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Ralph Nader asks DC Mayor Anthony Williams to renounce backroom stadium "boondoggle," urges "openness and candor" from "preoccupied" leader

July 19, 2005

The Honorable Anthony A. Williams, Mayor
District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mayor Williams:

On Sunday, June 26, the Washington Post featured the Eastern Senior High School baseball team in a moving story that, once again, demonstrated your penchant for peculiar priorities.

While assembling the Eastern players for a political photo op at RFK Stadium in March, you promised to attend their first game. A nice gesture, indeed, and one that would have meant so much to these youngsters. But as the Postís David Nakamura reported, not only did you fail to show for Easternís first game, but you never even bothered to attend any of their games. How quickly they were forgotten. You do attend often, however, the Nationals games, in part, to show your commitment to the half-billion-dollar stadium giveaway to Major League Baseball.

The subject of your broken promise is fitting. Those players from Eastern Senior High live in this city and are part of the real District of Columbia, where a pathetic $3 million per year is available for the entire athletic budget for all DC Public Schools (about the same as 14 years ago). By contrast, according to Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes in his testimony before the DC Council, ďEven after accounting for spending by any new visitors to the city, the District would be losing 25 to 30 million dollars a year on a stadium, solely to enrich the baseball teamís private owners.Ē

Just down the street from RFK Stadium, Eastern struggled to field a team, managing with 11 players. They had very little. Old tattered uniforms, and a few bats and balls. As Mr. Nakamura reported:

ďDuring their season, the [Eastern Senior High] Ramblersí challenges would reflect the neglect and decline of public schools in a city gripped by an economic boom and divided by tensions between rich and poor, black and white. In many ways, the team symbolizes the concerns of residents who opposed spending public money to woo a professional baseball team. They had argued that the city needed to address enormous needs in schools, in the lives of inner-city children.Ē

Mr. Mayor, answering to Major League Baseball, you launched this stadium boondoggle on the District assuming residents could not distinguish between supporting Baseball, and paying for commercial Baseballís extravagant demands. You were mistaken. You thought residents would believe the fiction that public money spent on a stadium is money that could not be used for public needs, and that a new stadium would provide major economic benefits for the city. Wrong again.

Such behavior, mixed with the purposely low cost estimates for land acquisition, infrastructure and environmental cleanup for the stadium site, and the recent city auditorís report detailing contract cronyism within your administration, is leading residents to wonder what exactly is happening behind those closed doors as the stadium scam deepens.

Judging by the planned 60 percent cutback of the Navy Yard Metro expansion, under pressure to secure a pleasing estimate for stadium project costs from the CFO, the cutting of corners and moving of goal posts have already begun. This would eliminate the Metro expansion needed to ensure adequate service to baseball fans and would lead to a transportation nightmare after games. Worse, city planning officials have spun this as a positive for economic development as fans would be crowded outside the stadium, unable to get home after games, and likely to spend more money in and around the stadium out of boredom.

Forgive residents if they are skeptical that the homeowners, property owners and businesses at the proposed stadium site will be treated fairly as you seek to drive them out through eminent domain. Likewise, it is doubtful that an honest and thorough environmental examination will be conducted on the old industrial waterfront setting that may require extensive remediation, but stands in the way of staying within cost estimates and Major League Baseballís time-line.

From the beginning, you have been much less than forthright during your stadium push. And your broken promise to the Eastern Senior High School baseball team is what District residents have come to expect from their preoccupied, stadium-obsessed leader. A public apology to those players and other District residents is in order, and openness and candor are overdue, before corporate scandals and conflicts of interest spill forth publicly.

Considering how well things are going financially for Major League Baseball at RFK Stadium -- with huge profits for Baseball estimated at over $20 million for this season alone -- your renunciation of the deal for a new taxpayer-expensive stadium should be forthcoming. Baseball owners can invest their own money in a new stadium if they still feel RFK isnít good enough.

Let capitalists behave like capitalists.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader

League of Fans
P.O. Box 19367
Washington, DC 20036