Monday, December 20, 2004

Trying to salvage the bad deal that Mayor Williams struck in September with Major League Baseball, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp yesterday exercised her legal prerogative and placed the issue of stadium financing on today’s calendar. If lawmakers vote today, it would be the second “final” vote on a ballpark financing plan.

Today’s scheduled meeting follows much ado following last week’s vote, which kept the baseball deal alive when Mrs. Cropp, the swing vote, moved her colleagues toward a 7-6 compromise that calls for at least 50 percent private financing vs. the all-public-financing that the mayor had proposed. The legislation does concede the site for the new stadium would be the Anacostia waterfront. Baseball officials called the private-public funding deal “wholly unacceptable,” sending both the mayor and the council chairman on PR romps, trying to solidify support for their respective camps.

The chairman appears to be a victor based on the mayor’s own comments and a new poll. Asked in a survey taken by The Washington Post whether they “approve or disapprove” of the Cropp plan, 56 percent of respondents said “approve,” while 41 percent said “disapprove” and 4 percent had no opinion. When asked whether the mayor or the council would be at fault if the city gets no baseball team, 47 percent pointed to the mayor, 37 percent to the council, 12 percent said neither and 4 had no opinion.

Finally, the mayor, who wanted a team at any cost, appears to have taken public opinion to heart. Prior to meeting yesterday with Mrs. Cropp, the mayor said there are several viable proposals that include private financing for the stadium — a stadium whose projected costs are $600 million-plus. Part of that “plus” includes infrastructure costs, as well as the cost of buying privately owned land included in the stadium site plan. The mayor said he will work with the council and the chief financial officer on those proposals.

One easily imagines the mayor biting his upper lip yesterday when he said: “We can begin this proposal the way we’ve outlined it, and we can always do what is called ‘take out’ the city’s position. In other words, someone can step in place of the city and assume the city’s obligation.”

That is precisely what we’ve been saying all along.

Mrs. Cropp gave the mayor a chance to improve his plan in November, but he wasn’t paying attention. She handed him another opportunity last week. The mayor should be grateful that Mrs. Cropp has handed him yet another chance to get the deal right. As the council’s plans for the holiday recess take shape and as baseball’s Dec. 31 deadline draws nearer, today might be the mayor’s last chance to lessen “the city’s obligation.”

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