Monday, December 20, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that voters can throw him out of office if they don’t like his plan to bring a baseball team to the city.

“You’re elected not to be a refrigerator or a mirror and just reflect what people are saying,” Mr. Williams said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace.

“Ten [percent], 20 percent of the time you’re elected to do what you think is in the best interests of the city,” the mayor said. “If people don’t agree with that, they can throw you out next time. And I think this is one of those issues.”

Mr. Williams said, however, that he wished he had won the necessary support to pass the baseball deal before the Dec. 31 deadline.

“I mean, I make mistakes,” Mr. Williams said. “I mean, to the extent I would rather have had all of the votes lined up and be in a different place right now, of course I’d rather be in that place. But I think that when you sit down with the leaders of the council … and they give you their assurance that they can deliver, and you’re jointly making a commitment to baseball, I think you should be able to take that to the bank.”

Mr. Williams’ comments came as he planned to meet with D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp today to try to sort out a compromise that could include private financing and guarantees for baseball. He said yesterday that city officials also are trying to arrange a meeting with Major League Baseball.

Mr. Williams will appear on other radio and television shows this morning before meeting with Mrs. Cropp.

Last week, Mrs. Cropp proposed amending the final legislation authorizing construction of a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast to require that private investors pay half of the roughly $280 million cost. But baseball officials rejected the amendment as “wholly unacceptable.” The overall stadium project is expected to cost $435.2 million.

Since then, Mrs. Cropp has requested that baseball officials extend the deadline for approving the stadium-financing deal, but Mr. Williams said yesterday that he doesn’t think that’s a good idea.

“I don’t think Chairman Cropp, yours truly or anyone else has an interest in just extending this on out forever,” Mr. Williams told Fox.

One issue that Mr. Williams and Mrs. Cropp will have to determine today is how much Mrs. Cropp knew about the mayor’s proposal before she drastically altered it. Mrs. Cropp stood next to Mr. Williams Sept. 29, when, amid great fanfare, he announced that MLB was allowing the Montreal Expos to move to the District.

Mrs. Cropp has said she and other council members did not know the details of Mr. Williams’ stadium financing plan. Last week, Mrs. Cropp called it a “lousy deal,” since the mayor’s financing plan largely calls for public funding.

Yesterday, Mr. Williams defended his stadium-funding plan, saying it is “public only insofar as the city is involved in it, but it’s really private, in that the largest businesses of the city have stood up voluntarily” to pay a special tax to help build the stadium.

The mayor told Fox News that he met with Mrs. Cropp and council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who is chairman of the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee, to make commitments with Major League Baseball.

“This isn’t a situation where I was over, made a deal, then came back and said, ‘Hey, everybody, what do you think?’ and they said, ‘Are you kidding?’ No, everybody was involved at the table when making this commitment. And so I think, if we are going to send a message to the world that this city remains a place for business, we had better live up to our commitment.”

But not all businesses support the mayor’s measure. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce has backed Mrs. Cropp’s amendment that mandates private financing. A lobbying group for the city’s more than 2,000 doctors also opposes the mayor’s stadium deal, saying the tax would force medical offices to relocate outside the District.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade supports Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams also disputed rumors that baseball officials were bluffing and that they aren’t going to take the team anywhere else.

“Baseball is not bluffing. We had to put a premium deal on the table to get them to this point,” Mr. Williams said. “They have other options. That’s an important point. I know we may not like that, but that’s the truth.”

Mrs. Cropp has said she is willing to call a special council session over the holidays to come up with an agreement. But early yesterday, baseball was not on the agenda for the final scheduled meeting of the year tomorrow, Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Mrs. Cropp, told the Associated Press yesterday.

“They’re doing what they have to do to make the December 31st deadline, since it’s clear that MLB will not go beyond the deadline,” Mr. Johnson told AP. “It’ll be a working holiday probably for a lot of people at the Wilson Building, but the end result of it could be baseball in Washington come next spring.”

Overall, Mr. Williams said he remains optimistic that he and Mrs. Cropp will work things out.

“I actually am somewhat hopeful … that we can work something out, in terms of how we review these options for private financing,” Mr. Williams said. “What’s going to happen is, I’m confident that God is a just God and an understanding God, and we will have baseball here. I do believe that.”

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