Can new mayor keep Raiders, A's in Oakland?


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Jan 22, 2006
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Can new mayor keep Raiders, A's in Oakland?
Column by Carl Steward
Inside Bay Area

WHEN OAKLAND voters go to the polls today to cast a ballot for their next mayor, how many of them will be contemplating the future of professional sports in the city as a key consideration in their choice?
If they do — and that's a Mt. Davis-sized "if" — which candidate will they choose? And will it even matter after eight years of almost prideful negligence by Jerry Brown? Do Ignacio de la Fuente, Nancy Nadel or Ron Dellums have a fighting chance to save the A's and Raiders well into the 21st century, or will the effort be a lost cause by the time one of them is sworn in?

The simple answer is that there is always a chance while the teams are bound contractually to Oakland. But mere rhetoric won't keep it that way much longer. The window of opportunity is small and the odds of success dicey, and the new mayor will have to hit the ground running with specific agendas for both teams.

One thing is certain: Whether it's fair or not, he or she will become a poster figure as the person who either lost or saved the A's and Raiders because both teams' long-term futures almost certainly will come to a head on the next mayoral watch.

Negotiations are under way to extend the A's lease to as far out as 2013, but even if that agreement comes to pass, it's a good bet the club will be working on a series of one-year contracts after 2010, by which time owner Lew Wolff expects to have a ballpark deal somewhere.

The Raiders' lease, meanwhile, expires at the end of the 2010 season. That's an even touchier situation, since the football team presents so many internal questions about its long-range future and how the management structure may impact decision-making if Al Davis isn't calling the shots by the end of the current lease.

The candidates have danced around the A's issue during the campaign. De la Fuente and Nadel, while maintaining they haven't given up the fight, have steadfastly maintained no public money will be available to finance a new park in downtown Oakland. Dellums, on the other hand, has said there might be a chance of some public assistance but also has conceded that at this stage, there is nothing the city can do to stop Wolff from leaving if he strikes a better deal elsewhere.

That doesn't paint a very optimistic picture, but a new lease extension would buy some time for the next mayor to dig in and try to get something going. The key is using that time and devising an aggressive gameplan. Without the barrier of Brown's indifference, that might be possible.

For the last several years, Oakland politicians have played a dangerous gambit with the baseball team, understanding that because of Major League Baseball's territorial rights position that blocks an easy move to San Jose, they can play a waiting game that ultimately will bring A's ownership to the conclusion that it has no other choice but stay.

The strategy has some merit. Monday's revelations regarding security expenses at a proposed new park in Fremont provides some evidence that a suburban ballpark village concept could collapse under its own weight. But will Oakland's next mayor be ready to respond with options and truly work with the team, something Brown didn't do?

All three candidates sound receptive, so maybe there is hope. De la Fuente, obviously, has the most experience on the sports front, although not all of it good. Nadel, meanwhile, has voted on sports issues as perhaps the most objective member of the Oakland City Council. That leaves Dellums, who can approach these dilemmas with a clean slate. It's a tough call on what's most preferable. Bottom line, anyone should be better than Brown.

The view here is that as long as the A's are saved for the East Bay — and Wolff seems committed to that goal — this saga will result in a happy ending. Oakland, Fremont, the Pleasanton/San Ramon corridor ... does it really matter? The key is that we don't lose the team.

That's why the Raiders ultimately will prove the more pressing concern. Their situation is fraught with many questions. Can they successfully market their own tickets with a team that probably won't be Super Bowl caliber for the next couple of years? With revenues trailing much of the rest of the league, do they really believe they can turn the Oakland situation around? And what of Davis, who turns 77 on July 4? Will he continue to be the driving force of the franchise at an advanced age?

De la Fuente is ahead of the game on the Raiders. After years of lawsuits and bickering over the flawed, costly original deal, he did broker a temporary peace between the city and the team last year that eliminated PSL renewals and the OFMA. But that's only a starting point toward a lasting, trusting relationship, one which will require patience, sacrifice and sustained mutual cooperation to keep the team here.

Of course, Oakland has many serious issues confronting the next mayor and voters may have other ideas about the priority of pro sports in the bigger picture. To wit, Brown barely cared about the A's and Raiders, yet it didn't stop him from being overwhelming elected ... twice.
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