Baseball stadium legislation passed by the D.C. Council in the dead of night — after illegal closed-door discussions involving political payoffs — does nothing to curb runaway stadium costs and is a sham on the public, a citizens’ coalition charged today.
As reported in the press, the Council’s 9-4 vote in the early morning hours Wednesday purports to put a cap on stadium spending at a whopping $611 million and purportedly says that any cost overruns will be paid for by either the future owners of the Washington Nationals, developers or the federal government.
“If press reports are correct, this legislation binds nobody to anything,” said Shawn McCarthy, a Ward 4 resident and director of the sports watchdog organization League of Fans. “Certainly we cannot require the federal government, or developers who are not a party to this stadium lease, to pay one cent for any stadium overruns. And we can rest assured, now that the Council majority has capitulated to Major League Baseball, that MLB would not agree to any lease that truly binds any future owners to cover cost overruns.”
“Contrary to what Mayor Anthony Williams and Council proponents of this deal say, the eventual costs of this stadium will soar far beyond the understated estimate of $667 million for the stadium that the CFO put forward in December,” said Jenefer Ellingston, Ward 6 and D.C. Statehood Green Party activist. “So when the overruns start to occur, who do you think will pay for them? We await with interest what candidates for higher office who voted for this boondoggle — such as Linda Cropp (running for mayor), Kathy Patterson (running for Council chairman) and Vincent Orange (running for mayor) — have to say to angry voters on the campaign trail this year as the estimated costs of this project climb even higher.”
“You might have noticed that none of the anti-public-financing people in the audience erupted in a big cheer when the initial 8-5 vote against the lease was tallied earlier in the evening, and you might also have noticed that stadium proponents up on the dais did not sink into doom and gloom when their expensive toy appeared to be going down the drain,” said Ward 5 activist Mary Pat Rowan. “That is because they knew that backroom deals were in the works and there would be another vote later. Instead of using the leverage brought about by the 8-5 vote against the lease by playing tough with the Mayor and MLB, four councilmembers capitulated and turned the tide in favor of this terrible giveaway to MLB.”
The coalition singled out Councilmembers Vincent Gray, Marion Barry and Kwame Brown for special criticism, since all three had won office in November 2004 as staunch opponents of excessive public financing for a baseball stadium. All three had voted “no” on the earlier 8-5 vote against the lease.
“So much for campaign promises and political reformers,” said Ward 2 activist Debby Hanrahan. “Marion Barry, who was one of the staunchest opponents of public financing, kept saying all along that this stadium deal was the biggest stickup since Jesse James. He was right. But instead of defending the citizenry against the bandits (MLB), Mr. Barry appears to have joined the James Gang.”
The coalition also expressed disappointment with the “yes” vote of Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who in late December had written the most impressive critique of the baseball deal, citing its soaring costs, lack of caps and the lack of any responsibility of MLB for cost overruns. She, too, had voted “no” in the earlier 8-5 vote.
BetterDeal4DC praised Councilmembers David Catania, Adrian Fenty, Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson for standing firm against the stadium deal. They alone among Councilmembers can say they fought for the public interest right down to the bottom of the ninth.
The 9-4 vote approving the deal came after more than four hours of “recesses” during which Chairman Linda Cropp met with other councilmembers behind closed doors where political deals were made to win the necessary seven votes for approval of the deal. In what has become a continuing practice of illegal discussions of public business in secret under Chairman Cropp, Tuesday’s Council session was also preceded by a lengthy closed-door Council breakfast meeting at which the stadium deal was discussed. The secrecy surrounding what should be public discussions shows yet again the need for an open-meetings sunshine law with real teeth, the coalition said.
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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