- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

If the District does not receive word on the Montreal Expos’ relocation within three weeks, the D.C. Council likely would not have enough time to pass a stadium financing package before the end of the year, when the terms of three key baseball supporters expire.

The city’s time frame for making good on its promise to Major League Baseball of a new ballpark became compressed this week when Democrats Harold Brazil, Kevin Chavous and Sandy Allen lost primary elections to challengers who oppose Mayor Anthony Williams’ plan to build the stadium with public dollars.

Because of the Democrats’ 10-1 registration edge in the District, winning the primary usually is tantamount to election.

But because of public notice requirements for a committee hearing on a stadium financing bill and schedules for various council meetings, the clock actually will begin to run out early next month.

“We’ve got to know something in the next two or three weeks or we just won’t be able to get it done,” said Jack Evans, chairman of the council’s finance committee and a crucial gatekeeper in the city’s baseball bid. “We have to get this going by early October.”

That timetable might be honored by MLB, which has delayed a relocation decision for nearly three years. District officials met with baseball’s relocation committee for 11 hours Wednesday to negotiate a 30-page memorandum of understanding that would outline the Expos’ move to Washington, the short-term use of RFK Stadium and the development of a new ballpark.

The city has conducted more than 18 hours of high-level negotiations with baseball in the last three weeks compared to 51/2 for Northern Virginia’s competing bid for the Expos.

With District negotiations now progressing to an extremely detailed stage, baseball may be ready to render the long-awaited decision within the next 10 days, said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. Tuohey said he is operating under the assumption preparations on a ballpark bill needs to begin by Oct.1.

“The relocation committee knows what the situation is. We’ve absolutely communicated that,” Tuohey said. “And I think we’re very close to hearing something back.”

A baseball bill likely would begin at the council’s Committee of the Whole, and then be referred to Evans’ finance panel. Any bill requires two majority votes of the council, separated by at least 13 days. The first can occur when the bill is introduced to the Committee of the Whole and the second at a council legislative meeting.

But complicating the timeline for baseball is that the Committee of the Whole meets only once a month, and the council’s legislative meetings also take place monthly. And while a bill is in the finance committee, a 30-day period for public hearing and comment would be mandatory.

As a result, a bill introduced in October would not be completed until early December at the soonest, just days before Brazil, Chavous and Allen make way for Marion Barry, Vincent Gray and Kwame Brown on the council.

“There’s really not much wiggle room in this,” Evans said. “You can compress certain steps, and we do that if there are super majorities and the issues aren’t controversial. But I don’t see that happening with baseball. This is a very important issue, and we want to do this right.”

While the council considers a baseball measure, sports commission officials could continue planning to renovate RFK Stadium for baseball but could not do any actual spade work until the funding is approved. The funds to improve the 43-year-old facility, amounting to about $13million, would be part of the broader stadium bill.

Several District sources said because of that time crunch, Williams and some other city officials this week briefly considered introducing a ballpark bill to the council before MLB makes its decision on the Expos. But such a move would completely violate a city stance that has demanded baseball first pick the District as its relocation choice before legislative review starts on a ballpark bill.

Political ramifications of such a jarring reversal almost certainly would be severe, and as a result, the notion was quickly abandoned.

Staff writer Matt Cella contributed to this report.

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