Thursday, October 2, 2003

Robert D. Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, says he will leave his position next month, ending more than a year of fighting with the D.C. Council over the depletion of the agency’s funds.

“There has been a growing series of issues, challenges and distractions that have taken me away from what I came here to do,” Mr. Goldwater told The Washington Times yesterday. “It’s just best that everyone moves on at this point. I’m not comfortable being a distraction.”

Mr. Goldwater, who earns $275,000 a year, said he has requested not to be considered for a contract extension when his three-year pact expires Nov. 5.

A former manager of New York’s Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles’ Staples Center, Mr. Goldwater was hired by the District because of his managerial expertise and the prospect of his bringing Major League Baseball back to the city.

Mr. Goldwater said his departure will not diminish the District’s chances for luring a baseball team, and insisted the District’s proposal is the best one available to MLB executives.

“I think the city is in great hands. … There is no reason for D.C. not to get baseball, and it will happen,” he said.

“This was never a one-man show, and there have been great partners in this with Mayor [Anthony A.] Williams and Deputy Mayor Eric Price, his staff and the ownership team.”

In April, The Washington Times reported Mr. Goldwater’s ranking as the city’s highest-paid employee in a series of articles about the proliferation of $100,000 salaries in the D.C. government.

Mr. Goldwater played an instrumental role in many improvements to the 42-year-old RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory, as well as ongoing efforts to land a baseball team. He also is credited for keeping soccer team D.C. United, RFK Stadium’s primary tenant, from moving to Maryland or Virginia.

But the commission posted seven-figure losses in two of three fiscal years under Mr. Goldwater and was headed toward another year in the red, having depleted more than $15 million of an $18 million fiscal reserve.

The spending angered several D.C. Council members, who said they could not see how it was delivering the city a baseball team.

Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, said Mr. Goldwater’s departure would affect the city’s ability to lure a team.

“I think he is a first-class professional, but he got maligned a bit and I hate to see him go because we don’t have anybody to replace him,” he said. “This is still a tight period for us with baseball. We have a good plan … and we will find a way to get [a team] if it’s humanly possible, but we’ll have to get it done without Bobby.”

Mr. Goldwater is a distant relative of Barry M. Goldwater, the late five-term senator from Arizona and Republican presidential candidate.

While upset with his departure, Mr. Goldwater defended his accomplishments, as well as spending the cash reserves built up through prior, profitable years of commission operations. Much of that $15 million reserve went toward upgrading RFK and the D.C. Armory.

The council also found fault with the commission’s handling of last year’s Grand Prix auto race at RFK. The event drew plaudits from race fans but complaints from residents of the adjacent Kingman Park neighborhood. It ended in financial ruin when the commission was forced to void the remaining nine years of a 10-year contract.

The most dramatic move in the sports commission-D.C. Council battle came last week, when council members Jack Evans and Adrian Fenty filed emergency legislation seeking to cut Mr. Goldwater’s salary by more than half to $134,000, a move apparently designed to force Mr. Goldwater out.

Mr. Goldwater acknowledged difficulties in managing the odd organizational nature of the sports commission. Mr. Goldwater’s background is solely within the private sector.

The sports commission is a quasi-private entity that receives no city appropriations but is still charged with acting in the public trust. The 11 commissioners, most of whom are appointed by the mayor, are overseen by the council and funded through revenue from the events the commission puts on at RFK and the Armory.

Mr. Goldwater’s decision came in tandem with a letter from Mr. Brazil, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, who advocates dissolving the sports commission. He said the commission’s financial structure has been in disarray since the departure of the Washington Redskins after the 1996 season, and said there is no way for the commission to remain solvent.

“The commission should be abolished and the two major responsibilities of the commission should be bifurcated and transferred to two separate entities,” Mr. Brazil wrote in a letter he will circulate to the D.C. Council today.

“I have spent a lot of effort, as has Bobby and the board, trying to make this thing work, but the more we looked at it — assessing, reassessing — it is clear the commission cannot operate at a profit,” Mr. Brazil said yesterday.

He said even with the two soccer teams, D.C. United and the Washington Freedom, “the commission couldn’t do it.” The Freedom is now defunct with the recent dissolution of the Women’s United Soccer Association.

Most other major cities subsidize their sports commissions, an option he said the District should study.

“I think the council will welcome this, and as far as the mayor I think he will quickly — if he hasn’t already — get to the point where he sees this is the reality,” Mr. Brazil said.

Mr. Brazil will introduce legislation to dissolve the commission in coming weeks, but he said ultimately the real question is: “Do we need a stadium?”

“When you really start to look at it, we have a great big stadium out there with no big user. We will keep soccer until we can get them in a new place and then have the baseball team here, but after that what do we do with it?” he asked.

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