- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Linda W. Cropp, chairman of the D.C. Council, has selected Nov.30 as the new working date for the council’s first vote on financing for a proposed baseball stadium in Southeast.

The date confirms several days of heavy expectations within the John A. Wilson Building that the vote would not be held before Thanksgiving.

After Cropp delayed a scheduled Nov.9 vote — a tactic that ultimately yielded a plan to seek out private financing sources for the ballpark — she tried to reschedule the vote for Nov.23, and then Nov.19. But scheduling conflicts among several council members, most notably at-large Democrat Harold Brazil and Ward7 Democrat Kevin Chavous, prevented a vote from being held on those dates.

“The 30th is the working date we’re moving forward with now,” said Mark Johnson, spokesman for Cropp. “That’s as locked in as anything can be at this point.”

The new date means a second reading will not occur Dec.7 as originally hoped. At least 13 days must elapse between the council’s two readings on a bill, which means the financing will not become ratified until Dec.14 at the earliest.

The new schedule still leaves more than two weeks of buffer time to meet a Dec.31 deadline set by Major League Baseball to approve the financing as part of its relocation deal with the District to move the Montreal Expos here.

When the full council finally does vote on the ballpark bill, several amendments will alter the original financing structure proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and calling for the issuance of bonds to be paid off by a combination of ballpark-related sales taxes, annual lease payments from the team and a gross-receipts tax on large District businesses.

Cropp, who angered several council members by removing the bill from the council’s Nov.9 agenda, struck a deal last week with Williams to create a formal, six-month search for private funding sources to reduce the city’s investment in the $435.2million ballpark. The length of the search is tied to June, when first payments on the stadium bonds are expected to be due.

The version of the bill approved two weeks ago by the council’s finance and economic development committees already includes an amendment from Chavous to increase the level of hiring of local, small and disadvantaged businesses in the construction of the ballpark.

Other council members, in the course of making deals with Williams to secure their support for the ballpark project, obtained funding for pet projects unrelated to baseball. Perhaps most notably, Ward1 Democrat Jim Graham struck an agreement with the mayor that will dedicate $45million to the city’s library system.

The ballpark bill has the needed seven votes to pass, but with the Cropp amendment essentially in place, city insiders now expect the measure to gain nine or 10 “yes” votes among the 13-member body.

Cropp, meanwhile, met yesterday with Williams and Jack Evans, Ward2 Democrat, to discuss the schedule for approving the bill, and work to smooth out differences between the mayor and council chair. Williams publicly blasted Cropp for postponing the Nov.9 vote, which she said stemmed in part from Williams not paying enough attention to her concerns about controlling the public sector investment in the ballpark. City sources described the reconciliation between the two as an ongoing process.

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