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Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. was both early and late in his latest return to the John A. Wilson Building. Six days before Hizzoner claimed the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat in Tuesday’s general election, he ambled into the D.C. Council chamber, a “Free D.C.” baseball cap atop his head, accompanied by campaign spokesperson Linda Greene and a big-boned gentleman who stood silently near him all afternoon. Barry had come to lecture his future colleagues on the art of the deal.
Rule No. 1: Keep ’em waiting. Barry was No. 5 of 223 people on the witness list, but he wasn’t present when initially called to testify.
While the four-term former mayor was preparing for his grand entrance, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans bragged about his expertise in executing big municipal projects. After At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania argued that the proposed baseball stadium might replicate the inflated costs and minimal economic spillover of the convention center, Evans pooh-poohed his analysis. He quipped: “I think it is undisputed that there is no one who knows more about the convention center than I do.”
Barry bested that ego trip, of course. When he finally took his seat at the witness table, Barry proceeded to scold Evans et al. for being victims of the “biggest stickup…since Jesse James and the Great Train Robbery.” And he cited another downtown megaproject to make his case, waxing nostalgic about how he played hardball with Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin to build the MCI Center downtown. “When Mr. Pollin said he wanted the city to pay for it, I said I would think about it,” said Barry.
Barry let others remind him that Pollin relented after BET head Robert Johnson said he’d pay for an arena himself.
No matter. Barry clearly enjoyed his return, joking with former mayoral rival Carol Schwartz, sparring with Evans, and taunting Democratic primary loser Harold Brazil. He also reprimanded the council for trying to pass the stadium-financing package before he’s gotten a chance to stake out his spot on the dais.
He was right about that. The baseball version of the hurry-up offense will guarantee that the stadium-financing package gets through the council before the end of the year. Even doomsday numbers from Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi conveniently dropped the night before the hearing didn’t seem to faze the majority of councilmembers.
Over the next few days, the mayor and his aides will tweak the stadium-financing legislation—tinkering with the gross-receipts tax on businesses, dabbling with some kind of community benefit fund, and generally cutting parochial deals—to ensure majority support on the council. Given the mayor’s track record with the council on big-ticket items, it’ll probably be hairier than necessary.
The strain was apparent Wednesday at the baseball-legislation markup by the Committee on Finance and Revenue. D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang and other business types in the room bristled at an additional $2 million increase in the gross-receipts tax while stadium opponent Catania pounded away at the legislation with 20 amendments to “memorialize promises made to the community.”
Catania lost on 19 of the 20.
In the middle of Amendment 17—in which all stadium contracts over $1 million would need approval of the D.C. Council—Catania threw up his hands and accused his colleagues of being sellouts who “vote for anything.”
“I take umbrage,” said Evans angrily. “I’ve been on this fuckin’ council for 14 years!”
“Why don’t you quit?” responded Catania.
“And leave it to you?” Evans asked. (Evans later apologized for his language.)
LL offers a scorecard to the stadium debate with only one more profanity:
Jack Evans, Ward 2 councilmember
“I cannot control my colleagues and how they handle themselves. My colleagues have 10 minutes to behave in any manner they choose.”
This admonishment comes from the city official who once told Major League Baseball to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” The council’s fervent tax-cutter played hardball in the press over the last few years, expressing reluctance to raise taxes for a new ballpark while the executive branch negotiated with baseball owners. Ever since the Sept. 29 baseball announcement, however, the chair of the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue has been a firm supporter of the mayor’s stadium-financing package. He puts it to his fence-sitting colleagues this way: “Given that the deal cannot be negotiated—do you want baseball or not?” Evans knows that his namby-pamby colleagues don’t have the chutzpah to vote the package down and force baseball owners back to the negotiating table.
David A. Catania, at-large councilmember
“It’s all madness and nonsense and crap….We will tell any lie, we will make up any fact, we will twist every arm and bribe every constituency to get this to happen….This is about making billionaires richer and us poorer.”
The recently declared independent illustrates why modern-day Republicanism drove him mad: The tax-cutting true believer can’t turn around and raise taxes to subsidize big business. At times during the hearing, the council’s pit bull asked excellent questions: When Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp. chief William Hanbury testified that hotels would see an increase in business because of baseball, Catania pressed him for the impact D.C.’s other professional sports teams have had on the city’s hotel occupancy. “The citizens of this city are tired of paying all of the costs and getting none of the benefits,” Catania rightly chanted. Yet at other points, Catania seemed to go off the rails, characterizing the city as dangerous and claiming that suburbanites will “run you down” to cross the bridges home.
