Gorton helped keep M's; now he'll work on Sonics
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who sued baseball to help Seattle land the Mariners and later brokered an ownership change to keep the team...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who sued baseball to help Seattle land the Mariners and later brokered an ownership change to keep the team in town, has been enlisted in the fight to save the Sonics and Storm.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels tapped Gorton to add political and legal heft to the city's efforts to keep the Sonics at KeyArena through the end of the team's lease in 2010, said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis.
It is too early to say whether Gorton will attempt to repeat his Mariners performance by brokering an arena deal or team sale. But Ceis said forcing the Sonics to remain at city-owned KeyArena for the next three years is a start.
"We start with ensuring we are prepared to hold the Sonics organization to the lease. From there I think a lot of opportunities emerge," Ceis said.
Gorton, now an attorney for K&L Gates, represented Washington in the U.S. Senate as a Republican for 18 years, before losing to Democrat Maria Cantwell in 2000. Since leaving office, Gorton has continued to do high-profile work, including a stint on the 9/11 Commission. Through an assistant, he declined to comment Wednesday.
Gorton has not formally been hired by the city but agreed to lend his expertise to the KeyArena fight during a lunch Tuesday with Nickels and City Attorney Tom Carr. The city may wind up hiring Gorton's firm, but no decision has been made, Ceis said.
In preparation for a possible legal battle over the Sonics' lease, Nickels next week will propose setting aside $1 million in the 2008 budget for legal fees related to KeyArena.
"We're lawyering up," Ceis said.
Sonics and Storm owner Clay Bennett has set an Oct. 31 deadline for a new arena deal. If he doesn't get it, Bennett has said his Oklahoma City-based ownership group will seek NBA permission to move the Sonics and Storm as early as next season.
A Bennett spokesman had no immediate comment late Wednesday.
Nickels has refused to discuss an early Sonics-lease buyout with Bennett. The City Council this week passed an ordinance formally opposing any such buyout. The Storm's KeyArena lease also runs through 2010 but allows the team to opt out after any season.
Gorton has played a key role in bringing the Mariners to Seattle — and in keeping them here.
As Washington state attorney general, Gorton sued the American League on behalf of local governments for breach of contract when the Seattle Pilots baseball team, after just one season, moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. Seattle received the Mariners expansion franchise in 1977 as compensation.
Gorton stepped in to keep the Mariners in town again in 1991 when team owner Jeff Smulyan reportedly wanted to escape his Kingdome lease and move the team to Florida.
Gorton used his influence as a senator to persuade Hiroshi Yamauchi, the founder of Nintendo of Japan, to purchase the Mariners in a partnership with several Seattle-area business executives.
Five years later, Gorton interceded again when the new owners of the Mariners threatened to sell the team over the Metropolitan King County Council's reluctance to swiftly approve bonds needed to pay for construction of Safeco Field.
Gorton brokered a deal that resulted in the Mariners signing a 20-year lease with the Public Facilities District and agreeing to pay for construction cost overruns on Safeco Field. The final lease gives the Mariners virtually all the revenue from the ballpark and weakened a provision that was supposed to share revenue with the public. Two members of the PFD board resigned over the Mariners hardball negotiating tactics on the lease.
During the Safeco Field fight, Gorton also browbeat Seattle officials, saying they would run the Mariners out of town if they didn't reach an agreement with the team on sharing costs of traffic control and cleanup around the ballpark.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this story, originally published on September 13, 2007, was corrected on September 15, 2007. The King County Council in the mid-1990s threatened to delay approval of bonds to pay for construction of Safeco Field. The threatened delay was not over the ballpark lease as reported in the Thursday story about Seattle officials enlisting former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton in the fight to keep the Sonics at KeyArena.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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