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LL has relished the D.C. baseball controversy. Over the past few weeks, the hallways of the John A. Wilson Building have been buzzing with pols, big-business power brokers, reporters, activists, sports fans, and D.C. taxpayers eager to contribute their two cents.
Major League Baseball’s economic spillover for the city may be up for debate, but its impact on city hall has been enormous.
The ensuing fracas over how D.C. should finance a $500-million-plus ballpark—or whether it should even build one at all—has brought about a few spirited hearings, a handful of finger-pointing press conferences, and lots and lots of intrigue over the positions certain elected officials have taken on the matter.
In other words, the crack of the bat has been an opening day of sorts for the 2006 mayor’s race. And baseball has given mayoral wannabes the chance to take a few big swings at potential rivals. “There are colleagues of mine….who sit in the corner and play with their BlackBerrys and don’t participate at all,” swiped Ward 2 D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, last Friday on WAMU’s D.C. Politics Hour With Kojo and Jonetta, referring to at least one ballpark opponent on the council. “Is that who you want to run your city?”
LL runs down the preseason mayoral lineup—and their BlackBerry dependencies:
Mayor Anthony A. Williams
With baseball, Williams finally has a legacy. He’s returning the nation’s pastime to the nation’s capital. It’s a suitable accomplishment: After resurrecting the city’s bond rating from junk to A-level status, Williams will look to Wall Street to publicly finance a $500-million-plus ballpark for an unknown but assuredly rich ownership group. Two years ago, Williams told the local press that a third mayoral term isn’t “worth a damn.” But will he now be handing out re-election literature on Opening Day at RFK? The mayor should check his schedule to make sure he’ll be in town April 15, when the Expos will likely make their D.C. debut. Williams’ extensive travel schedule—including trips this week to the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Annual Conference and the opening of Bill Clinton’s presidential library—fuel speculation that the mayor’s aggressively hunting for a job outside the Wilson Building. Will he find a position with the prestige he wants and the money First Lady Diane Simmons Williams desires? If not, he might want to check out some downtown condos before filing for another run.
Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr.
At the Oct. 28 D.C. Council baseball hearing, Barry commanded attention by talking seat capacity and economic-development strategy. He effectively shamed some of his future colleagues for giving a rubber stamp to MLB’s “stickup” of the District, as Barry characterized the public-financing deal. Hizzoner showed that even with reduced energy he’s still a powerhouse down at the Wilson Building. Besides, would it really be an election year in the District without a rumored Barry run? With his secure Ward 8 seat and $92,000 salary, Barry might run for fun and even see himself having a shot in a crowded Democratic field. The Washington Post Style section would love it.
Alcalde & Fay, Managing Partner Michael Brown
Brown called up LL last week with his own contribution to the ballpark-financing debate: Force the Expos to play at RFK for five to eight years to spur development in that area and then build an expensive new ballpark at South Capitol Street. Yeah, right. Brown clearly sees himself as the kind of outsider candidate D.C. voters have embraced in the past. Yet former PEPCO executive Sharon Pratt Kelly and Williams achieved savior status as anti-Barrys. Are D.C. voters really looking to an outsider to be the anti-Williams? Plus, this supposed outsider is really the ultimate political insider: The son of late Clinton Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, Michael Brown currently serves as vice chair of the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission and as finance vice chair for the Democratic National Committee. In the mid-’90s, Brown got caught up in a campaign-finance investigation; he eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election-law violation. The native Washingtonian currently has a highly visible mayoral exploratory committee and says he wants to restore “community values” to the city. He’s clearly running: LL has seen the Ward 4 resident at a bunch of community meetings, particularly east of the river.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp
Cropp’s desperate, eleventh-hour public outburst that she doesn’t support baseball “at any cost” seems to some like the clarion call of a mayoral hopeful. The council chairman has a group of supporters who have reportedly formed a Cropp for Mayor exploratory committee. LL sees Cropp’s eruption differently: LL believes the chairman felt snookered by Williams, who sold Cropp on the idea that the business community would pay for the stadium and then headed to the other side of the world when it became a question of just how much a stadium might cost in the end. Residents protested, the business community balked, and Cropp had to take much of the heat. Now the chairman might understand why Beijing’s so much more attractive than Benning Heights to Williams. Does Cropp really want to spend four years of her life listening to Miss Pearlie on Hilltop Terrace SE blaming her for leaky school roofs, not enough cops on the street, and inadequate city services? A few more community meetings putting Cropp under fire should make retirement on the Eastern Shore look better and better.
Of course, if Cropp chooses retirement, then that signals open season for the chairman spot. Expect to see power-hungry councilmembers who have no shot at mayor and no outside income—such as Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham—explore a run for that full-time post.
