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Williams to Seek Baseball Revisions

Cropp Pushed to Limit Deal's Cost

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page B01

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has pledged to reopen talks with Major League Baseball officials about portions of a stadium-financing agreement, but that meeting likely would come after the D.C. Council takes its final vote on the plan Dec. 14.

In meetings with Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), Williams promised to go back to baseball officials in exchange for her assurance that she would not vote against the financing plan Tuesday, city government sources said.

Chairman Linda W. Cropp is seeking changes in the deal, but council member Jack Evans says that won't happen. (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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The council voted 6 to 4 to give preliminary approval to building a stadium with public funds in Southeast Washington by 2008. Cropp and two other members abstained.

Of the issues Williams (D) has promised to take up with baseball officials, the most important could be limiting the compensatory damages the city might have to pay if a new stadium is not completed by March 2008. Other issues include seeking more specific community benefits from the league and securing the use of the stadium for more than the 12 days the city is allowed under the agreement.

It is unclear whether baseball officials would be willing to discuss altering the stadium agreement. Executive Vice President John McHale Jr. said baseball had no comment.

Cropp acknowledged that Williams probably will not meet with Major League Baseball officials before the council takes its final vote.

But she said she has spoken with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, head of baseball's relocation subcommittee. Reinsdorf was receptive to some ideas, such as allowing the city to use the stadium more days, Cropp said.

"We could probably have immediate movement on that one," she said.

On more complicated issues, such as the agreement's compensatory damages clause, baseball officials might be open to discussing the city's concerns and agree to do so after the financing plan is in place, Cropp said. She added that she would like to be part of any renegotiation effort.

But council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), an ardent stadium supporter, has said reopening negotiations with Major League Baseball is a "non-starter" because baseball officials will refuse to budge from the signed agreement.

Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who voted against the stadium plan, said he was skeptical that Williams would press baseball officials hard to make significant changes.

"I have a lot of confidence we have plenty of leverage but don't have any confidence the mayor will exercise any of it," Fenty said.

Mayoral spokesman Chris Bender said administration officials will meet again with Cropp to find out exactly what she wants the mayor to discuss with baseball officials.

"The mayor feels like we made an agreement and we should honor it -- but he also understands what Cropp is trying to do and felt some of the sentiment in the room yesterday," Bender wrote in an e-mail. "So he's willing to go back and see where some headway can be made."

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