NEW ORLEANS - Mayor Ray Nagin disparaged Saints owner Tom Benson on Wednesday for working with San Antonio officials to permanently keep the NFL team in Texas.
The mayor’s comments came after the departures of two top Saints executives who were supportive of keeping the Saints in Louisiana. Nagin is concerned that San Antonio officials said publicly that Benson is working with them to relocate the franchise to Texas.
“We want our Saints, we may not want the owner back,” Nagin said while attending the reopening of Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter.
“I’m ready to go to the NFL and to (commissioner Paul) Tagliabue and say, ’Give us the Cleveland plan,’ “ Nagin added, referring to the league awarding Cleveland an expansion team almost immediately after the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. “Whatever the Saints want to do, you let them leave, but they can’t take our logo, they can’t take our name, and you give us a promise to give us a franchise when this city’s back.”
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said he had no comment on the matter.
“For them to be openly talking to other cities about moving is disrespectful to the citizens of New Orleans, disrespectful to the Saints fans who have hung in with this franchise through 30-something years under very trying times,” Nagin said.
The Saints joined the NFL in 1967. In 1986, Benson was part of an ownership group that bought the team to ensure it would stay in Louisiana. Benson eventually bought out other members of the group.
During Benson’s ownership, the state of Louisiana has built him a new headquarters, including spending $6.75 million for an indoor practice field in 2003. The state also has paid for repeated improvements to the Louisiana Superdome at Benson’s insistence during the past two decades.
On Monday night, Benson fired Arnold Fielkow, the team’s top business executive since 2000. Fielkow had overseen a 36-game sellout streak at the Superdome and negotiated an unprecedented stadium lease that called for the state to pay Benson $187 million in direct subsidies over 10 years.
But Fielkow has said he believed the Saints needed to be leaders in New Orleans’ rebuilding process after Hurricane Katrina and repeatedly praised Saints fans in Louisiana as the best and most loyal in the NFL. Fielkow has since said that stance led to his dismissal.
On Tuesday, Conrad Kowal, senior director of marketing and business development, also resigned.
Nagin called Benson’s recent actions a “doggone shame.”
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