How D.C. mayoral primary will impact United’s stadium outlook at Buzzard Point

Mayor Vincent Gray announced the Buzzard Point stadium plan in July. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post) Mayor Vincent Gray announced the Buzzard Point stadium plan in July. (By Nikki Kahn — The Washington Post)

D.C. United will keep a close eye on the scoreboard Tuesday – the one flashing results of the Democratic primary for mayor in Washington.

Although the outcome will not make or break the club’s prospects of building a stadium at Buzzard Point, it will affect the muddled political process.

Just as a victory for Vincent Gray, the embattled incumbent who has backed the project from the start, wouldn’t ensure stadium groundbreaking this summer, a win for Muriel Bowser, a council member who has questioned the proposal, wouldn’t kill it either.

Polls show Gray and Bowser in a statistical dead heat, with several others well behind. In a heavily Democratic city, the winner of the primary always wins the general election in November – except, maybe, this year. (More on that later.)

D.C. council member Muriel Bowser. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press) D.C. council member Muriel Bowser. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta — Associated Press)

United officials did not endorse anyone, in part to avoid repercussions should their choice falter. For the purpose of continuity, though, their preference is clear: Gray.

Over the past year, the sides have forged a strong working relationship. And although the pace of progress has slowed in recent months – a source of growing frustration for United — the team and administration are well beyond the awkward, feeling-out stages.

Without any changes to the cast of characters, United is optimistic it could resolve the remaining issues and introduce legislation soon to the City Council for final approval.

United has pledged $150 million to build the complex but is also seeking city assistance in covering land acquisition and infrastructure costs totaling up to $150 million. The city has been tweaking the terms of the agreement in order to get it through the council.

If Gray were to lose, he could still press forward with the stadium project through the end of his term in December. As a lame duck, however, he would probably have a difficult time of it.

Where does Bowser stand? Initially, she came out against the proposal, saying she would not support a plan that would turn over the city-owned Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW to a developer in exchange for a large parcel on the stadium footprint. Her stance was fueled in large part by politics: opposing a major Gray initiative ahead of the campaign.

But in recent months, her tone has softened and those involved in the stadium talks believe, in the event she wins, they could work with her. One figure said Bowser is “open-minded and reasonable. She wants the right deal.”

Terms of the proposal would probably have to change and the process would slow, but the plan could remain on track, especially if Bowser retained City Administrator Allen Lew, Gray’s stadium point man. Lew also served for Gray’s predecessor, Adrian Fenty. Even if asked to stay, though, he might choose the private sector.

The biggest threat to the Buzzard Point project is not Bowser winning; it’s Gray winning … and then getting indicted for alleged involvement in a shadow campaign that helped elect him in 2010. An indictment would, if not force him from office, make him vulnerable to defeat in the general election.

David Catania, a former Republican serving on the council as an at-large independent, has launched a campaign to challenge the Democratic nominee in the fall. While polls show Catania well behind Bowser in a hypothetical matchup, he is even with Gray. Catania is skeptical of Gray’s initiatives and facilitating stadium projects.

In essence, a Gray victory Tuesday might end up being a short-term victory for United.

 

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.

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Steven Goff · March 30, 2014