Make mama happy

Staff WriterMarch 16, 2004 

When the city of Raleigh made St. Augustine's College an offer it knew the school couldn't accept, President Dianne Boardley Suber responded with a threat that would have made The Godfather proud.

Mayor Charles "Charlie Meeks" Meeker had to know that offering the school a teeny-tiny stadium of 2,500 seats, half the initially agreed-upon size -- along with other revenue-strangling restrictions -- was an offer Suber would reject.

Suber, known on the street as "Dianne the Dapper Diva" among other things, didn't disappoint. She is normally a thoughtful, self-contained representative of her institution -- surprisingly so, considering the amount of heat she takes from disenchanted alumni. She shed that restraint last week when she told a News & Observer reporter that she might possibly influence other university presidents to vote against Raleigh hosting the lucrative CIAA tournament. That is an option, she said, if the city doesn't agree to Suber-size the stadium for her St. Augustine's Falcons football team.

"I bring that to the table," she cryptically told the reporter, "and the happier I am ..."

As befits any good don, Suber didn't issue a direct threat that could be used against her in court. The implied sentiment, though, was unmistakable. And one I've heard, in more colorful terms, from scores of women: "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody gon' be happy."

Last week's interview was conducted over the telephone, so we don't know whether Suber had the requisite neck-roll action working when she made the statement about the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

Lawrence "Big Larry" Wray, Raleigh's assistant city manager, was diplomatic when responding to The Godmother's gentle warning. "Dr. Suber is free to do whatever she feels she needs to do," Wray told me. "I think she should use her influence any way she can. The city won't take a position either way. I just hope the other chancellors will see" that the Triangle has more to offer than other cities that are vying for the tournament.

It's hard, despite Wray's effort at diplomacy, to imagine the city or the Triangle sitting idly by and allowing Suber to shoo the golden egg that is the CIAA tournament from the Triangle. Visitors dropped more than $11 million here for the weeklong tourney last month.

Suber's frustration with how stadium plans are progressing is understandable. Site plans for a 5,000-seat stadium had already been approved, and a downsized facility, in which all events would have to be completed by 7 p.m., would be more suited for a high school than for a college with its sights set on an athletics program that'll eventually shake loose alumni dollars. Suber and the college followed the letter of the law in meeting requirements set forth by the city; the city should, in turn, meet the spirit of the law.

When the council casts its vote today, it should grant Suber's request in spite of -- not because of -- her implied threat. The school needs and deserves the stadium and has the land on which to build it.

Otherwise, each council member could awaken to find a dead falcon in their bed.

Want to tell Barry what you think? Call him at 836-2811 or send him e-mail at barrys@newsobserver.com.

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