Baseball Fight Full of Lessons for D.C. Williams Loser in Stadium Battle

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 26, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Baseball Fight Full of Lessons for D.C. Williams Loser in Stadium Battle


Byline: Eric Fisher, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

After more than two months of angst-ridden deliberation, the D.C. Council approved financing for a ballpark in Southeast for the Washington Nationals, and baseball officially is back in town.

The back-and-forth political saga, however, was not without lessons and drama that never received a full airing in the heat of battle. A look back at the council's review of the ballpark legislation:

*The big loser in the ballpark fight is District Mayor Anthony A. Williams. His glaring inability to twist arms and convince skeptical council members of the project's merits was obvious. After the first council vote Nov.30, delivering a tepid 6-4 approval with three abstentions, Williams and executives with the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission confidently predicted an increase in support, with as many as 10 of 13 members voting in favor of the ballpark the second time around.

That never happened, and Williams needed to bow heavily to council chairman Linda W. Cropp to produce a meager 7-6 approval in the pivotal vote last week and save the Nationals.

"Clearly we saw the mayor wasn't ever able to control his own council," one senior Major League Baseball official said.

*Williams administration hopes of getting Democrats Phil Mendelson and Kathy Patterson and Republican Carol Schwartz to vote for the ballpark never materialized either. Mendelson came close to supporting the package at several points, but his vote was lost when his attempt to include local utility tax funds in the ballpark financing lost out to a rival version of the same idea from Democrats Jack Evans and Vincent Orange. Patterson never overcame a fundamental unease with the level of public money in the project.

Schwartz, however, particularly angered and confounded ballpark supporters on the council. One of the most prominent flag-wavers for Washington baseball at the celebratory press conference in September, Schwartz indicated before the council's Dec.14 vote on the bill that she could change her no vote to yes if moves were made to control the District's exposure to potential cost overruns and compensatory damages.

Cropp delivered that, but instead Schwartz ran even more stridently in the opposite direction, calling Williams and the sports commission "minor league negotiators."

*The decision to delay the council's consideration of ballpark financing until after MLB awarded the Montreal Expos to the District showed itself to be correct. Jurisdictions typically approve funding for sports facilities in advance of the arrival of an expansion or relocated team. Ward 4 Democrat Adrian Fenty said last week that should have happened in Washington as well.

But Evans said last year he would not move any stadium legislation out of his finance committee without a relocation commitment first from MLB, dramatically reversing the entire process. While the last few weeks were decidedly messy, putting the council first likely would have cost Washington the team, industry sources said.

"Can you imagine if we had to make a deal with that whole group?" the MLB official said.

*The oft-blurry line between what is public financing and what is private financing is no clearer through Cropp's insistence to pay for at least half of stadium construction with private funds.

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