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  Many in Md. Object to Stadium Funding

 
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By Robert E. Pierre and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 28, 1998; Page B01

Two years after Gov. Parris N. Glendening pushed through state funding for two professional football stadiums in Maryland, a substantial majority of residents believe public financing was a bad idea, according to a recent Washington Post poll.

At the same time, a majority of Maryland residents support slot machines at racetracks – a proposal Glendening (D) says he will never support. But the poll does show that Glendening may gain some political advantage because opponents of slots say they are more likely to consider the issue when voting.

The survey and interviews with some respondents offer further insights into public attitudes about slots and stadiums, two of the hot-button issues so far in Maryland's gubernatorial race. Glendening's challengers say they are prime examples of Glendening's misplaced priorities and flawed judgment, on the one hand giving away state money needlessly and on the other, not seizing an opportunity to capture much-needed gambling revenue.

The poll suggests that, at least as far as the football stadiums are concerned, those challengers have an issue with which to score politically against Glendening. The governor spent substantial political capital securing legislative approval in 1996 for nearly $300 million in funding for two football stadiums – but with few discernible political benefits.

Six in 10 Maryland residents say they disapprove of the decision to provide $70 million in funding for roads, sewers and other services associated with the Washington Redskins stadium in Landover, and an even larger percentage say they disapprove of the full state financing of $220 million for the Baltimore Ravens stadium at Camden Yards.

Public spending on stadiums was unpopular even in Baltimore and Prince George's County, which are expected to reap direct financial benefits. The Washington Post poll, conducted June 11 to 17, is based on telephone interviews with 1,353 randomly selected adults in Maryland, including 1,055 registered voters. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In the Post poll, Glendening leads his chief Republican challenger, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, 50 percent to 38 percent. But that 12 percentage point lead shrinks to 5 percentage points among voters who disapproved of funding the Baltimore stadium.

Jim Butler, 62, voted for Glendening in 1994 but opposed the state's decision to build a new stadium in Baltimore. Along with Glendening's position on slots, and the state's more aggressive oversight of the Baltimore City school district, Butler has seen enough.

"I've acquired a distaste for him," said Butler, a Democrat and retired state employee in Baltimore. "It's an accumulation of things. I cannot vote for him."

David Alperin, 31, an Olney resident who participated in a recent Post focus group about the governor's race, said: "I have a real big problem with the money that was spent on that stadium in Baltimore. . . . I'm mad at the governor. I'm mad at some of the members of the state legislature for not putting up a strong fight." Alperin, an independent, is undecided about whom to vote for in the fall.

Other voters complained about the stadiums but suggested that they did not hold them against the governor or that they considered the matter settled. "I tended to oppose it," said Todd Hart, 40, a Republican and architect in Berlin. "Seems like the players are making enormous amounts of money, and the public has to pay, and in a way, to subsidize them doesn't seem right."

But, he added, "it's sort of over with" – a view echoed by Andrea Dyson Shoemaker, 28, a government contractor who lives in St. Mary's County.

"The stadium is already built," said Shoemaker, a Democrat. "Now it's just a matter of seeing what the outcome is. Are we getting any of the revenue from it, or not?"

At the time of the legislative debate over the issue, Glendening said that voters would come to appreciate the stadiums. He frequently recalled the arguments cited against the Baltimore Orioles stadium at Camden Yards in the late 1980s, noting that the baseball facility is now popular.

Still, the governor now almost never mentions either the Redskins or the Ravens stadium, which is scheduled to open in August. That's a sharp contrast to his posture on gambling, for which his campaign slogan is "No slots, no casinos, no exceptions." Glendening and his aides frequently bash his primary opponents for pledging to expand gambling in Maryland.

Although the stadiums are about done, the future of slot machine gambling at Maryland racetracks remains contingent on the campaign. Two candidates in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary – Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and former Washington Redskin Ray Schoenke – advocate state-owned slots to save the troubled horse racing industry and fund public schools. The other Democrat in the primary is physician Terry McGuire.

Glendening's stand on the divisive issue led Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D) to part ways with his former ally and embrace Rehrmann instead. Schmoke said slots would provide the money he needs to improve Baltimore's poor-performing schools.

On the Republican side, Sauerbrey said she would support a state referendum on slot machines, while her rival, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, says he is opposed to more gambling.

More than half of Maryland residents say they favor allowing slot machine gambling at horse racing tracks in the state. Slots were particularly popular among younger residents, especially men: Seven in 10 men younger than 30 said they would support bringing slots to racetracks. (This same group gave the stadiums their highest levels of support, though about half still disapproved of the financing decisions.)

Geographically, the slots proposal is somewhat more popular on the Eastern Shore, whose residents are a short drive from legalized slots in Delaware. Supporters of the proposal say Eastern Shore residents are more likely to recognize that money that could go to Maryland is being spent elsewhere.

"Living on the Eastern Shore like I do, everybody's going to Delaware; they're getting more business," said Christina Walters, 48, a Republican insurance agent from Stevensville who participated in the Post poll. "I'd like to see the business in the state. I know all kinds of people that go to Delaware where they could go to Baltimore or Laurel."

But the poll shows that only a tiny minority of Marylanders consider gambling the single most important issue in the governor's race. The poll also shows that four in 10 Marylanders oppose slots, and opponents are nearly twice as likely as supporters to say that gambling is a voting issue for them, suggesting that Glendening's strong stance might help him get gambling opponents to the polls on his behalf.

"I see gambling as being a taxation on the poor," said Heidi Irgens, 37, a legal secretary in Mount Rainier who is leaning toward voting for Glendening. "People who don't have the income to afford that type of thing spend their hard-earned money and then don't have enough to buy food or pay the rent. I just don't think it's a good thing."

Keith Haller, a Montgomery County-based Democratic pollster, said that Glendening has staked out an advantageous position. He said the position helps Glendening solidify his base among more educated, suburban voters, who are less likely to support slots.

"It's an image-defining issue that he's not been able to create with most voters in the last couple of years," Haller said. "Indirectly, Glendening's opposition to gambling may help to offset some of the damage on his aggressive advocacy of the two stadium proposals."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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