- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and his local sports advocacy group are calling for the resignation of Robert D. Goldwater, president of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, citing mismanagement and wasteful spending.

Mr. Nader and the League of Fans, a 2-year-old District-based sports watchdog group, yesterday sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams asking him to engage in better management of the sports commission. The sports commission is an 11-member board appointed largely by the mayor and oversees Mr. Goldwater and his 58-member staff.

The group has hammered the Williams administration for its efforts to finance an estimated $338.7 million baseball stadium through gross receipts and other business-related taxes.

“We sent the letter yesterday morning and the baseball stadium is a big part of it,” said Shawn McCarthy, the group’s director.

“There hasn’t been a report to the people on how much they’ve spent trying to get a stadium, and it seems to be a giant waste of public money,” Mr. McCarthy said, referring to the commission’s lavish spending on wining and dining Major League Baseball executives to get the Montreal Expos to move to the District.

The group’s letter detailed for Mr. Williams a list of managerial missteps and misspent funds in an effort to build a new stadium. The letter also states the commission has “neglected to defend” Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Memorial Stadium, one of two facilities it controls. The other facility is the D.C. Armory.

“You gave the [sports commission] a mandate to turn D.C. into an entertainment complex by attracting high-profile events, such as the Olympic Games, the Grand Prix and Major League Baseball,” the group’s letter states.

“Your preference for attracting ‘world-class’ sporting events by dumping public funds into the laps of private businesses … no doubt added fuel to the [sports commissions] wasteful spending and arrogance toward heartfelt community dissent.”

Mr. Goldwater said yesterday he would not comment on any aspect of the letter.

Mr. Goldwater is the highest-paid employee in the D.C. government, earning $275,000 a year. He is a distant relative of Barry M. Goldwater, the late five-term senator from Arizona and Republican presidential candidate.

Mr. Williams’ spokeswoman Sharon Gang said the mayor was returning from Milwaukee yesterday and had not seen the letter. But Miss Gang did respond to the concerns the letter addressed.

“The mayor can appreciate the issues addressed by Mr. Nader. Many of the issues in the letter deal with concerns the mayor had before he appointed a blue-ribbon panel,” Miss Gang said.

She said the mayor disagrees with Mr. Nader’s assertions that his panel is nothing more than a collection of “business leaders and corporate welfare pushers.”

Mr. Nader first jumped into the District’s baseball debate last month.

The Washington Times first reported last month that Mr. Nader, 69, had a new set of targets in his crusade for consumer advocacy: professional and major college sports and, more locally, Mr. Williams.

Mr. Nader told The Times that he would be fighting against the proliferation of commercialism and taxpayer subsidies in sports.

He also pointed out dirt on the hands of Major League Baseball. Last month, he sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig calling for an end to the organization’s practice of shaking down city governments for public financing of stadiums.

The letter lists a majority of the complaints that have been reported in The Washington Post. The complaints include:

• The shrinking of the commission’s cash reserves from $18 million in late 2000 when Mr. Goldwater was hired to $3.4 million at the end of last year.

• The cancellation of a 10-year contract for the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., leaving the city out $5.1 million for track construction. The one and only race was held last summer at RFK.

• The abrupt cancellation of last spring’s second annual D.C. Marathon and findings of improper contributions from the sponsor H2O Management to the private business of Mr. Williams’ faith adviser, Carlton Pressley. Mr. Pressley was forced to resign.

Five members of the D.C. Council asked the sports commission’s board of directors in May not to renew Mr. Goldwater’s contract.

Through his spokeswoman, D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, yesterday defended Mr. Goldwater. “Mr. Brazil does not want to see Bobby fired,” Shana Heilbron said.

Among the council members, Mr. Brazil has been the most vocal supporter of Mr. Goldwater and the sports commission.

“The Commission’s expenditures on consultants appear to be prudent and reasonable,” he said in a statement released earlier this month.

Mr. Brazil said the commission has spent its money wisely in an “aggressive effort to get baseball back to the District,” revitalize RFK stadium and bring the first championship boxing matches to the city in years.

Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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