Déjà Vu

The Cards overreached -- now San Francisco shows them the way

Even the most ardent foes of public financing admit that this deal is considerably better than $437 million in subsidies -- not counting highway improvements and other infrastructure -- that the previous pitch would have cost taxpayers over 30 years. In the realpolitik of pro sports, it looks like a better deal than most other cities have reached.

But Mike Jones, the city's point man in stadium negotiations under former Mayor Clarence Harmon, says the city could have done better.

"It doesn't look to me like [Slay] played as strong a hand as he had," says Jones, who was on the UM-St. Louis panel when Lamping said, "We'll do that deal."

Rainford's statement that the city would be devastated if the Cards leave draws a wry laugh from Jones. "By definition, if that's your mindset, you've already lost the negotiation," Jones says. "You can't cut a good deal if that's what you think."

Jones says an Illinois stadium is fraught with uncertainty, even if Springfield legislators deliver a deal financed entirely with public money. For one thing, there's the matter of a new bridge over the Mississippi. "That would be a big unknown for me to worry about," he says. "Before I went across the river, I'd want to know that that issue is resolved." For another, there's a lack of amenities in the Metro East.

If he'd been in charge, Jones says, he would have pitched the Cards high and inside. "At the end of the day, you have to establish the fact that 'I won't do this deal at any costs' -- and they have to believe that," Jones says. "I genuinely don't believe that a mayor of the city of St. Louis would ever lose an election over not giving a baseball team ... $4 million a year."

Jones says the stadium debate has dragged on largely because team owners miscalculated their political pull -- and overreached. The soap opera would have been over a long time ago if the brewery still owned the team, says Jones, who was an alderman and an Anheuser-Busch executive before Harmon tapped him to become deputy mayor.

"What you've got is some successful rich guys who nobody really knows and from a political standpoint nobody has to really give a damn about," he says. "What's the political penalty for pissing off Bill DeWitt? Pissing off August Busch is like messing with Harry ["Dirty Harry"] Callaghan.

"The question is, do you feel lucky?"

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