Another major league tale of excess

Sunday, December 6, 1998

A very disturbing story is being reported by the New York Times. It's one of those horror tales that makes you feel very lucky to be in the good old sensible Midwest, and -- even better -- to be living in conservative and fiscally prudent Cincinnati.

It appears that the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut are about to throw an alarming amount of taxpayer money at a football stadium. We might not be flashy here in America's Heartland, but at least we have enough sense not to put our money in bushel baskets and heave it into a money pit the size of a downtown riverfront.

What can these people be thinking?

We've fished with that bait

It has been more than two weeks since Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland announced that he had enticed the New England Patriots to leave their home in Foxboro, Mass. The bait, it appears, was money.

"We're writing a blank check to the Patriots," howled one lawmaker, Rep. J. Wayne Fox, a Democrat from Stamford.

From the other side of the aisle, Sen. John A. Kissel, a Republican, worried that earmarking so much money for a sports facility might undermine public support for other projects.

"People understand you can't keep charging everything in

the hopes that things will remain rosy," he said.

On the other hand, the governor who engineered a deal that might go as high as $1 billion and does not include provisions for parking or land acquisition, said for the record: "Full speed ahead. Go, Pats!"

Boy, these people must have sushi for brains.

I just hope they already have all the money they need for, say, school buildings and public transportation. I'll bet their voters won't be in the mood to be generous next time they're asked.

And get this: The state is going to guarantee revenue for unsold luxury seats and boxes. The negotiated deal also demands that the public pay for a practice field for the team. Can you imagine somebody falling for that? New Englanders must have money to burn.

Low self-esteem

I think maybe this happened to Hartford because its citizens lack self-confidence. Hartford, some say, suffers from an inferiority complex. After the city lost a lot of its manufacturing jobs in the 1950s and was left with mostly insurance companies, it became known as "the filing cabinet of the Northeast."

Well, "sticks and stones . . .," as we say here in Porkopolis. The Times suggested that Hartford is still smarting from a visit by Mark Twain in 1868, when he complained that he couldn't find a good cigar there. And you know what an unkind remark from Mr. Twain can do to a city's view of itself.

Or, in the case of Cincinnati, what it will do to our view of ourselves at the end of the world, 20 years after it happened to everybody everywhere else.

On Dec. 15, Connecticut's state legislature is scheduled to vote on the plan. So maybe Hartford's expensive Christmas present will be the right to call itself a Big League Town. And the Hartford Courant is wondering in a headline: "Can Hartford Rise Above Politics?"

One city council member said, "I think there's a variety of blame to go around. The council. The mayor. The city manager. Nobody manages." Can you imagine that? Well, these people had better get their act together if they expect to run with the big dogs.

Although, I understand that this team, these New England Patriots, do win the occasional football game.

Imagine that.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Cincinnati Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call (513) 768-8393, or fax at (513) 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular newspaper columns and radio commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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