Sliding into second

October 05, 2004|By William Donald Schaefer

"BALTIMORE IS BEST." That's what I used to say when I was mayor. It started out as a way to increase civic pride and motivate residents to improve our city, but it grew into something much more. The simple phrase reminded Baltimoreans and the rest of the world how special was our city.

With baseball's return to Washington, the mantra now reads, "Baltimore is good, but Washington is too." With the move of the Expos to D.C., Baltimore will become like the oldest child in the family when a new baby arrives - ignored and discounted for a while. Sadly, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when city and state revenues decrease and hospitality employees are laid off.

During the long process of securing baseball in Washington, Baltimore's businesses and government leaders remained silent, or simply said Baltimore could handle it. They backed off from a fight - something I never agree with and don't practice. Most officials rolled over and accepted what they considered inevitable. Few stood up for Baltimore, its team and its residents.

Orioles' owner Peter G. Angelos stood alone trying to save the city and state from certain economic trouncing. The man, who has done so much for Baltimore, was left to make all the plays in a one-player crusade to protect the team. Where were city and business leaders? Likely sitting in the stands and watching the game. Mayor Martin O'Malley appeared to be more concerned with getting in front of the TV cameras than protecting Baltimore's interests.

The potential economic impact of baseball in D.C. is staggering. Maryland stadium officials estimate more than $3 million in revenue losses. This shortfall couldn't come at a worse time. City and state officials are facing one of the toughest budget years. The Department of Legislative Services estimates deficits of more than $1 billion for fiscal year 2006, which begins July 1, 2005, and nearly $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2007, which starts July 1, 2006. If this economic trend is realized, services for people will have to be cut - something no one wants.

Additionally, Baltimore businesses will likely swing and miss from decreased attendance at O's games. Nearly one-quarter of the 2.8 million fans that descend upon Charm City each season hail from the D.C. region. These fans likely won't be eating at our restaurants, shopping in our stores or visiting our other attractions. Some city and business officials call it nothing more than "a little healthy competition," but I put it in the loss column.

Besides the economic impact of revenue losses, baseball in Washington highlights the exodus of prestigious firms from Baltimore. Large corporate headquarters, such as Rouse Co., are leaving like crowds in the ninth inning of a blowout. City leaders seem oblivious, and Baltimore's reputation and economy are suffering.

As The Sun recently said, "Each loss has been a kick in the ego for Baltimore, cementing its image as a second-tier city that can't make it to the big time" ("Baltimore's loss: HQs go elsewhere," Aug. 29, 2004). The mayor and the business community need to keep prestigious firms in Baltimore. The future of the city depends upon it.

Although it appears baseball is inevitable in Washington, business and city leaders still have a way to influence its impact on Baltimore. Simply, it means bringing the pride back to Baltimore. Making that happen won't be so easy.

The city needs to work hard to promote our team and everything Baltimore has to offer. Businesses must support the team through skybox rentals, and Baltimoreans have to play their role by attending games.

While the arrival of baseball back in Washington after 33 years is exciting for the capital region, the seventh-inning stretch is over. We must push for extra innings because as it stands now, the score is Washington 1, Baltimore 0.

William Donald Schaefer is comptroller of Maryland.

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