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Baseball Debate Plays On

Mayor's Confidence Unshaken in Face of Opposition

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2004; Page C01

Opponents of a plan to build a baseball stadium with public funds have viewed their cause as a long shot. But recent developments have ignited some optimism.

First, 90 economists denounced the plan in a letter to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Then, the city's chief financial officer released a report saying the stadium would cost $91 million more than the $440 million budgeted. Thursday, several hundred residents turned out for a boisterous public hearing before the D.C. Council.

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Yet with nine days left before the council's first vote, key city leaders said the verdict is conclusive: The stadium is a go.

That pronouncement is indicative of the way Williams and his key advisers have peddled the plan to build a stadium on the Anacostia waterfront from the time the administration struck a deal with Major League Baseball to relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington.

The confident posture comes from city officials' belief that at least eight of the 13 council members will vote for the mayor's stadium plan. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) -- chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which will review the baseball bill Wednesday -- said he has evidence of enormous interest in bringing baseball back. His office has received 7,000 e-mails, nearly all in support of the project.

In fact, the mayor has been so confident that he has played a limited role in selling his vision to the public.

After meeting privately with a dozen neighborhood leaders in the Wilson Building shortly after the announcement, Williams has appeared at just one neighborhood meeting, attended by 150 people. While the mayor was on an 11-day trip to Asia, his aides discussed the baseball plan at previously scheduled events rather than organize community briefings specifically to address the issue. They often moved through PowerPoint presentations with little visible emotion, sounding almost rote.

Williams did not attend the council's lone public hearing, at which nearly 200 speakers sparred during 16 hours of testimony.

Before the hearing began, Williams posed in the lobby with Expos second baseman Brendan Harris. As the public testified, Williams was outside the building predicting the stadium's approval. Asked why he did not attend the hearing to hear directly from residents, Williams replied, "I have listened to their position."

Opponents warn that they have not given up and say that things could change by Nov. 9, when the council is to take its first vote.

"It's an uphill battle," said council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who opposes the stadium. "But uphill battles are sometimes won."

Already, the anti-stadium lobbying has gained concessions.

Under the mayor's plan, the ballpark would be financed by a gross-receipts tax of the largest 11 percent of city businesses, a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team. Mayoral aides are revising some minor elements of the gross-receipts tax to answer concerns of the business community, which wants to prorate the tax so that the larger a company is, the more it will pay.

Last week, Williams proposed creating a $400 million community investment package aimed at appeasing opponents who said public money would be better spent on schools, libraries, recreation centers and hospitals.

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