- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Mayor Anthony A. Williams remains in the afterglow of closing the deal to return baseball to the city, but the three new D.C. Council members taking office next week can help unravel months of negotiations and send the team packing, the Office of the Attorney General said yesterday.

Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for the D.C. attorney general, said the new and returning council members to be sworn in Sunday cannot revoke the estimated $500 million in stadium bonds after they are issued. But they can stop the bond sale and ballpark construction by repealing the legislation that Mr. Williams signed Wednesday.

“There is always a possibility the council will try to repeal the bill itself,” Miss Hughes said.

The bond issue is not expected for six months, which gives the potential majority of stadium opponents on the council enough time to repeal the legislation and stop construction of the Washington Nationals 41,000-seat ballpark in Southeast near the Anacostia River waterfront.

The move would jeopardize the relocation of the Montreal Expos to the District and expose the city to lawsuits for violating its agreement with Major League Baseball.

Few people oppose bringing baseball to the District, but almost everybody participated in the debate about whether the city should issue bonds, extending its credit to build a ballpark for wealthy team owners while schools and libraries languish.

Among the critics are incoming council members Marion Barry, Kwame R. Brown and Vincent C. Gray, all Democrats. They replace three supporters of the stadium deal and reverse the narrow 7-6 vote that passed the legislation on Dec. 21.

The new members would form an anti-stadium majority on the 13-member council when they join the council’s returning ballpark opponents: Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican; David A. Catania, at-large independent; Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat; and Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

Still, the Williams administration remains confident that the deal will survive, despite the makeup of the new council.

“There is always a possibility that a council will repeal a bill,” said Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for Mr. Williams. “But what would happen is the mayor will veto it.”

Miss Gang doubted that the council had the two-thirds majority, or nine votes, to override the mayor’s veto.

It is not certain whether the two other members who voted against the stadium legislation — at-large Democrat Phil Mendelson and Ward 3 Democrat Kathy Patterson — would vote to override a veto.

A repeal vote and a veto override likely would be resisted by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and the other remaining stadium supporters on the council: Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat; Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat; and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat.

An attempt to repeal the stadium legislation would not be the first time that city leaders risked losing the team.

In response to the groundswell of opposition to the “sweetheart” stadium deal, Mrs. Cropp nearly killed the deal on Dec. 14 by amending the legislation to make stadium construction contingent on private investors paying a nearly $140 million share.

Baseball executives threatened to yank the team, and Mrs. Cropp, at-large Democrat, relented at the last moment. The city still is seeking private investors, but $500 million in stadium bonds assures that stadium construction advances with or without private money.

The Nationals are scheduled to play their first home game on April 14 against the Arizona Diamondbacks at RFK Stadium, the team’s temporary home until the ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront is ready in 2008.

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