Brash and glib, daring but patient, Wayne K. Curry lives these days in the best of political worlds. While the state's Democratic political leadership struggles to nail down two professional football teams for Maryland, Mr. Curry risks the loss of both -- and watches his political star climb.
As Prince George's County executive, he would be more than happy to have the Washington Redskins move to his county, as proposed.
But he has denied even a penny of his county's money to offset the state's promise of $73 million for highways and parking facilities needed around the Landover site.
Since some members of the General Assembly won't approve the Redskins project without a Prince George's contribution, Mr. Curry's resistance threatens the project. Eager to get started, Jack Kent Cooke might take his team to another state, and if that departure meant the loss of votes for a second stadium -- to house the former Cleveland Browns in Baltimore -- Mr. Curry would be the culprit.
Fine with him.
He keeps saying no, even as most of his political colleagues seem to say yes to the demands of team owners. Polls show widespread public dismay over the state's offer. Opposition is especially strong in Prince George's.
Against that backdrop, Wayne K. Curry sharpens his image as one public official who refuses to buckle before the promise of money and power.
"I win either way," he tells his friends. He gets a team in his county and various extras for next to nothing -- or he gets ribbons for standing tall.
He can make his opposition stick: Prince George's owns the land where the stadium would be built. Stadium proponents are spending much of their time trying to solve the Curry problem.
'He's very popular'
"Wayne is county executive superstar now," says Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's Democrat. "He's very popular, and he's popular for the right reasons. He's made education and public safety his priorities because those are the public's priorities."
Yet, some wonder whether he is so high on acclaim that he might overplay his hand.
"He's making a huge mistake," says state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., one of the political powers in Prince George's County.
"He hears from a few naysayers in proximity to the stadium, and he can't see the benefit to the county as a whole or to Maryland," Mr. Miller said. His county would get $8 million a year in entertainment tax revenue if the Redskins moved there.
"I've heard him say he'll be a winner either way," said Del. Pauline H. Menes, a Prince George's Democrat, "but I don't think he'll be successful if the Redskins leave. He needs a deal." The public will not think he "gave in" if he wins a respectable accommodation, she said.
The state wants $23 million toward the $73 million cost of highway and parking lot construction near the Landover site. Several proposals for easing that burden have been floated, and Mr. Curry has rejected them all -- apparently including one he offered himself, a local tax on telephone use.
He has resisted appeals from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mr. Miller, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., lobbyists, business leaders and his own political allies.
He declined to comment for this article.
"Mr. Curry does not like to negotiate in the media," said his press secretary, Reggie Parks. "As long as talks are under way, he doesn't want to create friction."
There is friction, but it seems to work well for Mr. Curry, who has prevailed against a symbol of great wealth in Mr. Cooke and who is defying Maryland's most influential public officials, each of whom has a personal stake in the outcome.
Mr. Glendening risked his power and authority by promising to make the deal work; the Redskins' summer training camp is in Mr. Taylor's district and might be moved if the stadium is not built in Maryland; and Mr. Miller, who loves football, has a warm relationship with Mr. Cooke.
Mr. Curry's political dividend has at least one more dimension: Mr. Miller's Democratic organization ran a candidate against Mr. Curry in the 1994 county executive race; and Mr. Glendening, who preceded Mr. Curry as Prince George's executive, left Mr. Curry a budget deficit of $108 million.
So every "no" helps to settle a score while putting more Curry capital in the bank of public opinion. In the first round of negotiations with Mr. Cooke, his tactics were handsomely rewarded.
Prince George's got $3 million from the owner for a community recreation center. The state would contribute $5 million, and $4.1 million would come from sale of the land for the stadium. Mr. Cooke would contribute $1.5 million for scholarships to youths -- living inside the Capital Beltway, and he agreed to guarantee 25 percent to 30 percent minority participation in construction, concessions and other stadium-related contracts.
The contrast between the Curry-Cooke deal and the Maryland-Modell deal is everywhere apparent.
On the state Senate floor last week, Anne Arundel County Republican John A. Cade needled Democratic colleagues by suggesting that Mr. Curry be recruited as Maryland's negotiator in any further stadium discussions.
Opponents are careful to avoid upsetting him.
"He's staked out a position we respect," said the Redskins chief lobbyist, Gerard E. Evans. "He says county coffers won't be depleted. It's a position the public obviously loves."
In a Feb. 8 letter to Mr. Glendening, Mr. Curry signaled his willingness to make a deal of some sort. He would cover the $23 million county share of the cost with a $2 or $3 surcharge on parking.
"In this way," he wrote, "infrastructure costs would be shifted from taxpayers to users of the facility, thus allocating responsibility where it belongs. More importantly for the citizens of Prince George's County, the alternative financing proposal protects our scant fiscal resources and helps ensure that stadium revenues can be largely devoted to enhancing the quality of our schools and pursuing public safety priorities."
Whatever the final formula, Mr. Curry seems likely to walk away with a better deal. And a new identity. When he was elected in 1994, he was described as the first black to win the county's highest office.
"Now he's referred to as 'the savvy executive from Prince George's County,' " Mr. Rosapepe said.