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Stadium issue should make election interesting

October 28, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND | timr@herald-mail.com

Pretend all you want, but there’s no escaping the fact that the city election 10 days from now has “stadium” writ large all over it.

Yes, I would love to go on and on about Ashley Haywood’s impressive worldview, Kristin Aleshire’s budgetary prowess or Marty Brubaker’s visions of how the city and, by extension, the county should grow over the coming 20 years.

But here we are, right back in 1998, or whenever it was that the first pitch for a new stadium was tossed out. But back then, the stadium focused on the stadium alone. Today, it has the potential to make or break political careers and alliances that will have an impact over the coming decade.

To cut to the chase, the stadium idea in its present form is not popular. Council candidate Don Munson, who has knocked on so many doors that his knuckles have “Masonite” permanently embedded in them, opposes the stadium, so that’s a pretty good gauge of where things stand.

Yet, other candidates say there are caveats. People want professional baseball in the community. And when the conversation turns to other locations for the stadium, the opposition softens. If we were talking about a renovation of the existing stadium costing half as much, the idea becomes far more palatable.

Mayor Bob Bruchey and the current council can make a good case for their existing plan, but it takes some explaining, and anything that has to be explained in today’s era of the 30-second attention span is in serious trouble.

First, no matter how much they have tried, the mayor and council have not been able to convey the point that it’s pretty much impossible to build a stadium on stilts — which is what they would have to do at the current Municipal Stadium location to raise it out of the flood plain.

Second, the mayor and council seem not to have connected with the talking point that the downtown location is, by miles, the cheapest one for in-county taxpayers, provided this mysterious $15 million private donation (that’s conditional on the currently proposed site) comes through.

This might be the key to the whole deal; if the council can pose grinning in front of a 6-foot long, $15-million novelty check before next Tuesday, so much the better. Because without the private money, traditional sports fans in Washington County better learn to appreciate high school lacrosse, if you know what I’m saying.

Of course, there are city residents and there are City Residents, and it’s the Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau and a host of influential souls with business interests downtown who support the stadium, and thereby comprise a rather weighty minority.

So a new council, even one with an anti-stadium majority, will have to think long and hard before torpedoing a major city investment that’s largely funded by the state stadium authority and one very important baseball fan.

If the new council is 3-2 against the stadium, we might see a John Roberts/Obamacare situation, where one opponent fears for his or her legacy. A dubious public aside, no politician wants to be labeled as the Person Who Killed Baseball in Washington County.

So, if the stadium escapes the noose at the city level, things get real interesting. The stadium will need — well, not need maybe, but it would sure help — the support of our local delegation to Annapolis, and almost assuredly won’t get it.

For reasons that are complex, the delegation has positioned itself as the sworn enemy of the local business-community establishment. If it can stick it in the eye of the Chamber, Greater Hagerstown, et al., and pocket some votes at the same time, what’s not to like?

This is a delicate balancing act, because in the past the delegation has hinted that it wouldn’t stand in the way of a stadium if it was what the commissioners and council members wanted. And worse is the possibility that the local governments and business community could do an end run around the delegation and get state approval without it.

That would be an almost unthinkable humiliation for any state delegation, but it is not out of the question, especially since many Annapolis Democrats would be more than happy to pay back Del. Neil Parrott for his ballot-box mischief-making.

And don’t for a moment rule out the thought that a stadium fence-sitter on the council might vote for it, just for the pure pleasure of watching our state lawmakers squirm.

The smart money at this point still has an anti-stadium majority elected to City Hall and, in the flush of victory, strangling the project. But if you don’t care about the stadium one way or the other and simply enjoy pure political intrigue, you will wish for, and vote for, an alternative outcome.


Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is timr@herald-mail.com.

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