Harold Brazil, at-Large councilmember
“You’re dealing with some very powerful people with an antitrust exemption. You don’t have that much bargaining power. Do we want a team or don’t we?”
On the campaign trail this summer, 14-year vet Brazil attempted to take credit for every major development project of the past decade. He lost the election, so why tinker with the message now?
Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 councilmember
“I would like to ask that Mr. Catania get the remainder of my time.”
Patterson asked several members of the administration why the city’s share of the ballpark-financing cost has risen from 72 percent last year to nearly 90 percent now. City Administrator Robert Bobb, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Eric Price, and others dodged the question several times. The usually dogged councilmember decided not to be too combative and left the heel-nipping to Catania and Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty.
Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 councilmember
“I was a vendor….I sold peanuts and popcorn and hot dogs. I can look on the sidelines and I can see MC Hammer looking like a clown.”
Orange loves to talk about his days working at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where Hammer worked as a batboy for the Oakland A’s. Leading candidate for Orange’s mayoral campaign song: “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 councilmember
“I want baseball here as much as anyone.”
Bullshit. Here’s a partial list of people who want baseball here more than Fenty: Evans, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Expos infielder Tony Batista, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and the entire Capital City Little League.
Linda W. Cropp, D.C. Council chairman
“The money that will be spent on the stadium does not exist for any other purpose….Building the stadium has nothing to do with money utilized for schools.”
In private, according to colleagues, the council chairman has asked, Why not build at RFK? The city owns the land—which would reduce costs and the threat of legal hurdles. Yet in public, Cropp has been the mayor’s most persuasive advocate. Always looking for compromise, the chairman has suggested tweaking the financing package.
Carol Schwartz, at-large councilmember
“I can’t believe we’ve got 10 minutes. I got 40 questions.”
The council’s lone Republican tried to play the tough interrogator at the baseball hearing, asking Bobb specifics about Oakland’s baseball-stadium-financing deal. Bobb was forced to correct a few of Schwartz’s erroneous assumptions. Forgive the councilmember—she’s had a tough re-election campaign this fall.
Phil Mendelson, at-large councilmember
“You presented the stadium would cost $338 million, and about 72 percent would be D.C.’s financial participation. The numbers are much higher now.”
Using municipal dollars to subsidize a private-sector monopoly? LL’s sure that’s the sort of deal Mendelson would rant against at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Yet the at-large councilmember seems to agree with this logic when it comes to ballpark financing. Why? Mendelson says he wants baseball. He also wants to seem business-friendly as he gets closer to his next election. In 2002, the council’s most ideologically consistent lefty beat big-business stooge Beverly Wilbourn for one reason: Another candidate, Dwight E. Singleton, took away some of Wilbourn’s vote. Mendelson’s afraid of a one-on-one race with the next D.C. Chamber of Commerce hopeful.
Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 councilmember
Absent from hearing
How soon will a Starbucks appear on South Capitol Street? The new ballpark would kick out those grimy auto shops, gay clubs, and industrial spaces in this part of Ambrose’s ward. As far as she’s concerned, those things can take the Boys Town route out of the city.
Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 councilmember
Absent from hearing
Even though he admits many of his constituents don’t support public financing for a new ballpark, Chavous says he supports baseball. Federally funded school vouchers, anyone?
Sandy Allen, Ward 8 councilmember
Absent from hearing
Allen will support the new ballpark, given the mayor’s empty promises that construction will go to local, small minority businesses and that east-of-the-river residents will somehow get something out of this. Like a supermarket, finally?
Jim Graham, Ward 1 councilmember
“I cannot support the baseball package as it now stands….If we knock this baseball proposal down, if we defeat it, I’m concerned we will have missed a great opportunity to improve our libraries, to improve our rec centers.”
No matter what the legislation, Graham’s looking to cut a deal. A mayoral takeover of the public schools? The 2005 budget? Legislation to benefit the Corcoran Gallery of Art? Graham wants to know what he can get out of it. Baseball has been no exception to the Graham extortion rule. The fundamental issue in the stadium-financing debate is this: Should the city use its tax base to almost completely finance a stadium for rich baseball owners? Graham doesn’t get bogged down in those weighty matters. Instead, he looks for the payout. That’s why Graham has been talking up a proposal to increase the gross-receipts tax to fund other projects. Basically, Graham says this: It’s fine to spend more than $400 million for a stadium if we can get $5 million or so for something else. —Elissa Silverman
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