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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

The Empire Strikes Back With a Familiar Cry

June 09, 2002|T.J. Simers

I saw a 2-year-old in a restaurant the other day making a ruckus, demanding ice cream and disrupting everyone's meal when he didn't get it, and I got a glimpse of what Tim Leiweke, point man for the Anschutz Empire, must have been like as a child.

As tantrums go, the one Leiweke threw last week was a real doozy, telling folks if the NFL game is not played according to his rules, he's going to take his football and go home. This was interesting, because he hasn't even put his ball in play yet.

Despite public perception that the Anschutz Empire has plans to build a new football stadium near Staples Center and we're going to have a team here soon, the group is still only investigating the possibility of building a football stadium near Staples and has made no final decision.

As I recall, however, crying "you'll be sorry" and then threatening to pull out was standard operating procedure by the Anschutz Empire during the process that brought us Staples Center downtown. I spent a lot of time last week in the building that was never going to be built.

The final decision to bring a football stadium here, of course, is predicated on two things: 1) Convincing Philip Anschutz, the Trappist monk who lives in Denver and has all the money, to give his approval to Leiweke's plan, and 2) the public, politicians and NFL treating Leiweke as if he's riding a white horse down Figueroa as our anointed football leader.

Leiweke has yet to get that Anschutz approval, and any disruption, distraction or roadblock only makes it that much more difficult for him to make his case, therefore the sound of desperation in his voice last week.

As for that high horse, excuse me, that white horse, Leiweke believes he has been riding that for some time as the man who brought us Staples Center and all the events that have come with it. When he speaks, he does so like a man who has done everything, with everyone else left just to admire his handiwork.

"In the end, who got Staples done? Who made it happen? Me. I did it. I got Staples done," Leiweke said, while pointing a finger at my chest. "I got it done."

I remember Ed Roski as the guy who got it done, and kept it from being built in Inglewood. I remember Anschutz telling me he gave Roski all the credit for getting Staples Center built downtown. I guess I remember things differently than Leiweke.

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LEIWEKE HAS told us the Anschutz Empire is L.A.'s last hope to get an NFL team, and we know this because Leiweke said so. I believe the Anschutz Empire is our best hope to get football back, but not necessarily our only--or last--hope.

That fundamental lack of blind loyalty is at the root of Leiweke's tantrum. He cannot understand why everything he says is not accepted as the gospel.

Switching back and forth from brat to bully, Leiweke has made it clear the Anschutz Empire doesn't have to build a football stadium, and is only doing so because he thinks of himself as L.A.'s Mother Teresa.

"We just want to do things for the city," he said, and I'm so glad none of this has anything to do with making more money for the billionaire who already owns Staples and would like to develop the real estate in the surrounding area.

If someone makes life difficult for the Anschutz Empire, Leiweke said, "we will walk away from this. We don't have to do this."

Leiweke hasn't done anything yet--except throw a tantrum.

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LAST WEEK the Coliseum, which is already battling for its soccer life with the Anschutz Empire, said it would spend $1 million to gain NFL favor. The Coliseum has already gotten its money's worth, because as soon as Leiweke heard this, he all but conceded to the Coliseum.

Now you and I know the Coliseum could spend $300 million and the NFL will still look on it as a dump in a bad neighborhood. I'm tired of hearing about the Coliseum. But history teaches us a lesson. Three years ago we were all tired of the Coliseum and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was standing in front of the Coliseum, proclaiming it the new home of L.A.'s expansion team.

The Coliseum is in the business of trying to stay in business, which makes sense, and yet Leiweke reacted like someone asked him to lower prices at Staples. He's upset because he doesn't want an NFL team on the prowl to pit the Coliseum against the Anschutz Empire, which is the American way of doing business.

Sentiment will favor Leiweke in any conflict with the Coliseum. No one likes the way the Coliseum Commission has conducted itself in the past, and spending $1 million to get the NFL door slammed in your face seems like one more ridiculous chapter in Coliseum Commission lore. The Rose Bowl, though, is doing a similar thing.

Leiweke is asking for one thing: unlimited power to do, say and get whatever he wants. We're supposed to provide this because the Anschutz Empire got Staples Center built. As far as I'm concerned, no one is stopping the Anschutz Empire from doing that again.

L.A. did not lose the expansion team to Houston, as Leiweke has said, because of competing interests here. L.A. lost the expansion team because a Houston businessman, who had a dream to own a team at any cost, handed the NFL a check for $700 million, while L.A. businessmen said that was too rich for them. L.A. did not lose an expansion team because of the Coliseum.

It all came down to money, and right now Leiweke's brat-to-bully routine is all about the same thing: driving the best bargain for the Anschutz Empire.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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