My last column described how luck, spunk and political ambition brought the 49ers to Santa Clara. Now it is time for San Jose to step to the plate and get the Oakland Athletics.
Though this blog will be blunt in its assessment of the current political realities, it is offered to provide some practical solutions, as we are all rooting for Mayor Chuck Reed to get this done.
Let’s start with the positives: A’s owner Lew Wolff wants the team in San Jose and the San Jose establishment wants the A’s in San Jose. So, what is the problem? Politics, pure and simple.
First, Mayor Chuck Reed does not have any clout with Bud Selig. If Selig refused to call San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, the Commissioner would get personal calls from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a host of angry and powerful politicians.
But Reed’s relationship with our current Congressional delegation is nonexistent. He needs to pick up the phone and work with our Congressional representatives to get Mr. Selig’s attention. As baseball is governed at the national level, without those officials putting pressure on Selig, he has no incentive to return the mayor’s calls.
Second, the San Francisco Giants are the world champions of baseball. They own the territorial rights to San Jose. There is no reason in the world they will give that up without a fight. In fact, they are the only team in baseball with a “territory.” The property rights were determined when Susan Hammer tried to bring the Giants south in the early 1990s.
Third, there is a myth that the Giants would give these property rights up for a large sum of money. That is a fact that is not based in evidence. Giant President Larry Baer has noted the A’s make money under baseball’s revenue sharing program and he has no intention of giving up their property rights.
Mayor Reed and Mr. Wolff need to play some hardball. There is leverage that can be applied against the Giants, but very few people are aware of it. A strategy needs to be discussed and developed in private between the mayor, Mr. Wolff and their respective advisors. Some elements of negotiation must remain private to be effective.
Next, the polarization of San Jose politics is preventing this issue from moving forward. A divided city cannot get a Major League Baseball team. It’s time for the leaders of San Jose to rise above petty personalities and work together for a higher purpose. The Mayor needs to take the lead, but he can’t do it alone and he needs some help from his political opponents, who also have an interest in the city’s success.
Mayor Reed may not like labor unions and the unions may not like him. But the interests of both and the greater good must be paramount to the prejudice of both sides. The mayor needs to pick up the phone and call a meeting with Ben Field and Neil Struthers.
They won’t agree on all issues, nor can we expect them to like each other. But all three can work together, because they all have an interest in getting the A’s to San Jose.
Winston Churchill, an avowed anti-communist, was once asked about his favorable references to Josef Stalin in the House of Commons, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
Churchill replied, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
The A’s stadium issue unites the two most polarized elements of our local body politics. The divide between Reed and labor is not as great as Churchill and Stalin, and we shouldn’t compare the stakes either.
The mayor should form a task force with his political opponents, such as the South Bay Labor Council, and his allies, such as the Chamber of Commerce, and pull in advocates from both sides. This will take all of the mayor’s skill in negotiation and trust building. He will have to go against the advice of some of his personal political advisors. He will have to accept some people that have not supported him in the past.
In short, Reed will have to rise above petty politics and become a Big City Mayor. Reed has the capacity. I’ve seen it first hand.
In the final analysis, getting the A’s to San Jose would be Reed’s greatest legacy, just as BART to San Jose will eventually be seen as Mayor Ron Gonzalez greatest achievement.
It will take a major league effort to secure this vision, and Reed only has a limited time in office. But just as Santa Clara brought diverse interests together to bring a Super Bowl to Santa Clara, this mayor can bring people together for the San Jose A’s.
Batter up ...
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.