Former Verizon D.C. President Marie Johns
LL suspects that the same group of primarily black female business leaders who went running to Cropp crying foul over baseball would also back a Johns candidacy. An informal exploratory group supposedly met to discuss a Johns run. But the former Verizon executive has little name recognition beyond the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans
The baseball-boosting 13-year council veteran thinks he’d make a great chief executive for D.C. But speaking last Friday on WAMU, even Evans cast doubt on the likelihood that he’ll ever get the chance. “I think that [baseball]….has done me enormous political harm. I’m not unaware of that,” he told public-radio listeners. “If this means I now cannot run for mayor—which is a very likely scenario given what’s happened here—then so be it.” Baseball ended up being a lose-lose for the tough-talking Committee on Finance and Revenue chair: The mayor will receive all the credit for getting baseball here, but Evans will share the grief for the enormous expense. Up to now, the recently re-elected Ward 2 rep had planned on launching straight into mayoral-campaign mode, but given the electoral fortunes of fellow “Young Turks” and mayoral also-rans Harold Brazil and Kevin P. Chavous, Evans might think twice.
Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty
The council’s new-generation Young Turk communicates his populist, no-public-financing-for-rich-baseball-owners platform with the help of his BlackBerry wireless handheld. On Monday, when council colleagues placated Cropp by hearing out her cockamamie private-financing scheme, Fenty sat apart from his colleagues, thumbing messages, no doubt, to his devoted constituents. Fenty’s youth focus and Georgia Avenue–renewal agenda has garnered much praise from Ward 4 voters—but, say, in the case of his crusade to ban single sales of alcoholic beverages, it has attracted court scrutiny as well. The media-savvy councilmember has learned how to commandeer television cameras without even chairing a council committee—which makes his veteran colleagues jealous and his name recognition in polls quite high. The ambitious pol is seriously considering running for mayor, and he’s already preparing his defenses for a vicious, attack-the-committeeless-pretty-boy-youngster campaign.
Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent B. Orange Sr.
If D.C. elected Orange as mayor, LL guarantees two things: D.C. Emancipation Day—April 16, the day in 1862 President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the District—would be a holiday on par with the Fourth of July, and the Brentwood Shopping Center would be a model for development across the District. Agent Orange not only uses a BlackBerry but will be serving strawberries, papaya, and kiwi—as well as scrambled eggs on brioche, tomato gratin, asparagus, and Illy coffee—at his “2006 Orange for Mayor” exploratory breakfast at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Dec. 2. The Ward 5 rep enjoys power-breakfasting and lunching with big-business development types, as he did last week with the mayor’s Greater Washington Board of Trade baseball backers. Orange believes his Home Depot agenda might be a good sales pitch to retail-deprived east-of-the-river voters, but he would have to give up his council seat to make a bid for the big enchilada. His ambitious breakfast menu leads LL to believe he might be willing to do it.
At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania
BlackBerry? Yes, but not for council business.
Add Catania’s crusade against the mayor’s public-financing proposal to the other high-decibel campaigns that make the at-large councilmember truly independent: his championing of D.C. General Hospital, his work pressuring big pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug prices for District seniors, his advocacy for lower taxes. Every time, Catania’s sitting on the dais with big, color-coded binders providing ammunition for his rapid-fire verbal assaults. Sure, his mantra of stopping “waste, fraud, and abuse” in D.C. government doesn’t always jibe with his voting record—or his recent jaunt to China at the taxpayers’ expense—but that’s what makes Catania such a wild card. The Georgetown University–trained attorney says he might run for mayor, run for re-election, or just give up the bully pulpit altogether. LL wouldn’t be the only council groupie to miss his binder-waving rants. If favorite whipping boy Williams looks like a possible third-termer, however, LL believes Catania might jump in and go all out.
At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz
If Barry’s rumored to jump in, why not Schwartz? The third time for the Republican wasn’t a charm, the fourth time wasn’t much of an effort, and a fifth would be even bleaker.
Former D.C. Democratic State Committee Chair A. Scott Bolden
In the baseball debate, Bolden has now aligned himself against the mayor’s financing package with former Democratic Party nemesis and statehood crusader John Capozzi as well as New Black Panther Party race-baiter Malik Shabazz. If that doesn’t make you scratch your head, LL offers up this: It’s hard to make a credible run for mayor when you can’t even win a seat in the local Democratic Party. In the Sept. 14 primary, the Machiavellian chair couldn’t even retain his throne by winning an at-large Democratic State Committee seat. LL doesn’t think Bolden will end up on the ballot for mayor, but he might make a run for an at-large council seat in 2006.
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