- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

The convincing re-election of Paul Ferguson and Walter Tejada to the Arlington County Board despite heavy opposition lobbying from ballpark advocates, spells further political trouble for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.

Four months after setting off a political firestorm by removing Arlington County from consideration as a potential stadium location, the two Democratic incumbents Tuesday received a clear vote of approval from voters and a mandate to maintain the anti-ballpark posture.

Ferguson, the county board chairman, received 20,109 votes and Tejada 18,839. Republican challenger Rich Kelsey garnered 11,769 votes despite a near-saturation level support from pro-stadium activists and a campaign war chest of nearly $50,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.

Kelsey’s campaign budget, aided by several entities connected to prospective team owner William Collins, was roughly equal to that of Ferguson, Tejada and independent challenger Sarah Summerville combined.

“We are still where we are relative to the stadium. Once I have a position, I don’t change it,” Ferguson said yesterday. “I’m trying to move on from this issue, and I think the voters are, too.”

Though the county board move did not come as a result of a vote or public hearing, Ferguson and other board members have insisted repeatedly that Arlington’s shot at baseball has now come and gone.

After Ferguson, Tejada and two of the three other board members wrote the stadium authority in July, asking it to consider other counties for a ballpark, pro-baseball forces pledged to have “Ferguson eat his letter” via defeat at the polls. But in the final weeks of the campaign, baseball became de-emphasized in the campaign as property taxes, crime and other issues assumed more prominent roles.

Pro-baseball groups are vowing to keep lobbying for Arlington Board support on the ballpark issue, particularly through its mascot, NIMBY the County Board Chicken.

“The goal was never really to defeat a candidate. The focus is still getting people keyed on the benefits of baseball,” said Tom Brooke, co-chairman of the Arlington Baseball Coalition.

Brooke, however, did express satisfaction that Kelsey beat Summerville, co-founder of the No Arlington Stadium Coalition, by nearly 2,000 votes. Summerville operated with roughly one-fifth the money Kelsey did.

The stadium authority, which following the board letter refused to eliminate Arlington County from its stadium site deliberations, yesterday said each of its five final sites, two of which are in Pentagon City, remain under consideration, even as each site has run into some political or landowner opposition, or both.

One of the Pentagon City sites, currently co-owned by the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and the H Street Building Corp. and slated for mixed-used development, is still of particular interest to Virginia baseball boosters.

“We certainly appreciate Rich Kelsey’s support on this issue, and we think he made a great case for baseball,” said Brian Hannigan, stadium authority spokesman and a 26-year Arlington resident. “I think this was just a case of prevailing county political trends. This is still a very solid Democratic base.”

Amid the still feisty local politics, Major League Baseball continues to move at a glacial pace with the Montreal Expos. The MLB-owned Expos are expected to announce within days their 2004 schedule, a slate that essentially will repeat the 2003 schedule split between Quebec and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

MLB officials originally intended its ownership of the Expos to last through the 2002 season. But the current awkward arrangement is now entering its third season, and a permanent move is out of the question until 2005. Even that timetable, given baseball’s repeated failures to meet self-imposed deadlines, is doubted within some industry circles.

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