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Williams Rushes to Rescue Plan For Stadium

Mayor Vows to Prevail In Council Vote Tuesday

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page C01

Mayor Anthony A. Williams fought yesterday to save his plan to bring baseball to a stadium along the Anacostia River, even as he canceled a scheduled meeting tomorrow with the D.C. Council that he is trying to persuade to approve his proposal.

"Yes, I do believe I will win," Williams (D) said in a telephone interview after spending most of the day at a summit on city schools.

Mayor Williams is pressing his case with members of the D.C. Council. (The Washington Post)

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The 13-member council is to vote Tuesday on the mayor's agreement with Major League Baseball to build a stadium, estimated to cost $440 million to $530 million, near the Washington Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast. Baseball officials have agreed to move the Montreal Expos to Washington this spring if the deal is approved.

But late last week, council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said she would instead pursue building a stadium near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium because the mayor's plan is too expensive.

Williams and Cropp each have four or five supporters, with the remaining members uncertain or opposed to both plans.

Shortly after Cropp's announcement, Williams canceled tomorrow's traditional breakfast meeting with the council, which the mayor usually attends the day before its legislative meeting. Some council members yesterday interpreted the cancellation as a reaction to the chairman's move.

Asked why he canceled the meeting, Williams said he would be busy rallying support through individual meetings with council members, business leaders and others. He said he intended to reach out to council members yesterday evening and today. While conducting a telephone interview, he shouted to council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who also was at the education summit, saying he wanted to meet with her. Schwartz supports Cropp's plan.

But Williams acknowledged that he is frustrated by the private meetings because, he said, council members make promises to support him that are broken in public. Williams had assumed for weeks that Cropp supported his baseball plan.

"I'm tired of getting a commitment on one level and having it changed," he said. "We should televise [the meetings] or open them to the public."

Cropp scoffed at Williams's explanation. She said she has always preferred the RFK site and became convinced that she had to break from the mayor when her council colleagues and members of the business community expressed concern about potential rising costs at the Anacostia waterfront site.

"He doesn't have the votes," Cropp said of Williams. "For those who want baseball here, we had to figure out how to keep baseball. I went to him last week and said, 'Mr. Mayor, let's do this together.' . . . I could have let it go until Tuesday and let it fall apart. I met with him three or four times to get his attention. I've got his attention now."

Cropp added that Williams should attend the council's breakfast because he has a responsibility as mayor to interact with the legislative branch.

"What's more important to him than the business of the city?" Cropp asked. "Besides, he needs this meeting more than I do."

Gregory M. McCarthy, the mayor's legislative chief, said the reason Williams canceled was simply because Cropp's new baseball proposal meant the mayor and his staff had many new questions to address and they would not be ready by 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.

"Getting 15 people in a room for a vent session is not a good use of anybody's time," McCarthy said.

In both stadium plans, the financing would come from a combination of a gross-receipts tax on big businesses, a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team. But Cropp said moving the stadium adjacent to RFK would save the city at least 20 percent.

Williams met for more than an hour Friday with council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). Graham and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) are possible swing voters.

Graham said yesterday that he will support the mayor if Williams can implement a spending cap of about $500 million on the project and ensure that additional money is given to libraries. If not, Graham said, "the other plan looks very attractive to me."

The Rev. H. Lionel Edmonds, pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Northwest, said the influential Washington Interfaith Network will stand behind the mayor's plan because it includes a community investment package of up to $450 million. Cropp said she would be open to considering such a package later.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company