- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

Because they failed to find private financing for a stadium before signing a commitment with Major League Baseball, D.C. officials are now scrambling all over City Hall. The mayor is still lobbying for a publicly financed plan, while D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp and several of her colleagues continue to push for private investment. In the middle sits Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, who, in a Nov. 18 letter to Mrs. Cropp, “recommend a path to possible certification” for a group of private investors. All three scenarios are good, because the harder Mayor Tony Williams pushes, the harder the opposition shoves.

Indeed, what seems to have happened since D.C. and baseball officials signed the Sept. 29 agreement is that public stakeholders have discovered that what had been touted as a “financing plan” for the stadium is really no plan at all. There are reams of paper that proposed spending money, but with questionable details. Even some Wall Streeters question the viability of the mayor’s plan. While Standard & Poor’s upgraded the city’s credit rating from A- to to an unqualified A, Fitch Ratings declined. Why? Because of the “debt financing” for the new stadium.

We oppose spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to finance a private sports enterprise, but we remain as eager for Opening Day at RFK as ever. To that end, we ask this of City Hall: Separate the legislation that authorizes renovating RFK as the new home of the Washington team so that the stadium won’t be a work in progress come April 15.

There seems to be no question that the Nationals, or whatever the team will be called, will be playing in RFK. The central issue is how the new ballpark will be financed.

Several council members are preparing all manner of amendments for the on again-off again-on again vote, now scheduled for Nov. 30. The major-league owners have delayed their own vote. Commissioner Bud Selig blames the holdup on “housekeeping” issues (which means the other owners are still trying to appease Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos).

Season tickets for our new team went on sale last week. The new name for the team will be announced today. While the owners tend to their housekeeping, City Hall needs to tidy up a few things, too. The two heavy lifters on the council — Mrs. Cropp and Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans — should put their heads together on this one and jointly propose legislation that would cover the $24 million for RFK-related expenses. No one has disputed the funding or need for RFK. The opponents and supporters can then get together (or butt heads) on a financing package that looks more closely at Mr. Gandhi’s detailed recommendations, which would scare neither Wall Street nor Major League Baseball. Some call that a compromise; we call it a plan.

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