- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday he is “very confident” that he has the seven necessary votes from the D.C. Council for his plan to build a ballpark near South Capitol Street Southeast.

Mr. Williams and numerous city sources said a frenetic, three-day lobbying campaign solidified enough political support to trump a rival plan for a ballpark at the grounds of RFK Stadium offered by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.

The full council is set to vote on the measure today.

“I believe we have the votes,” said Mr. Williams, who was flanked at a press conference by 19 local business leaders. “Neither one of us wants to kill baseball.”

Major League Baseball (MLB) has threatened to walk out on its deal to relocate the team to the District if funding for the Southeast ballpark site is not obtained.

Mr. Williams appears to have prevailed by landing the support of Ward 1 Democrat Jim Graham, a swing vote in the political battle between Mr. Williams and Mrs. Cropp.

Mr. Graham last night was completing a deal with the mayor to earmark millions of dollars from the stadium-financing package for city libraries. The money would come from a tax-increment financing district that the mayor wants to establish around the Southeast ballpark.

Library funding was a loosely stated goal of a community benefits fund announced two weeks ago by Mr. Williams.

But Mr. Graham argued for more specific funding for libraries, starting with a $45 million infusion. A press conference to announce the library deal and Mr. Graham’s support has been scheduled for this morning before the council hearing.

“If we don’t have seven votes for this [library plan], we don’t have seven votes for the mayor’s proposal,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham likely will join Democrats Jack Evans, Harold Brazil, Vincent B. Orange Sr., Kevin P. Chavous, Sharon Ambrose and Sandy Allen in voting for Mr. Williams’ plan.

Mrs. Allen, like Mr. Graham, is seeking to make a last-minute deal that will provide job creation and economic development for her Ward 8 residents.

Mr. Graham also said the library deal would help answer critics who say the ballpark project will divert city resources from more critical needs.

“What I’m hearing from my constituents is that there are other priorities far more important than baseball, and I agree with that view,” he said. “What I’m bringing to my constituents is that we will be addressing other, … more important D.C. priorities.”

Mrs. Cropp yesterday conceded that her plan to build a ballpark at the RFK Stadium site, which sent shock waves through the city over the weekend, did not have enough votes to pass.

Several council members said yesterday they had not been contacted by Mrs. Cropp in an effort to win votes.

But Mrs. Cropp still intends to introduce an amendment today that would require the ballpark site to be moved to RFK. The move, she said, is motivated by a desire to lower the cost of building a stadium, as well as minimize the impact of a gross-receipts tax that she says “will destroy businesses.”

The tax on businesses grossing more than $4 million per year is intended to fund the largest share of construction costs.

“I still succeeded in bringing these issues to the attention of the community,” Mrs. Cropp said. “My goal is still to bring about a better deal.”

If Mr. Williams’ coalition splinters, Mrs. Cropp said she would seek to table the ballpark bill and renegotiate with the mayor.

“I don’t think [Mr. Williams] has the votes, yet, either,” Mrs. Cropp said. “You don’t know what is going to happen until the council says ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’”

Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox and the chairman of MLB’s relocation committee, spoke yesterday with both Mr. Williams and Mrs. Cropp, again relaying baseball’s refusal to accept a new stadium at RFK.

“He was very clear about their preference for the Southeast site,” Mrs. Cropp said.

Both Mrs. Cropp and Mr. Williams yesterday conducted full-throttle press tours, seeking to garner public support for their positions. They capped off the day with dueling speeches to the public on city cable channel 16 and WTOP-Radio.

“As an individual — and as a mayor — I believe in keeping commitments,” Mr. Williams said last night. “Who are we, as a people and as a city, if we don’t? This city made a commitment: to build a ballpark on the waterfront. When Major League Baseball awarded us a team, we endorsed that commitment. I’m keeping it. It’s time for others to keep it, too.”

But even if the mayor prevails as expected today, council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said Mr. Williams has not achieved a true mandate on the issue.

“I think the mayor should be looking for more than just seven votes, just skating through,” Mr. Mendelson said. “I would feel more comfortable with something getting nine or ten votes.”

Meanwhile, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi yesterday released his fiscal-impact report on a ballpark at the grounds of RFK, estimating the cost at $410 million.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Gandhi estimated that the Southeast site, including a second round of contingency funding, would cost $534.8 million.

The figure for the RFK site is 23 percent lower than the estimate for the Southeast site and is in line with the 20 percent savings that Mrs. Cropp promised on Friday upon announcing her plan.

The key areas of difference are the much lower land-acquisition costs for the RFK site, currently leased by the city from the National Park Service, and far lower outlays for related improvements such as enhancements to Metro service.

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