The applause at Camden Yards rose to a crescendo as the scoreboard screen showed Maryland Gov. Wes Moore pumping his fist and Orioles Chairman and CEO John Angelos clapping for a stadium deal to celebrate the plan to keep the Orioles in Baltimore “for at least the next 30 years!”
There hasn’t been the slightest protest from state Democratic leaders since then, particularly from those who may have to contend with a proposal to provide the team with additional funding in the next General Assembly session.
Political experts say few in his own party may be willing to publicly question Moore – a dynamic new governor with many powers over state spending and decision-making – about the terms of the agreement with Angelos, despite concerns from a Republican legislative leader.
The deal became public during a game on September 28, when a hastily arranged announcement appeared in the form of a scoreboard message and the display showed a feed from the owner’s box showing the Governor and Angelos. The text of the solemn message failed to convey that there was no rental agreement, just a non-binding “Memorandum of Understanding”.
Treasurer Dereck Davis, Controllers Brooke Lierman and Senate President Bill Ferguson — all Democrats who have previously spoken forcefully about the need to sign a new lease before the current one expires on Dec. 31 — declined interview requests from The Baltimore Sun about the memorandum. House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and other legislative leaders also declined to comment.
The Democrats’ most high-profile response came after Moore’s office sought prepared comments from members of Maryland’s congressional delegation on Sept. 28 to distribute to the media the next day.
“The governor would welcome expressions of support from members (something along the lines of being encouraged by the MOU to make progress toward retaining the Orioles and strengthening Baltimore),” Washington said in an email resident Moore consultant Matthew Verghese to Maryland congressmen and senators. “Please let me know if you think you can provide one by tonight!” said the email, obtained by The Sun.
Delegation members received a summary of the Memorandum of Understanding from the Governor’s Office. Echoing Moore’s previous statements, the email said the agreement will align the stadium’s operations with best practices from around the country and “stimulate private sector investment around the stadium and throughout the city, while providing good-paying jobs.” and diversify our economy”.
Most Democratic federal lawmakers responded with written quotes congratulating Moore on the progress toward a meaningful agreement.
According to Verghese’s September 28 email, the governor’s “schedule” called for announcing the memorandum of understanding the next day.
Instead, it happened between innings of that night’s game. Two senior officials at the Maryland Stadium Authority, the state entity that oversees Camden Yards, said they did not know of the plan to deliver the announcement to fans at the stadium until that day. They asked that their names not be used because they were not authorized to speak about the ongoing negotiations.
David Turner, a senior adviser and communications director for Moore, declined to comment Wednesday on why the announcement was brought forward.
Members of the Moore administration held a media briefing the next day to announce details of the memorandum of understanding. They also sent out two press releases with the requested quotes, remarks that the governor’s office resent to The Sun on Tuesday.
The eight-page memorandum contains specific provisions on issues such as stadium rental, advertising signs, parking and leasehold permits. It is not legally binding but says it outlines “key components” of the team’s and stadium authority’s plans while being subject to “additional changes.”
In one (n Guest commentary from October 4th In The Sun, former Stadium Authority Chairman Thomas Kelso, a representative of former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whom Moore replaced with his own nominee last winter, wrote that there are “numerous questions in the memorandum of understanding that require close scrutiny.”
Kelso is particularly concerned that the Orioles, not the state, did this Authority over state-funded baseball stadium improvements.
“These changes will erase the MSA’s role and responsibility at Oriole Park and undo nearly four decades of success,” he wrote.
Kelso also questioned whether the state would receive fair compensation for the Orioles working with private companies to develop state-owned land around Camden Yards, including the former B&O Railroad warehouse and Camden Station, which the state said and the team have not been used sufficiently for a long time. Under the plan, the Orioles would pay $94 million in rent over 99 years.
The memorandum of understanding also proposes a security and repair fund for baseball projects that would cost $3.3 million per year, or about $100 million for a 30-year lease. The General Assembly would have to approve these funds, and the Ravens appear to be entitled to a matching amount under a Parity clause that requires the state to offer teams “fairly comparable” rental conditions.
In the weeks since the Sept. 28 game, The Sun sought interviews with state Democratic leaders about the memorandum.
“The president looks forward to signing a lease and it would be more appropriate to comment once it is finalized,” said David Schuhlein, a spokesman for Ferguson.
It is unknown when that will happen. When asked Tuesday about the status of negotiations, Moore spokesman Carter Elliott called the memorandum of understanding “a strong framework” and said the state and the Orioles are “carefully working out the details around the terms announced in order to achieve them.” to the final rental conditions.”
The Orioles ended their 101-win season with a failure in the American League Division Series, making the impending lease expiration one of the last major events the team expects in 2023.
“Mark my words and you can bet the Orioles will be here for 30 years.” Moore said in an impassioned speech during an Oct. 4 meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works. The state spending committee, made up of Moore, Davis and Lierman, must ultimately approve a lease.
The memorandum of understanding puts state Democratic lawmakers in a tricky situation, according to political analysts.
Under a 2022 law, the stadium authority can borrow up to $1.2 billion to finance stadium improvements — $600 million each for the Orioles and Ravens. Ferguson said in August that he couldn’t imagine the General Assembly would provide additional resources.
Now the memorandum proposes that lawmakers approve the safety and repair fund of about $3.3 million per year for the Orioles, which could trigger a matching amount for the Ravens.
“We passed this law that freed up an unprecedented amount of money. I supported it,” said Republican Rep. Jason Buckel of Allegany County, the House minority leader. “I haven’t seen anyone advocate for going beyond the $600 million. I don’t know that there’s much bipartisan desire in the General Assembly to invest hundreds [millions] of dollars into more money.”
Moore — who took office in January for a four-year term and is popular within his party — has invested significant political capital working with Angelos on their plans to sign a baseball deal and revitalize downtown Baltimore.
“Governors in our state have a lot of power and a lot of budgetary power, particularly compared to other states,” said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “So people don’t want to insult the governor. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements. They may not make these disagreements public.”
Challenging a new governor could be risky, said political analyst Flavio Hickel, an assistant professor of political science at Washington College.
“It sounds like there are a lot of unknowns here,” Hickel said. “When you don’t know how a political leader is going to react, that’s the most dangerous situation.”