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If Race Focuses on NFL Stadium Fight, Councilman Will Be Game

Times Staff Writer

Anaheim City Councilman Harry Sidhu hasn’t declared himself a candidate to challenge Mayor Curt Pringle in the November election, coyly saying, “I’m keeping my options open.”

But if he tosses his name and business fortune into a race against the seasoned Orange County politician, as some observers believe he’ll do, Sidhu will be in position to make the city’s taxpayer-funded effort to land a National Football League team the prime campaign issue.

Last week Sidhu again lambasted council colleagues for supporting a proposal that would offer the NFL land for a stadium in the Platinum Triangle for about $1 million an acre -- half of what Sidhu believes it’s worth.

“You can imagine a whole campaign turning on that. It would sort of dwarf the traditional kinds of things people talk about,” said Phil Gianos, a Cal State Fullerton political science professor. “City politics is all about real estate and zoning anyway. This stadium issue is just that same sort of thing, multiplied by 10.”

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Campaign money wouldn’t be an issue for Sidhu, 48, who once owned 28 fast-food restaurants and spent more than $200,000 of his own money on his last council race.

“I can fund my own campaign,” he said.

In coming out against a stadium subsidy for wealthy team owners, Sidhu is grabbing hold of an issue that has affected city elections from Cleveland to Washington, D.C., to San Diego. In San Diego, all the mayoral candidates in the 2004 and 2005 elections had to confront the issue of whether to subsidize a new stadium for the football Chargers or risk losing the team.

Last week, as details of Anaheim’s proposal to the NFL emerged and league officials hinted they might choose Anaheim or the Los Angeles Coliseum for a new stadium by June, Sidhu spoke out.

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He asked why taxpayers would want to give financial concessions to a football team that would play only 10 home games a year.

“We already are the sports capital of Southern California,” he said. “We have the Angels ... the Ducks and the Pond. We don’t need to subsidize an NFL team.”

Pringle disputes Sidhu’s appraisal of the land the city is offering the NFL in the Angel Stadium parking lot. He argues that the price -- $53 million -- is the market rate and adds that the city’s pitch involves more than money, although more details haven’t been released.

“The idea is to bring the city a public benefit, not just a strict dollar return,” said Pringle, 46. “There’s a lot of economic value to having a football stadium here.”

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Pringle, a former California Assembly speaker who began his political career two decades ago, chided Sidhu, a first-term councilman, for politicizing the stadium land issue and for what he said was a misrepresentation of the city’s position.

“The property is one element of the overall deal,” he said. “The more Harry tries to play politics with a piece of the package, the more he hurts the city’s overall presentation. It’s a shame people wish to advance themselves at the expense of what the ultimate opportunity could present.”

Sidhu’s gripe with Pringle and his council colleagues is nothing new. During his successful 2004 campaign, he sent mailers attacking the city’s pursuit of an NFL team. The words “Our Tax Dollars” appeared with three footballs, and the subhead read, “They’re Going to Fumble $100 Million of Your Money.”

In an election year in which no other issue has taken center stage in the city of 350,000, some political analysts say it’s not surprising that a potential mayoral candidate would latch onto sports subsidies as a way to attract voters’ attention.

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But some believe the debate over an NFL deal won’t touch Pringle, who has wide name recognition and $350,000 already raised for a nonpartisan election with no declared opponent -- a staggering amount for an Anaheim city race.

“The arguments over an NFL stadium could be substantive or germane, but it’s not going to win or lose a race,” said Adam Probolsky, a Republican pollster and political strategist. “People vote on broad accomplishments, the big things. Life is good in Anaheim, and it’s getting better because of Pringle. People aren’t going to change captains at this point.”

Sidhu acknowledged that Pringle, who became mayor in 2002, had accomplishments during his first term, most notably spurring development of high-rise condos, shops and restaurants in the Platinum Triangle, 820 acres that the city hopes will become a downtown of sorts for Orange County. A conservative Republican like Pringle, Sidhu has said he agrees with the mayor “95% of the time” on policy issues.

But as details of the city’s pitch to the NFL become public, Sidhu has started to distance himself from Pringle and talk more like a candidate.

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“If the citizens of Anaheim decide they want me to run,” he said, “the NFL stadium will be a major issue for me and the taxpayers.”


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