Stadium opponents say, 'Deal us out!'


February 28, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

The other night, as he watched a television news report on the Arizona presidential primary, Nicholas, the 5-year-old who lives in my house, asked an important and, I think, trenchant question: "Dad, is Bob Dole still alive?"

The rich get richer

Stadium supporters don't understand why stadium opponents don't appreciate the economic and spiritual riches about to rain on Maryland through the magic hands of Art Modell and Jack Kent Cooke.

I'll try to explain. But before I do, please note: What I'm writing here is an end paper because this battle is over. Art Modell is moving here; we made a deal with him. We will build a $200 million football stadium in Baltimore and probably provide millions more for infrastructure improvements in Prince George's County around a new stadium for Jack Kent Cooke's team.

That said, I'll now try to help proponents understand opponents -- in the way a marriage counselor tries to help husband and wife better understand the reasons for their split, even as the divorce is signed.

1. Look at the amount of time and effort devoted to this endeavor. When has the media, the business community, the governor and legislative leadership devoted so much attention to championing a single issue? And proponents' high-minded claims of "public benefit" often obscure their self-interest in getting these two stadiums built.

2. It's not that people are opposed to economic development and creating and maintaining a good business climate in this state; we're sick of being told -- especially by Democrats -- that this is the primary responsibility of government. When a library branch closes or goes without a new roof, when a Maryland town has to consider charging a fee for emergency ambulance service, that's when people stop seeing stadiums as public institutions but as symbols of corporate welfare.

3. It is public money. Proponents of the stadium deals speak of bond issues and sports lotteries. But most of the money is not coming from Art Modell, and though he wants to build his own stadium near Landover, Jack Kent Cooke still needs at least $73 million in "infrastructure" improvements. One way or another, that money is being panned from the stream of public revenue.

4. The National Football League and, to an increasing extent, Major League Baseball are domains of the elite, the corporate and professional class of America. The teams don't have fans; they have clients. This translates into the ambivalence average people feel.

Consider an even larger context, one that resounds in the nation's current political debate.

The Federal Reserve says that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans -- those worth more than $2.3 million (that includes Art and Jack) -- own 40 percent of the national wealth. And the top 20 percent of Americans, those worth $180,000 or more, have more than 80 percent of national wealth. The rich get richer; they always have. But when they get richer these days, they get a lot richer. When they come around asking for more, it burns people up.

None of this should be hard to see. The symbolism and timing are stunning. At a time of widening income gaps between rich and middle class and rich and poor, taxpayers are being asked to support two projects that primarily benefit the wealthiest among us. Millionaires own the football franchises. Their players are millionaires. Their ticket-buying clients are generally affluent. The long-term economic benefit to average Marylanders is dubious.

Fear not. You'll get your stadiums, fellows. Just don't expect any high-fives from people who can't afford to get in.

Miata mix-up

So the other day -- Sunday, a beautiful day -- Annamarie DeCarlo decides to wash and wax her little red Miata, drop the top and shop at the Giant on Bay Ridge Road in Annapolis. Ten minutes later, she comes out of the supermarket to find several bags of groceries in the passenger seat of her little red Miata.

And boxes of more groceries on the back shelf.

And a woman trying to figure out what the heck a remote control for a garage door opener is doing in her little red Miata.

"Hellooooo, excuse me?" says Annamarie DeCarlo.

"This is your car, isn't it?" says the woman, befuddled and embarrassed.

Turns out, her little red Miata -- also with its top down -- was parked two spots down, behind a Jeep. "This is the second time this has happened to me," she says.

Don't feel bad, Miata Mama. My friend Al came by the house a few months ago to help cook a meal. He said he needed olive oil. We were out. So I borrowed Al's blue Honda and drove to the Giant. I came out of the Giant, olive oil in hand, and spent 15 minutes looking for my red Toyota.

Malaprop spoken here

Steve Schneider, who works at Goddard Space Flight Center, has developed an ear for the malaprop and the wise habit of writing them down.

From a file clerk: "I went through that document with a fine tooth and a comb."

From a co-worker, issuing a warning at a meeting: "Steve, you're in for a shrewd awakening."

Another associate expressed concern for the nation's "infant morality rate," and I didn't even know we had one.

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