- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

A few years back, D.C. officials believed the sale of the Montreal Expos was imminent and started pitching to Major League Baseball. We knew our unique demographics as the nation’s capital, would help seal the deal and, sure enough, we beat out Portland, San Juan and others. That bright victory, though, is being overshadowed by the proposal to finance a new stadium with public dollars and the fact that the team has not yet been sold. The financing plan reeks.

After much public posturing about where a new stadium would be built — and as MLB considered other cities — D.C. officials outbid themselves, with the cost of the ballpark rising from an initial estimate of $350 million to the current $550 million. In September, D.C. and MLB officials inked a plan: Build us a stadium in Southeast, and we will come.

There are, of course, other elements in the agreement, including a proposal that says the city would retrofit RFK Stadium as the temporary home for the team. But make no mistake: MLB has no intention of paying for any of it.

Why should it, when cities in both the American and National Leagues have dumped billions from public coffers to appease wealthy team owners? All seemed well in the District until this week, when it suddenly dawned on City Hall that, hey, maybe, just maybe, “We can get some wealthy investors to pay for the stadium.”

Hmm. It never occurred to the occupants of City Hall to even consider private financing for a new stadium? Not until Marion Barry whipped out his bottle of snake oil.

Believe it. Former Mayor Marion Barry, of all people.

Long ago, down-and-out residents (and their so-called advocates) criticized the stadium plan. Use the money instead to pay for schools and libraries, they said. How about more money for day-care subsidies, they asked. What about health care for the poor, they queried.

Spend the money on any entitlement — lower taxes, not? — just don’t give those rich folk a dime.

Their sentiments held little sway until this week. That is when a man named Fred Cooke — the once and former corporation counsel under then-Mayor Barry said, “Have we got a plan for you.” The “plan” calls for some folk now dubbed the “Gross Group” to ante up private dollars to construct a new ballpark.

Who could balk at that? Not Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who’s weighing a first run for mayor. Not the current mayor, who’s weighing a third run for mayor. And certainly not Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans, another mayoral wannabe whose frustration with the criticisms of his and the mayor’s public-financing package led him to utter a profanity (during a public hearing, at that) that most of us dare not use within earshot of our mothers.

Another profane thought: City leaders want us now to believe they will gin up an alternative funding plan. If you believe that then you believe that this overwhelmingly liberal and Democrat-controlled city will open up contracts to non-union contractors.

See, that’s where the snake oil comes in.

All eyes are watching to see if the council approves any funding plan at all before the new D.C. Council, of which Mr. Barry will be a member, is seated in January. But it’s not just the public vs. private funding plans that are at stake here. It’s who will get the construction contracts, and who will get the jobs to fulfill those contracts.

Trust me when I say that there is not now, nor will there be come January, a conservative bone on the council dais.

The stirring debate is not even about baseball.

Visions of baseball returning have long been in Washington’s crystal ball since the day the Senators packed their bags in 1971, moved to Texas and renamed themselves the Rangers. But we’ve never said, “We’ll build you at stadium at any cost.”

We broke Jack Kent Cooke’s heart (may it and he rest in peace) when we stood firm. He built himself a home next door, and we shed a few tears. Win or lose, the Redskins — the “Washington” Redskins — remains our home team. NBA and NHL owner Abe Pollin didn’t sweat us at all. Like the house that Jack built in the Maryland suburbs, Mr. Pollin’s MCI Arena was built with money from the owner’s pocket.

Like the struggling Redskins and Wizards, our victories were hard fought. Indeed, no publicly financed stadium or arena has delivered on promises made by politicians. Such is the case with RFK, and such will be the case with the new stadium — regardless of where it is built. In fact, RFK has delivered little more than fowl droppings.

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