Thursday, December 9, 2004

D.C. Council chairman Linda W. Cropp is confident the city will improve its relocation deal with Major League Baseball following a 75-minute meeting last night with District Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other local officials.

MLB executives have not made any tangible offers back to the District and are still insisting the city live up to its pledge to build a ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast. But Cropp continues to believe she can negotiate with an entity well known for its hard-line tactics.

“She definitely sees movement,” said Mark Johnson, Cropp’s spokesman. “There’s no final agreement to make changes as such, but she certainly feels her concerns are being heard. Everybody seems to be heading in the same direction.”

Cropp is seeking several alterations to the relocation pact — seen previously by many as an ironclad document — including greater legal protection for the city if construction on the stadium falls behind schedule through no fault of the District’s and more community benefits from the Washington Nationals.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig last week said repeatedly, “The deal we made is a deal.” But at the same time, he directed his staff to meet with District officials and discuss potential changes to the contract.

The core demands of the deal, most notably the District delivering the new stadium at the Southeast site by March1, 2008, will not change.

“I think we’re making very good progress toward resolving the issues that are out there. This was a good talk,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. Tuohey is maintaining regular contact with MLB officials, particularly relocation committee head Jerry Reinsdorf.

The meeting also served as a prelude to Tuesday’s second vote by the D.C. Council on the city’s ballpark financing plan. The council last week approved the measure on its first reading by a 6-4 vote with three abstentions. Cropp was foremost among those voting “present,” and she did so as a political means to keep pressuring Williams and MLB.

At worst, Cropp again will abstain again for the second vote, but District sources said she ideally wants to see enough progress with the deal and vote yes.

“A deal, yes, is a deal. But where there is room to clarify the agreement, amplify elements of it, I think we want to do that,” Williams said yesterday. “I do not believe those ideas are mutually exclusive.”

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