U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein rallied the faithful at a San Francisco 49ers luncheon on Wednesday and implored team ownerJohn York to “just say yes” to staying in San Francisco.
The event, sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and attended by hundreds of fans, players, team executives and city officials, is a decades-old preseason tradition. This year it comes as the 49ers are in talks with Santa Clara about relocating the team to the South Bay city in 2012.
“We’re all here with the elephant in the room,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said to the audience, alluding to the tense undercurrent. “I think it’s appropriate, at this city-sponsored function, to reinforce our passion for this team.”
Feinstein chose not to pussyfoot around the pachyderm, using her time at the podium to make a case for keeping the team in The City and sparking cheers from the crowd.
“The 49ers are synonymous with San Francisco. This team brought our city together in some of its darkest hours,” Feinstein said, recalling that San Franciscans “bonded as one” due to the 49ers, even after the 1978 murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
“I believe the 49ers should remain in San Francisco,” said Feinstein, a former mayor of The City.
The usually reserved politician then raised her voice. “Where do you want the San Francisco 49ers to continue to play?” she prompted the audience, which roared back its response. Feinstein then looked down at York, who was seated at the head table.
“We’re on our way, John,” she said with a smile. “All you have to do is just say yes.”
York joked about his discomfort when he got his chance at the microphone, saying that “the first thing I’m going to do is call Dwight [Clark] and Joe [Montana] and find out if ‘The Catch’ was as difficult as following these two politicians,” referring to the legendary touchdown in the 1981 NFC Championship Game that started the 49ers dynasty.
Nonetheless, York remained noncommittal about keeping the team in The City, while promising to build a new stadium in the Bay Area. The 49ers have asked Santa Clara to contribute $160 million in public funds to build a new stadium near Great America amusement park.
San Francisco has offered $100 million toward a $850 million stadium project at Hunters Point.
Another attendee, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, said Feinstein’s speech may have made an impact.
“When a politician of her stripe and standard … stands up and says something, you’ve got to take heed to what they’re saying,” he said.
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