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Poll Sees Split on Stadium Funding

56% Want Some Private Sources

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2004; Page A01

District residents are closely divided on the future of the Washington Nationals, with slightly more than half supporting private financing for a new stadium even if such a requirement means losing the team, according to a new Washington Post survey.

The survey found that 56 percent of those interviewed favored requiring private funding to pay for half the cost of building a stadium. Nearly as many -- 53 percent -- backed the D.C. Council's amendment even if it proved to be a deal-breaker with Major League Baseball.

Employees at the Washington Nationals store at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium packed up souvenirs last week. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- The AP)

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In interviews yesterday, supporters of private financing said they were angry with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) for being too eager to lure baseball and not sensitive enough to the needs of the city's poor and working class. They urged the D.C. Council to stand firm on its requirement that half the stadium costs be privately funded.

"Let them take their team and get out of town," said Carla Gaskins, 36, a homemaker and mother of four who lives in Southwest Washington. "Let's get a new tax to raise money to build a new hospital. We can use new schools. We have so many other needs," she said. Baseball owners, she added, were "gaming D.C. to see how high we can jump."

But 4 in 10 D.C. residents were not willing to give up baseball, even if it meant that the city would have to pay.

"I look at it like this: Williams should have tried to make a better deal for the city before he announced it," said Calvin Rawls, 48, a welder who lives in Northwest. "He didn't do it, so let's try to make it better. No sense that the government has to pay for all of it. If it doesn't work, then let's go back to the original agreement. If the chase is worth the trophy, let's try it."

On Tuesday, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp successfully pushed an amendment requiring that the city pay for half the costs of a new stadium, or about $140 million. Constructing a new stadium near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street would cost between $440 million and $584 million and be paid for largely through a gross-receipts tax on businesses.

Cropp's amendment passed by a 10 to 3 vote, and the council then approved the baseball bill 7 to 6. Major League Baseball declared the package unacceptable and refused a subsequent request by Cropp to extend the deadline beyond Dec. 31.

The survey found that the stadium impasse may have worsened the mayor's image problems with black residents and earned him the displeasure of usually supportive white constituents. As for Cropp, her efforts to sweeten the stadium deal for the city in defiance of the mayor and baseball owners seems to be helping her only marginally with blacks and failing to win much support among whites.

But more broadly, the poll suggested that there are more villains than heroes. Large numbers of D.C. residents said they are angry with Williams, while others are displeased with Cropp and still more are critical of Major League Baseball. Many said they are mad at all three.

Nearly 6 in 10 residents said Williams mismanaged negotiations with baseball owners. They faulted him for being too willing to bargain away benefits for the city. They also criticized him as being too ineffective in selling the agreement to the council and to residents, particularly the city's working class, who see the deal as benefiting Virginia and Maryland at the expense of the city.

Even D.C. residents who support the original agreement and reject Cropp's amendment faulted Williams for not doing more to argue his own case.

"I don't know precisely what his missteps were," said Stephanie Mathurin, a "forty-something" substitute teacher who lives in Cleveland Park. "Perhaps failing to help people understand the upside rather than just saying, 'We're going to return baseball after 33 or so years.' [Williams] should have talked about the economic benefits, jobs and things. That part was underplayed."

Mathurin is sympathetic to criticism of Williams that he has spent too much time traveling outside the city in recent months as attacks on the stadium deal intensified. "He should have been here selling the agreement, but again, it's easy to be an armchair quarterback for someone else's job."

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