Report: Former Sen. Gorton to join effort to keep Sonics, Storm in Seattle

Updated: September 13, 2007, 11:55 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The mayor has enlisted former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton to help keep the Seattle SuperSonics and Storm in town.

Gorton, a Republican who represented Washington for 18 years, has experience with this sort of thing: He sued the American League to land the Mariners and later brokered an ownership change to keep them here.

It's not clear exactly what role he'll play, and he hasn't been formally hired, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis told The Seattle Times for a report published Thursday. But at a lunch Tuesday with Mayor Greg Nickels and City Attorney Tom Carr, Gorton agreed to add his political and legal weight to the city's efforts to keep the Sonics at KeyArena through the end of the team's lease in 2010.

"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.

"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.

Nickels next week plans to propose setting aside $1 million of the 2008 budget for legal fees related to KeyArena. Ceis said no decision has been made on whether to hire Gorton's firm, K&L Gates.

Gorton has continued to do high-profile work since narrowly losing his seat to Maria Cantwell in 2000. That included a stint on the 9/11 Commission. The Times reported that he declined to comment for the story.

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.

Then in 1991, when Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan reportedly wanted to move the team to Florida, Gorton stepped in and persuaded Hiroshi Yamauchi, the founder of Nintendo of Japan, to purchase the Mariners in a partnership with several Seattle-area business executives.

Later that decade, Gorton brokered a deal that resulted in the Mariners signing a 20-year lease and agreeing to pay for construction cost overruns on Safeco Field. He urged Seattle officials to share costs of traffic control and cleanup around the ballpark, saying they would otherwise run the Mariners out of town.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press