Thursday, November 09, 2000

SULLIVAN: Bob Bedinghaus

Mike Brown: We made him vulnerable

        The Mike Brown exit poll found the Bengals owner in a melancholy mood. His presidential candidate, George W. Bush, was awaiting a recount. Brown's benefactor, Bob Bedinghaus, was looking for a job.

        The Hamilton County commissioner, an incumbent Republican, was decisively unseated Tuesday night by Democrat Todd Portune. Bedinghaus' defeat was interpreted as a buyer's backlash concerning Cincinnati's ever-soaring stadium tab. It was, in Brown's view, a referendum on the Bengals themselves.

        “We made him vulnerable,” Brown said Wednesday. “If we had had normal football seasons here the last few years, none of this would have been a front-burner issue. ... I feel responsible for what's happened to him.”

        Watching his 2-7 team practice, Brown said he had not spoken to Bedinghaus since the election.

        “He probably views me as bad luck,” he said.

Angry taxpayers
        Bedinghaus staked his political career on the stadium project, defying Republican orthodoxy by advocating a sales tax hike designed to deliver plush new playgrounds for the city's professional sports franchises.

        Bedinghaus claimed the idea sprung full-blown from his kitchen table at a time when the Bengals were making noises about moving. Though others have said the sales tax strategy first was suggested by some of the Bengals' operatives in the local Republican establishment, it was clearly Bedinghaus who did the heavy lifting.

        He introduced the idea, attempted to railroad its approval without public debate or consent, but ultimately succeeded in selling it to the voters despite his high-handed tactics. Then, after pitching his riverfront development vision to the voters, Bedinghaus revealed a damaging blind spot during negotiations. Having committed his soul to the stadium tax campaign, he did not seem to recognize the conflicts of interest inherent in his subsequent role as Bengals landlord.

        He agreed to a lease that has left the taxpayers liable for at least $45 million in overruns at Paul Brown Stadium and temporarily precluded the Reds from installing grass at Cinergy Field. To an electorate already exasperated with Brown's football team, Bedinghaus' concessions suggested a willing stooge.

Two guesses gone wrong
        Bedinghaus' leverage was limited. Had Bedinghaus not taken the point on this project, the Bengals probably would have relocated.

        The NFL's popularity annually prompts cities to commit scarce resources to attract or keep a franchise. Tuesday, Phoenix voters approved a measure that will provide most of the funding for a $331 million stadium for the Arizona Cardinals. Basketball's Houston Rockets will get a new home because of a similar referendum.

        “Towns like their pro teams,” Brown said. “They like to keep them. To keep them these days, you have to have facilities like ours.”

        Brown says his stadium costs the county's average household only about $8.50 a year. The value of keeping the Bengals, however, fluctuates with the team's fortunes.

        Bedinghaus gambled that the Bengals would get better and that the public would like Paul Brown Stadium enough to overlook its cost. He miscalculated on both counts.



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