Monday, November 29, 2004

Remember back in the day when D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams was called a bureaucratic bean counter? Remember the movement to draft the District’s congressionally imposed chief financial officer for mayor because of his hyped-up reputation for slicing people and programs as he slashed spreadsheets? Remember also when the Bow Tie Bandit attempted to sell off the public university and the public hospital all in the name of fiscal responsibility?

No matter that Mr. Williams was viewed as unattached to humans as he was attached to figures as long as he appeared to balance the city’s budget.

It’s no secret that I didn’t buy the hype then, and I’m certainly not alone now, for Mr. Williams exposes through this fool’s folly to publicly finance a baseball stadium that he is anything but a bottom-line bureaucrat.

Can you just imagine the indignant howls for impeach-ment from congressional overseers had former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, now Ward 8 council member-elect, even dared to propose a new tax on city businesses to generate a guesstimate from $400 million to $600 million of city funds (depending on the day and the bean counter) to build a stadium for billionaire sports moguls? Fidgety funds in fickle economic times, by the way, which provide very little local return on the dollar for D.C. residents? Forget the pie-in-the-sky promises: Guess who would have been leading the impeach-ment parade? None other than Mr. Bow Tie Bandit, armed with accounting graphs and charts.

Now that the glove is on the other hand, the Williams administration suggests that the current chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, is overly cautious in his projections that the actual construction costs of a new baseball stadium in Southeast to house the Washington Nationals are much higher than this baseball-or-bust mayor initially estimated.

Bust it will be, because no one really knows what uncalculated, long-term cost this bad baseball deal will mean for the taxpayers of the District — not only monetarily but also mentally and politically.

“D.C.,” as we know it, may never be the same.

Lifelong D.C. resident and activist Lois “Lea” Adams suggests that the mayor, who still does not own property in the city, is “turning D.C. from a city of neighborhoods into an external and internal tourist trap,” most especially with this baseball boondoggle.

“Neither the team nor the stadium would really belong to the half-million residents of D.C.,” said Ms. Adams, who lives in Southwest and is a baseball fan. “While we’re watching on our TVs, the stad-ium will be filled with tourists, visitors and fat cats entertaining their clients from box seats.”

And, she noted,, “and even then, every red cent will go to the team owners; if it’s so good for the city, show me the money.” D.C. residents, such as Ms. Adams, would gladly welcome a baseball team to the nation’s capital as long as D.C. taxpayers don’t have to hock their future financial capital to pay for it.

“This is not an anti-baseball movement, this is an anti-funding-to-millionaires movement,” community activist Lawrence Guyot of Northwest said. “At the core [of this issue] is whether this government is concerned about all its citizens or only its wealthy citizens.”

The cheering mantra for the hastily put together broad-based organization calling itself No D.C. Taxes for Baseball, is “YES to baseball. NO to a taxpayer-subsidized stadium.” Its Web site lists financial studies based on “research from university scholars — as opposed to biased studies commissioned by baseball “public-financing” proponents — [that] shows that a team would create mostly low-paying, low-benefit, part-time jobs and would not strengthen the local economy.” further, the studies suggest that “even the most successful stadiums, such as Baltimore’s Camden Yards, fail to produce enough tax revenue to justify large public subsidies.” Note the opposition to publicly financing a baseball stadium in the District is as wide and as varied as the Williams-for-mayor draft campaign was in 1998. In fact, some of the same folks who went to bat for him then are stepping up to the plate to hit against his pitches now.

Gary Imhoff, publisher of and an initial Williams supporter, wrote on the eve of the D.C. Council’s vote on the baseball stadium-financing package: “It is likely that a majority of the council will pretend that they believe the transparently low-ball cost estimates for the ballpark, and will send the clear message to Congress that D.C. doesn’t need any more federal assistance because this city is so flush with money that it can waste more than a half-million dollars (with the cost rising daily) on the worst deal that any city ever made to get a sports team.” He posted a letter the D.C. Council received from a Montreal city councilor, Marvin Rotrand, warning them “to exercise prudence when dealing with [Major League Baseball].” Since “reckless, spendthrift” council members “are determined not to listen to their constituents, their constituents have only one recourse,” Mr. Imhoff continued — “return the favor; take names and [vote them out of office] the next chance we get.”

The D.C. Council should keep its incensed constituents, the independent studies and their political futures in mind when they vote on the baseball financing package today because the bygone era of the Bow Tie Bandit bean counters is not long forgotten.

As Ms. Adams joked, “Little Anthony and the Imperialists sing, ‘You don’t remember me, but I remember you,’ way off key.”

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