Ex-Mayor Adrian Fenty has always known the power of stadium tickets. When he was in charge, Fenty feuded twice with the members of the D.C. Council over city suites at Verizon Center and Nationals Park, once by trying to keep tickets from councilmembers who crossed him and again by not handing over the tickets to anyone (a fight Washington Post columnist Colby King called “a spat among spongers”).
LL would think that the globe-trotting former pol—spotted earlier this year squiring Steve Jobs’ widow on a St. Barts shopping trip—would be over the free tickets back in dreary old D.C. But not so!
Like many pals and hangers-on associated with Mayor Muriel Bowser, Fenty has been eager to take in the perks that come with his protégé’s new office. Since Bowser was inaugurated, according to mayoral records, Fenty has received tickets for four Verizon Center basketball games in the city suite. (Mayoral mom Jan Fenty, meanwhile, took in a Bette Midler show on mayoral largesse.)
He’s not the only one. A Freedom of Information Act response posted to the mayoral FOIA reading room website shows who else (besides the ex-mayor) has been feeding at this particular trough. The requests also reveal the kind of Bowser and Fenty affiliates who circle around the new administration, despite not holding an official position.
The request covers all mayoral suite tickets handed out between January and June, according to Bowser administration FOIA officer Jim Slattery. (Council records on the suites obtained by LL only show which councilmembers’ offices received tickets, not who they eventually went to.)
The mayor and Council received their freebie suites in the District’s stadiums the old-fashioned way—with some wheeling and dealing. In 2007, the District government included a mayoral suite as part of a deal with then-Verizon Center owner Abe Pollin for $50 million in renovation funds. (The Council complained later and got their own suite added.) The District government also received two suites after Nationals Park was built.
To get the boring part out of the way: A lot of these tickets do go to community organizations whose access to tickets doesn’t correlate with how much support they gave Bowser’s election campaign. Tickets have gone to the District’s National Guard, youth sports teams, and Bowser’s Empowering Males of Color mentorship program.
LL also realizes that a lot of community groups might not have been eager to use the suite to see, say, Barry Manilow (on board for the “Fanilow” experience anyway: Fenty-era deputy mayor Victor Reinoso, who grabbed four tickets for the concert).
Bowser spokesman Michael Czin says about as much in an email to LL about how the tickets are handed out.
“Tickets go to a wide array of District stakeholders from community groups and nonprofits to individuals active in a variety of causes,” Czin writes.
According to the records, though, it helps to be active in one cause in particular: the Bowser administration. Bowser Chief of Staff John Falcicchio—who comes to District politics with the remarkable nickname “Johnny Business”—comes across as the Bowser staff’s most dedicated ticket-enjoyer. According to the ticket records, Falcicchio received tickets for twelve events in the mayoral suites.
At least some of these excursions are for city purposes—according to emails obtained by LL through a FOIA request, Falcicchio took a top Pigskins official to a Nats game as the city courts the team to move back to the RFK Stadium site.
Still, Falcicchio isn’t the only high-ranking Bowser official receiving a lot of tickets. Bowser senior advisor Beverly Perry and Bowser film office boss Angie Gates have received six tickets each for the suites (Gates used one of her tickets at a concert for R&B star Chris Brown).
Bowser-allied councilmembers like Ward 4’s Brandon Todd (one ticket) and Ward 8’s LaRuby May (four tickets) have enjoyed the suite. Ditto At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, who has received four tickets to the suite despite having the Council’s own suite to draw on.
The ticket records show that it helps to have pull when it comes to getting the technically taxpayer-owned tickets to the hottest events. A Wizards game against the Cleveland Cavaliers that offered a chance to see superstar LeBron James play filled the mayoral suite’s ticket reservations with boldface names, from former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, lobbyist Max Brown, Falcicchio, and Perry. Bowser college pal Tamara Watkins took a whopping six seats to see King James.
The rest of the ticket records read like a who’s who of people who work for Bowser—or the government officials, business types, and developers she wants to woo. On one night, Bowser used the Verizon suite to host Fenty and other mayors, from Atlanta’s Kasim Reed to Baltimore’s Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, at a Wizards game. On another night, the Bowser administration hosted a series of big-deal developers like Buwa Binitie and R. Donahue Peebles.
Even Green Teamers from whom the Bowser administration might want to publicly distance themselves can get tickets. David Jannarone, the Fenty administration official who helped organize the bizarre scheme to give a District-owned fire truck to a town in the Dominican Republic, has received four suite tickets since Bowser took office, according to the records. And Ward 8 businessman-slash-operator Phinis Jones, whose simultaneous involvement in Bowser’s campaign and the Park Southern housing complex scandal gave ammunition for her electoral opponents, received one ticket himself.
The mayoral suite tradition will continue when D.C. United builds its stadium in Buzzard Point, since the latest deal approved by the Council includes a District government suite and reserved box seats. LL hopes the mayor’s staffers like soccer.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery