O'Malley gets boos on D.C. baseball

Mayor is 'not opposed' to a team there

some in Baltimore see 'bad call'

Personalities, politics in play

July 02, 2004|By Doug Donovan and Eric Siegel | Doug Donovan and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's position that he is not opposed to a Major League Baseball franchise in Washington drew support yesterday from his counterpart in the District of Columbia - and almost no one else.

Local business and political leaders criticized O'Malley's stance, with many saying it was based on the mayor's gubernatorial ambitions, his feud with Oriole owner Peter G. Angelos or a combination of the two.

O'Malley's political foes were especially critical.

"He ought to support his local people," said Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former mayor and governor who supported O'Malley's initial run for mayor in 1999 but has become increasingly hostile since then.

"All he's got his eye on is being governor. ... I think O'Malley ought to think about Baltimore instead of thinking about the state."

Frank M. Conaway, who is challenging O'Malley as an independent in November's general election, accused the mayor of "playing to the Maryland residents in the Washington area."

"He's putting his political aspirations above what's good for Baltimore City," said Conaway, clerk of the Baltimore Circuit Court.

Even some who usually support O'Malley disagreed with him.

"He made a bad call. He's off-base," said state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a South Baltimore Democrat. "Without question, having a team in Washington undercuts the Orioles."

One who was pleased with O'Malley's position was Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

"We're very happy that Mayor O'Malley has no objections and we welcome him to our future Expos games," said Tony Bullock, communications director for Williams. "It certainly helps our case."

Major League Baseball is in the final stages of relocating the Montreal Expos for the 2005 season.

Washington and Northern Virginia are two contenders, along with Las Vegas; Norfolk, Va.; Portland, Ore.; Monterrey, Mexico; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On Wednesday, O'Malley said in response to a question at a news conference that he was "not opposed" to Washington having a franchise.

Angelos' harsh words

His comments drew an immediate and harsh rejoinder from Angelos, who opposes locating a team in Washington. Angelos and others feel it would harm the Orioles franchise by siphoning off fans and limiting the broadcast market.

"I think that's typical of someone who never really does know what he's talking about and who is nothing more than a small-time politician aspiring to high political offices, which if he was successful to achieve he simply couldn't execute properly," Angelos said Wednesday.

Yesterday, O'Malley spokesman Stephen Kearney said the mayor believed the issue was "a matter of fairness."

"We all remember when Jack Kent Cooke and Paul Tagliabue were conspiring to keep football out of Baltimore," Kearney said, referring to the late owner of the Washington Redskins and the commissioner of football. "We hated that. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. That's his basic point."

Politics, geography

O'Malley is expected to enter the gubernatorial race in 2006, when a likely rival for the Democratic nomination to oppose Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

By saying he is not opposed to having a baseball team in Washington, O'Malley might be able to avoid appearing Baltimore-centric to the voter-rich D.C. suburbs.

Last fall, Schaefer and Angelos, who has clashed with O'Malley over development issues, held a fund-raiser in Baltimore for Duncan.

Duncan did not comment yesterday about O'Malley's position, but he said he supported a Washington team.

"I'm a huge Orioles fan, but a team down here is long overdue," Duncan said. "I don't see it as a political issue. It's in many ways an issue of regional pride, much as the Orioles and Ravens are to the Baltimore region."

A spokesman for Ehrlich, Greg Massoni, said: "I informed him of what the mayor said, and he had no comment."

A spokesman for Major League Baseball in New York said he was aware of the mayor's statement but, "We're not going to comment on the process and people's opinions."

Others were more willing to join the fray - on the side of Angelos.

Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said he couldn't speculate on the motivation for the mayor's comments, but he said the business group opposed O'Malley's position.

"We respectfully disagree with the mayor regarding the presence of baseball in Washington and the impact it would have on the Orioles," Fry said. "We firmly believe the market is not big enough for two baseball teams."

Harm to Orioles

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said he was "puzzled and amazed" when he heard the mayor's statement.

"Sports franchises are very important economic engines for cities," he said. "Having another franchise 40 miles down the road from Baltimore would sacrifice the Orioles' ability to be competitive."

His council colleague, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., said the mayor's comments - and Angelos' reaction - were part of a longstanding feud.

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