for the Browns move to Baltimore when NFL team owners meet this week, according to sources.
Although reluctant to speak against a team for Baltimore in the past, Mr. Cooke has made no secret of his desire to make the Redskins a regional franchise encompassing both Baltimore and Washington.
When the governor announcedthe Redskins' deal last fall, Mr. Glendening said he had been unable to convince Mr. Cooke to vote for the Browns move, though the team owner had agreed "not to lead the opposition."
But the political reality of obtaining state money for his stadium in Prince George's County has apparently changed his mind, sources said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Redskins supporter, called news of Mr. Cooke's decision "good for Maryland."
"There was no pressure on him at all, other than that he knew it would make our jobs [in Annapolis] easier," said Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat. "Mr. Cooke did not become a billionaire by being stupid."
Mr. Cooke did not respond to a request for comment, and Gerard E. Evans, his chief stadium lobbyist, said he did not know how the team owner would vote in Chicago. But Mr. Evans said the importance of the Redskins' vote is obvious: "What helps the Browns deal helps the Redskins deal."
Stadium supporters said they were happy that Mr. Curry was joining Mr. Schmoke in a letter to be delivered to the 188 members of the General Assembly today.
In their appeal, both men will make clear that they strongly back both stadium deals and are willing to answer any questions and testify on their behalf, said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman.
He said the mayor believes it is critical for the two officials "to make a more personal appeal to the legislators and become more vocal in their support. It is clear if one [stadium proposal] dies, the other dies, and it would be a great loss to both communities if that were to occur."
Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry were unavailable for comment.
The Prince George's County Council, meanwhile, gave preliminary approval last night to the Redskins proposal.
Many legislators in Annapolis have criticized the Redskins deal because it doesn't require Prince George's County to contribute any money to the project.
"We really need for Prince George's County to be forthcoming," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat.
Toward that end, a bill introduced this week by Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, the Baltimore County Republican, would take most of the revenue generated by a 10 percent admission tax on tickets at the proposed Redskins stadium away from Prince George's County and return it to the state.
The money would pay back the state's $73 million contribution to the project.
Sen. John A. Cade has introduced another bill that would impose a 10 percent sales tax on the permanent seat licenses that Browns owner Art Modell wants to sell to prospective ticket-buyers at the new Camden Yards stadium. The legislation would initially generate roughly $8 million, which would be used to defray state construction costs.
Besides reducing the state's share, such changes in the stadium deals would give legislators some political cover back home.
"A lot of members of the General Assembly need some kind of justification or rationale to support these proposals," said Mr. Cade, an Anne Arundel Republican.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a supporter of both stadiums, said he hasn't taken a position on the proposed changes to the deals but will live with anything that helps secure General Assembly approval.
In other developments, stadium opponents yesterday began drafting a letter to former Gov. Harry Hughes, head of the state Democratic Party, urging the party to stay out of the battle.
The Democratic Party has been quietly helping the governor's office drum up support for the two proposals. Opponents say it is inappropriate to use staff and resources for a policy that some Democratic legislators oppose.