Tuesday, October 5, 2004

A band of angry protesters in front of City Hall yesterday lobbed harsh criticism and personal attacks at D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams as he readied a “hard sell” campaign to convince the public of the merits of his ballpark proposal.

Despite apparent majority support on the 13-member D.C. Council and an overwhelming desire among most residents to bring baseball back to the District after a 33-year absence, the deal to finance publicly the entire cost of a $435.2 million stadium in Southeast continues to be met with heated attacks across the city.

A motley collection of local politicians, black militants and child-welfare advocates rallied in front of the John A. Wilson Building yesterday to protest Mr. Williams’ “sweetheart” stadium deal for the city’s new major league baseball team.

Meanwhile, administration officials were hurriedly crafting an extensive schedule of events and public appearances in coming weeks for Mr. Williams and key staff members to pitch the baseball plan to residents, most notably in Ward 6, where the ballpark would be located.

“I think a majority of the council wants this to succeed. Our challenge is to burn some shoe leather, go to every community event, every neighborhood meeting, and address our critics,” said Gregory M. McCarthy, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work making the case, making the case, making the case,” he said. “If we can make the case and correct the falsehoods that are out there, we’ll be OK.”

The stadium plan, formally titled the Ballpark Omnibus Financing and Revenue Act of 2004, made its formal introduction before the council yesterday. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp referred most of the legislation to the finance and revenue committee, chaired by council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.

Mrs. Cropp referred the portion of the bill authorizing a bond issue of up to $500 million to the economic-development panel, led by council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Evans plans to hold at least two public hearings on the bill, the first of which is tentatively slated for the last week of October. Major League Baseball’s relocation of the Montreal Expos to the District is conditioned on the final approval of the stadium financing by Dec. 31.

Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, will meet this morning with council members to review a 32-page agreement with MLB that governs the relocation of the Expos, short-term use of RFK Stadium and construction of the new ballpark.

The tightly worded document would be voided if stadium opponents on the council, most notably council members Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, and David A. Catania, at-large independent, succeed in efforts to keep the Expos at RFK Stadium permanently.

“That idea assumes it’s possible to play there permanently while you’re also renovating the stadium, and it’s not,” Mr. Tuohey said. “This plan goes beyond baseball and is part of the mayor’s entire vision for the Southeast waterfront.”

Yesterday’s protest attracted about 75 people, a small fraction compared to the hundreds that packed the City Museum last week for the announcement of the Expos’ relocation. The crowd of protesters, uniting under the banner of “No D.C. Taxes For Baseball,” included groups such as Campaign for the D.C. School Budget, the Council of Latino Agencies, the D.C. Library Renaissance Project and the New Black Panther Party.

The groups’ common objection is to the creation of a nine-figure bond issue for a ballpark while the city still lacks adequate schools, parks and social services. The New Black Panthers, a militant black-power organization with a strong presence in poor, urban neighborhoods, aimed its criticisms sharply at Mr. Williams.

“We have to put fear into this bow tie-wearing punk, Anthony Williams,” said Najee Muhammad, the party’s national field marshal. “Power to the people. Death to political fascist pigs.”

The effectiveness of some stadium opponents in forcing Mr. Williams and the council to act appears to have outstripped their actual political muscle.

“In our ward, [the New Black Panthers] seem to come out of the woodwork,” said Marge Francese, chief of staff for D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat. “I haven’t heard anything about them for a while, until they were helping [former D.C. Mayor Marion] Barry on Election Day.”

The New Black Panthers recently appeared on the political scene with uniformed members serving as a security detail for Mr. Barry, the recent Ward 8 winner in Democratic primary elections for the D.C. Council. The primaries were held Sept. 14.

Though Mr. Barry is a vocal detractor of the ballpark deal and perhaps the only D.C. politician capable of marshaling an effective opposition to the plan, he has yet to step to the forefront of the anti-stadium movement. He did not attend yesterday’s demonstration, but had a campaign worker read a statement to the crowd.

“People’s needs should be first,” Mr. Barry’s statement said. “The city council and the mayor need to stand firm with the MLB and not give in to their demands. We must unite and stand firm in negotiations with the MLB.”

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