Andy Ellis and Bill Marker have been around Baltimore civic life long enough to have seen and participated in many long-shot campaigns.

But possibly the most quixotic effort of all, they hope, will at least get people thinking: Could the city government seize control of the Baltimore Orioles and run the team in a way that more benefits Baltimore and the community?

The concept, while far-fetched, isn’t exactly new.

Back in 1984, as the Baltimore Colts NFL team was sneaking out of town to Indianapolis under the cover of night, city and state politicians rushed to give the city the authority to “acquire by purchase or condemnation” any of the city’s professional sports teams.

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The measure came too late for the Colts, but has remained on the books in the city’s charter ever since.

In 2019, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh sued the owner of Pimlico Race Course to try and obtain ownership of the track and the Preakness Stakes, a strategy that was quickly abandoned by the city after she resigned amid a scandal over sales of her children’s books.

Could this kind of strategy be put to use with the Orioles?

“Most people think the choice is either give [Orioles CEO John] Angelos as much money as he wants, or risk the team leaving,” Ellis said. “But we want folks to know there’s another choice.”

While the Orioles are having a wildly successful season on the field, clinching a playoff spot over the weekend, fans have had mounting frustrations with Angelos and team management.

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Chief among the concerns is the fact that the team does not have a long-term lease in place at the state-owned Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles and the state have been negotiating all year, as the current lease’s expiration date of Dec. 31 comes closer.

Fans want to ensure that the Orioles don’t leave town like the Colts did. There’s been past speculation that Angelos might seek to move the team to Nashville, but he’s publicly professed that he will not. Amid the beer- and champagne-soaked clubhouse celebrations on Sunday, Angelos pledged to keep the team at Camden Yards for 30 more years.

Others have found fault with the unexplained absence of broadcaster Kevin Brown for part of the summer, with some connecting the dots to infer that Angelos wasn’t happy with his performance.

Some fans are pressing for the team to sign longer deals with the young stars; others want to improve the lackluster food options.

Ellis and Marker think that the team’s problems could be solved if the city seized the team and then sold it to new owners with conditions (such as not being allowed to move or the workers must be unionized) or turned the team into a public enterprise like the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (the public can buy shares of that team).

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“Why should we give money for, at best, a mere 15- or 20-year lease, when for probably much less money, we could have control of the team or at least its destiny?” Marker said.

Last week, Ellis and Marker passed out hundreds of flyers outside the ballpark, and they plan to do so again when the team returns to Baltimore next week. They’ve also got a website and delivered letters to officials at City Hall.

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Marker, a veteran of many civic battles and a past candidate for office, has fought against stadium subsidies in the past. He frames the conversation about the future of the Orioles as one of priorities.

Even if the state and the team sign a new long-term lease, and the state releases a promised $600 million for stadium upgrades, he asks: Will the money be spent in a way that benefits regular fans and stadium workers?

“How can we serve the needs of the people if we’re constantly serving the wants of super rich folks?” he asked.

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Fan-led campaigns to influence team ownership often are successful drawing media attention, but fall short of their goals. All season Oakland A’s fans have pressured the team’s owner to sell rather than relocate to Las Vegas. Major League Baseball owners will vote on the move in November, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

While Ellis and Marker say they’ve gotten some interest from fans around the ballpark, winning over City Hall will be tougher. After all, the mayor, comptroller and City Council members have plenty on their plate, from considering a new police commissioner to sorting out problems with city services.

The legality of the city’s ability to use eminent domain to take over a sports team hasn’t fully been tested; back in the 1980s, litigation ended when a judge ruled that the law couldn’t apply to the Colts because they’d already left town by the time it was in place.

Eminent domain is more commonly used for government to seize land needed for projects such as new roads.

A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said taking over the team “is not under consideration at this time.”

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And the Orioles didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Still, the duo behind the effort remain committed — though they’re realistic about their chances.

“I would be shocked if anybody in City Hall decides to take it up in a serious way, with the election coming up next year,” Ellis said. “But I do think they should be thinking about it.”

Ellis knows something of uphill battles as a member of the Baltimore City Green Party’s steering committee.

“I work with the Green Party, so I’m used to having political ideas that are big and not so practical,” he said. “But I think it’s useful to give people an opportunity to see that it’s a possibility.”

pamela.wood@thebaltimorebanner.com

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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