Who Lost the PawSox?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

 

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Top political leaders - Ruggerio, Raimondo and Mattiello (L-R)

Get ready, the finger pointing has already started. The minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox is packing up and moving to Worcester, MA.

The political blame game has begun. The implications in Rhode Island are profound — the embarrassment of the loss of the team to Worcester — could have implications for the governor’s race and for key legislative battles.

GoLocal Takes a Look at Five Factors That Led to the PawSox’s Move to Worcester — See Below

Governor Gina Raimondo’s top Democratic primary challenger Matt Brown was quick to blame Raimondo’s failure.

“This is a sad day for Rhode Islanders. We’re losing a cherished institution that has been a big part of life for so many of us. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Governor Raimondo is trying to shift the blame. But the fact is: this is what happens when we have a governor who is more focused on out-of-state fundraising than being here at home, working for the people of Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders deserve better," said Brown. 

Meanwhile, top Senate leaders on Friday were blaming House leadership.

President of the Senate Dominick Ruggerio said, “The Senate did everything it could to pass responsible legislation to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island. I am very grateful for the commitment and hard work of Chairman Conley and the Senate Finance Committee. The committee was extremely diligent, holding over 30 hours of public hearings during an exceptionally open and transparent process. In recognition of the opportunity before us to revitalize downtown Pawtucket while preserving a Rhode Island institution, the Senate voted in the opening weeks of session this January to pass a responsible ballpark plan.”

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The political blame has begun

“The Senate legislation was fair to the team and beneficial to state and city taxpayers. I am certain that the team would have stayed in Pawtucket had the Senate bill passed into law. I am proud of my colleagues in the Senate for their work on the ballpark proposal.”

Ruggerio was not being subtle in his claims that it wasn’t his fault. But, Ruggerio’s bill often looked like a public works funding project and had little protection for taxpayers if the project went south. The Senate bill placed tremendous financial burden on the City of Pawtucket — a city with little margin for financial uncertainties or new obligations.

GoLocal Takes a Look at Five Factors That Lead to the PawSox’s Move to Worcester — See Below

 

Related Slideshow: Who Lost the PawSox? August 2018

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Owners' Error

Starting from nearly day one, the new ownership group of the Pawtucket Red Sox -- a collection of some of America’s most wealthy businessmen -- saw their investment in the team as a “gift” to Rhode Islanders and that their vision of a mega-stadium in Providence was a windfall.

The ownership group’s early strategy was to demand more than $140 million in subsidies and tax breaks and that led to strong public backlash.

The ownership group -- with a collective net worth of $6 to $8 billion, later blamed the late Jim Skeffington for the misstep, but the collection of owners all thought that for a small investment in the PawSox -- $2 million to $3 million per owner, reportedly, the windfall potential was tremendous -- and all financed by taxpayers.

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Raimondo’s Flip Flop

As the Providence proposal took on water Governor Gina Raimondo reversed field and went from supporter to opponent on the financing structure.

Raimondo, who had once chided critics about complaining about the move from Pawtucket to Providence, flipped on the ownership group and ultimately opposed the Providence financing deal. The implications were two-fold.

First, it raised questions with owners about who to negotiate with and how to negotiate with Rhode Island’s government in good faith. Second, it did tremendous damage to her already strained relationship with Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello. Her change left him the last official holding the political hot potato.

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Lucchino’s Demands

After Jim Skeffington’s death, former Boston Red Sox top executive Larry Lucchino took over the ownership effort to site a new stadium.

Lucchino, who had built stadiums in Baltimore and San Diego for major league franchises, had a formula. While his ownership group in Boston had failed to build a new Fenway Park in Boston due to public opposition, Lucchino put forth a series of demands and, more so than any factor, lead to the team’s stadium efforts failure.

First, he would not wait until after the 2018 election. Second, he refused to have the owners take on the final financial backstop. Third, he refused to acknowledge that times had changed — that minor league baseball’s popularity which peaked in the 1990s was long past.

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Public Support — No Millions for Billionaires

At the end of the day, Rhode Islanders, by an overwhelming majority did not want to invest taxpayer dollars in a public stadium.

According to two GoLocal polls conducted by Harvard’s John Della Volpe which asked, “The Rhode Island General Assembly is in the process of negotiating a $40 million public financing deal with the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, hoping to bring a vote before the House and Senate this summer.  

In general, do you favor or oppose the use of public funds to help finance a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox?”

Net: Favor                   33%

Strongly favor             13%

Somewhat favor          21%

Net: Oppose                59%

Somewhat oppose      21%

Strongly oppose         38%

Don't know                   8%

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Lack of Functional Leadership

In the end, the dysfunctional relationship between Raimondo, Mattiello, and Ruggerio doomed a viable solution — maybe from the beginning.

Instead of a united front by the three top political leaders, the owners got greedy and tried to manipulate the division of the state’s Democratic leaders.

Democrats Raimondo, Mattiello and Ruggerio are as aligned as Iraqi ethnic groups Kurds, Sunnis and Shias. Yes, they are all Democrats, but their trust and ability to co-govern often fails.

“Trust and reliability are the key ingredients in any public-private deal. Polls show about 60% of Rhode Islanders opposed the project which reflected in part a lack of trust in elected officials. The owners grew not to trust Rhode Island pols because of the way the process and negation unfolded at the State House,” Gary Sasse of the Hassenfeld Institute tells GoLocalProv.

 
 

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