Thursday, December 2, 2004

For Chris Weiss, who represents the folks involved with the No Taxes For Baseball coalition, it ain’t over until it’s over.

Talking to Mr. Weiss yesterday, I couldn’t believe my ears. No matter how many times or how many ways I asked him, he stuck to his optimistic script.

“It’s not a done deal; we haven’t given up at all,” Mr. Weiss said repeatedly of the D.C. Council’s tentative, tenuous vote to publicly fund a $600 million-plus stadium for a Major League Baseball team.

Although the council voted 6-4 (with three abstentions) Tuesday in a tentative agreement to the historic government giveaway to bring baseball back to the nation’s capital, Mr. Weiss contends, “There is still opportunity to impact the plan” for the better in order to build a new sports edifice on the Southeast waterfront and be “fiscally responsible.” Want to bet? This vote was more like a bunt, not a home run as supporters have characterized it. Or as Mr. Weiss said, “It’s still a fairly fluid situation.”

Those favoring baseball at all undetermined costs count the first-reading council vote on the stadium financing package as 6-4 in favor of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ baseball boondoggle. Mr. Weiss and the majority of D.C. residents (69 percent) opposing public stadium financing, however, are counting Tuesday’s vote as 6-7, meaning there were seven votes cast either against or not for the fiscally irresponsible financing package.

For the mayor, “It wasn’t really a strong showing; he eked out a narrow victory,” Mr. Weiss said. “Have faith,” he said. “Things can change.”

Mr. Weiss pointed out that when his group — a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals opposed to public financing for the stadium — started its campaign to get a better deal for D.C. taxpayers, they could count on only two council members for support — David A. Catania, at-large independent, and Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. On Tuesday, they were joined by Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

Oddly, council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, who stepped up to the plate in a courageous attempt to forge a better deal, voted “present,” although she gained most of the concessions she sought from the mayor. She was joined in that curious category by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, and, surprisingly, Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, who has “a history of voting against boondoggles.” Mr. Weiss and others are counting those votes as being “in play.”

“The side that does the most and works the hardest between now and Dec. 14 is the side that wins,” community activist Lawrence Guyot said. He agrees with Mr. Weiss that “this deal still has a chance of unraveling.”

The council is charged with looking at “what works and what doesn’t work, and a lot doesn’t work, and they should make changes,” he said. Anyone who doesn’t thank Mrs. Cropp for upholding her fiduciary duty on this unbelievably bad deal does not have the best interest of the District’s residents at heart. She should be commended for seeking private financing and getting the council to vote in favor of keeping the door open to that option as well as placing a cap on the cost overruns, though an excess of $600 million is unacceptably high.

Sorry, but I don’t put much stock in getting the mayor to talk to Major League Baseball again about readjustments. Mr. Williams seems ready to sell his soul — and the District’s future — to sit next to his fancy friends in a luxury box and secure an infamous legacy.

“He must know this is not a good deal,” Mr. Weiss said of the mayor. “This will hurt his legacy, not help it.”

If Mrs. Cropp’s welcome actions blocked the biggest government gift to Major League Baseball in history, then so be it. We’ll all live. What we cannot live with is children and adults who cannot read. Lest anyone forget, more than 33 percent of the District’s population is functionally illiterate.

Where some public-financing opponents part company with Mrs. Cropp is her amendment to eliminate library funding — a nebulous concession the mayor made in exchange for Mr. Graham’s vote. Help me out with this one: The council voted to eliminate a tentative promise to provide $45 million for a library fund because it would be too burdensome on the Washington business community, yet it tentatively agreed to fund a $600 million-plus baseball stadium for baseball owners who don’t even live here. Does the word hypocrisy come to mind? It ought to.

“A lot of people are frustrated with how their government treats their taxes,” Mr. Weiss said. Like others, the coalition spokesmen stressed that they are not opposed to baseball. “We [just] don’t want it at any price,” he said.

Mr. Weiss also questioned the votes of the council’s three lame-duck members — Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil and Sandy Allen. He suggested that they should have sought to delay the council vote on the stadium because “they have lost the confidence of the electorate.” A decision as important as financing the stadium should be left to newly elected members who are “better connected to the will of their constituents.” Because the No DC Taxes for Baseball coalition did to win support from Mr. Graham, the group plans to pepper residents in Ward 6 and Ward 5 with fliers, encouraging them to call and write their council members — Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, who voted for the mayor’s plan — to change their votes.

In fact, the coalition will not give up, primarily on getting the council to secure private financing, even after the second vote scheduled for Dec. 14.

“Spread the word,” Mr. Weiss said of the No DC Taxes for Baseball team. “We’re still here and committed still to do more to make this a better deal for the District.”

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