Marion Barry emerged yesterday from a three-week, post-election seclusion looking rested, sporting a distinguished new beard and gunning for a fight over Mayor Anthony A. Williams's proposal to raise taxes on business to pay for a new baseball stadium.
"I'm working hard as I can to kill this thing," Barry told commentator Mark Plotkin during an appearance on WTOP radio. "I want baseball in Washington. I worked for 10 years to get baseball in Washington. . . . I'm for baseball. But I'm opposed to tax money being spent to build this baseball stadium."
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Williams (D) responded in a brief interview yesterday by calling Barry's comments "breathtakingly ironic" because the former mayor supported public funding for the new Convention Center and public subsidies through a business tax to build MCI Center.
"I'm hopeful I can show him the information on this deal, get his involvement in it in terms of jobs and business participation for citizens and get his support for it," Williams said. "I don't begrudge him for criticizing it. I just hope we can sit down together and I can convince him where we're going. I believe we've got a good product, and I believe we can get it through the council, and I think it will be a real success story for the city."
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said that while the council might do "some slight tinkering" with the business tax, it is unlikely to make "any kind of wholesale change" in the stadium agreement. "People either want baseball or they don't," she said.
Barry's appearance at the radio station marked the first time he has spoken to reporters since Sept. 15, the day after he won the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 8 on the D.C. Council. Since then, calls to Barry's cell phone have gone unanswered. And, despite assurances from his campaign spokeswoman, he failed on Tuesday morning to appear at an anti-stadium rally on the steps of the Wilson Building.
Yesterday, Barry showed up on time and on message, looking healthier and more vigorous than he had in the campaign's final days. Barry said he spent two weeks in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he slept late and stopped shaving, allowing a trim beard to line his jaw for the first time in 30 years.
Barry said he returned to Washington Oct. 1 but missed Tuesday's rally because he was called to Memphis to tend to his 88-year-old mother, who suffers from high blood pressure and arthritis. He soon cut off talk about his personal life, saying he wanted to discuss "issues, issues, issues."
At the top of the list: baseball. Barry said he spoke twice this week with Abe Pollin to hash out ways to rework the city's baseball agreement so it more closely resembles the deal for Pollin's MCI Center.
"That's the model I'm going to use. Let the owners of this baseball team . . . pay for the [stadium] construction, and the city will pay for the infrastructure," Barry said.
Baseball issues also dominated a hearing at the D.C. Council chambers yesterday during which several council members questioned City Administrator Robert C. Bobb.
David A. Catania (I-At Large), who also opposes using public dollars for a stadium, delivered a six-page letter to Williams this week in which he asked 80 questions about the team and stadium and their impact on the city.
"If you think the letter is onerous, you should see what I sent Major League Baseball. It looks like the Yellow Pages. They have their work cut out for them," Catania told Bobb. He said he wants Bobb's answers soon to prepare for an Oct. 28 council hearing about the stadium financing plan.
Bobb said the mayor has an "easy response" to those who complain that a publicly funded stadium would take much-needed resources from other areas, such as schools, health care and neighborhood redevelopment.
"The beauty in D.C. is that we have multiple projects all over," Bobb said, stressing that a stadium and other projects are not mutually exclusive. "We're working on all these things at once to make our city a better city."