Earlier this year, Ramsey County Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega provided a glimpse of dysfunctional, obtuse government at its finest, promising the Minnesota Vikings the moon and the stars if only the team would deign to accept hundreds of millions of dollars from Ramsey County to take over a large tract of land that nobody else wanted...at least nobody that would have to clean the former munitions site with their own finances.
Listening to Bennett and Ortega discuss their meeting and "agreement" with the Vikings to build a new Vikings' stadium in Arden Hills was akin to listening to an Onion skit. Slightly unfortunately for the residents of Minnesota, and wholly unfortunately for the residents of Ramsey County, the Bennett-Ortega (BO) lovefest with Vikings' officials was all too real.
The Vikings left their stadium-announcing press conference with BO certain that they had found their huckleberries in the Midwest. BO did nothing to alter that impression.
From the Vikings' perspective, the Arden Hills maneuver played out perfectly--at least up to the near present. The deal hinged on Ramsey County footing most of the bill for the new stadium through bonding measures and taxation. The team would pay approximately one-quarter, fixed, of the approximate remaining cost of building the stadium and Ramsey County would go into full-court press to convince the State to contribute approximately $300 million, plus undisclosed clean-up costs and infrastructure overrides.
Vikings' stadium spokesperson for life, Lester Bagley, immediately began spinning Governor Mark Dayton's "commitment" of a firm $300 million for the stadium, with a specified amount for infrastructure, contending that the State was not properly factoring into the equation the necessary infrastructure upgrades absent a stadium. "That number has to be higher," Bagley scoffed, feeling, for some reason, that he and the Vikings had the leverage in the matter.
Then things began to turn sour for the Vikings.
First, some in the media had the audacity to question whether the Vikings were actually playing the local yokals of Ramsey County, a la the team's maneuverings in Anoka County, in the team's bid to secure its true, coveted stadium site in Minneapolis--a place where the team already owns other real estate in slightly less contaminated, already market established grounds. "No way," Bagley shot back, slapping Tony Bennett on the back and sliding a two-dollar bill into Rafael Ortega's pocket. "This is where we want to be. This is where we will be." As an aside, Bagley assured the nearly always pliable gathering of local media that there was no truth to the rumor--not started by the Vikings, he also insisted--that the Vikings had any interest in moving to LA.
Second, the Mayor of St. Paul, Chris Coleman, blanched at doling out money, largely from St. Paul, to finance the Vikings' new stadium. Coleman countered with a proposal so ridiculous that it had no chance of adoption. That proposal also made clear St. Paul's utter disinterest in the commitment that the St. Paul Commissioners resolved to undertake.
Third, the wise leaders of the State elected to embark on a budget impasse during which they made clear to all that they neither understood the purpose of government--to lead in making difficult decisions for the benefit of the citizens--nor could be counted upon to support any measure, good or bad, for anybody other than the person who shouted loudest at the baby-kissing contest that thrust them into office.
The Vikings groaned.
Then, LA County approved "the framework" of a new stadium in LA County. Why the Wilfs cannot be any meaningful part of an LA stadium plan has been covered at length on this site. Suffice it to say, the Wilfs gain nothing from selling to an LA agent that they don't already make in Minnesota and the NFL does not want an existing team in LA, a result that would cost the NFL over $1 billion in franchise fees.
But the Wilf's seized on the news--no, they insist, neither they nor the NFL helped generate the information to push Governor Dayton into a hasty decision--hoping to secure their Minneapolis location or so sweeten the Arden Hills option that even playing in Arden Hills made some sense.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Lester Bagley did not count on some sly reporting from a Minneapolis Tribune writer handpicked by the team to report on an absurdly staged discussion of how the Vikings have no interest in moving to LA, during training camp in Mankato.
One of the folks that the good people of Ramsey County elected to represent them, the aforementioned Mr. Bennett, was on hand for the "impromptu" Bagley announcement and was eager to meet rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. The star-struck Bennett, no doubt donning his personal coaching fatigues, assured Ponder that he would soon be the starting quarterback. Almost certainly relieved to be receiving confirmation of his impending stardom from such an elite mind, Ponder replied, "I hope so."
Not to be outdone, fellow Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega gushed upon meeting Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier and thanked the coach for "calling my daughter to wish her a happy birthday."
As the gathering began to break, Vikings' wide-receiver Percy Harvin approached the Commissioners, Bagley, and the reporters and shook hands with the Commissioners. Eyeing the cameras, Harvin turned to Bagley--not the Vikings' PR people--and asked whether he was to do interviews too. A funny question, to be sure, of an impromptu gathering. Bagley quietly replied, "No."
For Minnesotans uncertain of whether there is a snake in the grass at Winter Park, there ought no longer be any doubt. For those in Ramsey County heartened enough to vote into office the likes of Bennett and Ortega, however, no amount of wall writing likely will suffice to make clear that you are being had. And like many others across the country, you will receive no sympathy for having elected such clueless officials.
Up Next: Any Fingers Left?