They weren't the best seats in the house--the late Jack Kent Cooke had those--but Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry still enjoyed a choice view of the field from the county's skybox on the 30-yard line at Redskins Stadium.
Those were the seats Cooke picked out when he donated the box to the county during negotiations to bring his team to Landover three years ago.
But at last week's home opener against Dallas, Curry (D) and his guests were in a new skybox near the 50-yard line and in some of the most desirable seats in the stadium.
Curry said new Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder offered the new suite--valued at about $100,000--as a goodwill gesture. Like the other enclosed box, this one features a den, television sets, leather chairs, a private restroom, a bar and padded seats that face the field.
Snyder "is demonstrating that he takes seriously the people in the county," Curry said, adding that he did not ask for a new suite. "It's all a part of Snyder trying to overcome the residual tensions that some in Prince George's feel" about the stadium.
Karl Swanson, a spokesman for Snyder, had a different explanation. He said the county simply benefited from a skybox swap that was necessary to accommodate another suite holder who wanted to remodel and couldn't do it in the 50-yard line box.
Curry "made out because of somebody else's wishes," Swanson said. He declined to say who the other suite holder was.
Regardless of the reason for the swap, the Redskins need Curry on their team. Any significant change to the stadium or the roads that serve it must have county approval, and Snyder has told reporters he plans to seek county permission to open two residential streets to game-day traffic. He also wants to build additional parking.
The Bethesda businessman has had at least one get-acquainted session with Curry, which has rankled Prince George's County Council members who say Snyder has not made time for them.
"It's clear in order to make any changes, the County Council has to be involved in it," said council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro). "It's an orientation process for him to understand we have two separate but equal branches of government."
Estepp said he was unaware that Snyder had moved the county's box.
"We welcome him to Prince George's County, but we just don't like to find out about things by reading them in the newspaper," Estepp said.
Estepp doesn't fault Snyder completely. He is furious that Curry has taken control of the suite, choosing who is invited and when. "The county executive has taken complete charge of that box . . . and it's supposed to be a county box," he said. "We've been shut out completely."
Estepp, who recalled being a guest in the box once in the past three years, said he's talked to Curry about the matter, but "apparently it's a non-negotiable subject."
Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden), usually a fierce Curry ally, said he too is angry that Curry doesn't want to share control of the suite, especially when the council had to approve the stadium deal to make it happen.
"We were the ones who stuck our necks out, and I don't think you could find two council members who have been in the county's box more than twice," said Wilson, whose district includes the stadium. "We think we're getting a raw deal."
Curry said he tries to be "sensitive" about inviting council members, and at least one, Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), said he doesn't care that he hasn't been invited since he was elected last year.
"I can't get worked up about that," Shapiro said. "I don't like football that much, and it's just one of those perks."
Curry's wife and two children were in the box Sunday for the Dallas game. So were the vice president's son, Albert Gore III; Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy; and John R. Griffin, Maryland's former natural resources secretary.
Curry also brought together new School Superintendent Iris T. Metts; state Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore); and James W. Dyke Jr., a consultant to the state-appointed school management oversight panel. Other guests included Curry's longtime friend John A. Lally, a land-use attorney; Ken Mayfield, a Dallas County, Tex., commissioner; Calvin Johnson, a local businessman; Joseph J. James, the county's economic development director; and Calvin Hawkins, who coordinates the box for the county.
"That's too bad," Curry said of the council members' complaints. "Seven of the nine of them want to be county executive, too, and one of them might be and then they can control the box."
Curry said the skybox is simply a perk of being county executive.
"We try to get everybody up there," he said. "This is just one of those prerogatives about being county executive. I don't scream and moan because they have budget power and I don't."