Monday, October 4, 2004

A diverse coalition — including local politicians, black-power militants, homosexual activists and child-welfare advocates — has emerged to oppose plans for a Major League Baseball stadium in Southeast, as the D.C. Council today begins debating legislation for the “sweetheart” ballpark deal.

A group calling itself No D.C. Taxes for Baseball, made up of more than 20 organizations ranging from the New Black Panther Party to D.C. Action for Children, plans to demonstrate this morning on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, home of the City Council and the mayor’s office.

Among those scheduled to speak against Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ plan to publicly finance the entire $435.2 million stadium are D.C. Council members Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, and David A. Catania, at-large independent, and three Democrats who are likely to join the council in January — former Mayor Marion S. Barry, Kwame R. Brown and Vincent Gray.

Other groups in the coalition are the Campaign for the D.C. School Budget, the Council of Latino Agencies, D.C. Black Church Initiative, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, D.C. Library Renaissance Project, the D.C. League of Women Voters, Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, Save D.C. Parks and Play Spaces, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Wider Opportunities for Women.

Although they represent an array of causes, the groups are united in the belief that the District could better spend taxpayer money on any one of their missions. They also agree that when the Montreal Expos relocate to the District, the team could make RFK Stadium its permanent home.

“This [stadium] goes to the core of what is wrong with government in the District,” said Chris Weiss, of Friends of the Earth who helped coordinate today’s rally. “We have to focus on what will make the lives better for D.C. residents and not on something that may primarily benefit visitors from Maryland and Virginia.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Williams has embarked on a public-relations campaign to sell his ballpark plan to constituents.

“Not one dime of residents’ money is going to the stadium,” he said when describing the financing deal to reporters last week.

He proposes paying for up to $500 million in stadium bonds with a combination of a 10 percent sales taxes on baseball tickets and stadium concessions, an annual $5.5 million rent payment from the team owners and a gross-receipts tax levied on the city’s multimillion-dollar businesses.

A memorandum of understanding between MLB and city officials would cancel the Expos relocation deal if the council fails to authorize the bond issue and the Southeast stadium site by Dec. 31.

Proponents say they have enough votes on the 13-member council to pass the legislation, but opponents say they intend to take their case to voters.

The New Black Panther Party, a militant black-power group that has a strong presence in the poor black neighborhood in Ward 6 where the stadium would be located, plans rallies next weekend in front of the homes of two council members.

The demonstrators will gather at the homes of D.C. Council members Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the finance committee handling the stadium legislation, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat.

“Their constituents are going to let them know how much they are against this stadium,” said Malik Z. Shabazz, national lawyer for the New Black Panther Party and a D.C. resident. “They are going to pose the question: ‘Are you willing to risk your political future for this stadium?’”

About 75 people attended the Panthers’ rally on Friday at the stadium site on the Anacostia River waterfront. And the group’s leaders likely will join today’s demonstration, voicing concerns that the mayor and council want to gentrify the neighborhood.

“The realities are that when an upscale project like this stadium is brought to an area, the threat is that that Southeast neighborhood will become the next Georgetown,” Mr. Shabazz said.

Leaders of the District’s homosexual community also are expected to throw their support behind the anti-stadium effort. They have vowed to save a homosexual nightclub district that would be razed to make room for the stadium.

The administration selected a site near M and South Capitol streets SE for a ballpark for the new team. The location and the city’s offer to publicly finance 100 percent of the construction helped persuade baseball officials to move the Expos from Montreal to the nation’s capital — a decision announced last week to much fanfare.

The mayor introduced legislation on Friday to the D.C. Council that would give him authority to acquire the ballpark property through condemnation and finance the project with up to $500 million in bond issues.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp is scheduled to formally submit the legislation to the council today and assign it to the Committee on Finance and Revenue.

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