The Stadium and The Statehouse
American politics in general, and Massachusetts politics in particular has always been as much a series' games as anything else, and last Tuesday's committee hearings on the bill take over Harvard Stadium by eminent domain were no exception. This time, the game was "Save the Patriots-Get Harvard," and many a politician played it with gusto:
"All Harvard can think of to say 'no' for seven years... Now I'm not here because I'm a friend of a lot of the Patriots, although I am and believe them to be respectable people- good, clean Americans. . . If it has to be taken by eminent domain, TAKE IT because we're not going to lose the ball club out of this city. . those people are not gods over there.
"Why the Rookie of the Year Calvin Hill-is a graduate of those Ivory League [sic] Colleges. In this day and age, one of the things for youth is athletes, professional or amateur."
"This is the last chance for a stadium. That stadium is used part of the time during football season. Harvard University pays no taxes to for that land. If we want to be a major league city called Boston, we have to have a major league team
Not everybody has the privilege of going to Harvard or what I would consider the even greater privilege of going to Boston College (loud applause). . . these people have something to cling to in the Patriots."
Harvard expressed its opposition to bill by letter; no University representative appeared in person - an absence which led several committee members to denounce the University's arrogance." The presence of a Harvard Administrator might, however, easily have heated up the hearings. As some wizened Statehouse observer put
"There's something about them over there. The minute they see a real live Harvard Brahmin-well, they can almost taste the blood."
All of the shouting was, of course, for the TV cameras and the folks back home, since just about every substantive aspect of the stadium issue has been debated endlessly during the past the past ten years. If not quite a foregone conclusion, the Federal Financial Assistance Committee's virtually unanimous vote in favor of the bill was extremely likely even before the hearings began, particularly since the only perceptible reason for the bill's being in the committee at all was that Sen. Robert Cawley (D-Bos.), co-sponsor of the bill, also happened to be co-chairmen of the committee.
The committee's quick approval seems likely to be repeated by the House as a whole, but the bill will probably face stiffer opposition in the Senate where. Harvard officials privately hope, legislators are somewhat less prone to showboating and somewhat more tired of the Patriot's continual pleas for a stadium. This may not be enough to assure the bill's defeat: Senate President Maurice Donahue may well decide to push hard for its passage, in order to embarrass Gov. Sargent - no friend of Donahue's - by forcing him to veto it or back down from his previous opposition to using eminent domain on Harvard Stadium.
If the bill were to be approved by Sargent, it could still face a court fight. Massachusetts eminent domain law requires only that land be taken over for a "public purpose"-a provision which the bill's sponsors try to cover by saying that the Stadium could be used for high school teams, speakers etc. Harvard's lawyers could decide to challenge this public purpose in court, or argue that certain provisions of the state constitution exempt Harvard from eminent domain proceedings. Even if the University lost a court battle, by the time the Commonwealth was legally able to take possession of Harvard Stadium, the Seattle Patriots could be finished with their first season.
The unlikelihood of the state's actually taking over the Stadium does not make the bill pointless. At the least, it helps to divert Patriot fans' attention from the legislature's own record on the stadium issue. For years, bills to construct a new stadium for the team have come up in the legislature and for years, they have died there. Building a new stadium is an expensive proposition-from 830 to 850 million by various estimates-and virtually all of the proposals for a stadium admit that it cannot pay its own way. A deficit would have to be financed by the state or city taxpayers, who have been reluctant to do so. Moreover, residents of neighborhoods surrounding any site proposed for a new stadium have usually added their voices to the proposal's opposition.
Hence, throughout the past decade, the legislature has found itself in a bind. On the one hand, most of the people of the Commonwealth don't really want a stadium, at least don't want to pay the price for one; on the other hand, a smaller but more vocal band of Patriots owners and fans periodically besieges the State House, demanding a stadium to keep the team in Boston. To anyone well enough versed in Massachusetts politics to get elected to the legislature in the first place, the solution is obvious: put the heat elsewhere, preferably on Harvard.
The heat generated by the issue during the past week will likely make the Stadium a topic of discussion at today's Corporation meeting, but the chances of a dramatic alteration of past policy appear to be slim. Nothing has really changed since President Pusey wrote his latest letter refusing use of the facility to the Patriots; the unfavorable response to the letter was not unexpected by University officials, one of whom commented before the letter was sent, "We're going to get knocked: we'll just have to sit there and take it."
The "compromise" of a one year lease by the Patriots on the Stadium-suggested by Gov. Sargent, among others-is not particularly new, nor is it much of a compromise. Sargent's rationale for the suggestion-to give the state more time to work out a new stadium for the team-is hardly convincing, given the legislature's past record on that score. What the one year lease would do is give the Patriots a foothold in the Stadium; after a year, it would be difficult to throw them out, particularly after the club has made the alterations needed to raise the Stadiums capacity to 50,000. As any landlord can testify, these days it's easier not to rent to an undesirable tenant in the first place than to try to evict him.
Just how undesirable the Patriots are as tenants is, of course, the question at the root of the whole stadium fight. Once in the Stadium, the club would undoubtedly begin competing with Harvard's own athletic program for practice fields, locker room facilities, and perhaps even office space throughout the week. Perhaps this competition could be satisfactorily resolved, but there are continuing reports that-despite college officials' letters to the contrary-Boston College's coaches are relieved that B. C.'s Alumni Field was too small to host the Patriots for more than one season.
Even if the University were to take the plunge and admit the Patriots into the Stadium, the gesture would not win Harvard universal acclaim in Boston. Viewing the prospect of six Sundays a year of traffic and crowds, residents of the neighborhoods adjacent to the Stadium have reacted as might be expected: they oppose bringing the Patriots in, and the representative for the district was one of only three witnesses to speak against the bill to take over the Stadium.
With these probable effects of the Patriots' tenancy, the Corporation will, at most, probably do little more than try to appease public opinion by making a show of reconsidering its stadium policy. As likely as not, the final word on the subject will be something akin to a sentence Pusey wrote last week in his letter to the Patriots: "We have given serious consideration to the question and are sorry not to be able to accommodate you."