D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has persuaded seven of the council's 13 members to line up in support of his baseball financing plan by slipping more than $70 million in enticements into the stadium legislation, including $40 million for commercial development in Southeast Washington, $2 million for a high school in Ward 5 and $10 million for unspecified projects in Wards 6 and 7.
The expenditures showed up in a 41-page draft that Williams's allies on the council planned to offer yesterday in place of the mayor's original bill. Several items were added at the request of council members who were early supporters of the ballpark proposal. Others were added just this week to secure the votes of members who had been considering voting no.
Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), for instance, agreed Monday to vote for Williams's stadium package after the mayor promised to sign separate legislation dedicating $45 million to rebuilding the city's underfunded public library system.
Graham would have provided the seventh crucial vote for the baseball package yesterday. But as it turned out, Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) pulled the stadium legislation from the council's agenda, saying she wants two weeks to study a last-minute proposal to build a ballpark with private funds.
The substitute bill was never offered, but some council members obtained copies, as did The Washington Post. Several council members accused Williams (D) of buying votes.
"Usually payoffs are more subtle than this. This one is very obvious," said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) agreed. "Everybody understands that this occurs. What makes it incredible is that they would put it in writing," he said. "Everyone realizes votes are bought off, but this takes it to a new level."
The mayor's spokesman, Chris Bender, defended the mayor's legislative strategy. "We've said all along this thing is not just about baseball, it's about community development and community investment," Bender said. "These priorities were important to individual council members to develop their wards. . . . It's all part of building a coalition of people that can vote with you."
Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) said it is not unusual for council members to negotiate projects before they throw their support behind an administration proposal. "Horse-trading and politics are never far apart," he said.
Cropp's maneuver means the mayor must try to hold his coalition together until baseball comes before the council again Nov. 23.
Under the mayor's proposal, revenue collected for the ballpark but not needed to pay off the stadium debt would be used to set up a $45 million community benefits fund. An additional $30 million would be transferred to the fund from existing city revenue. Eventually, the fund would grow to include $450 million in taxes generated from new development around the stadium site.
Williams finalized plans for distributing that money Monday after summoning seven council members to a meeting in his office. Two of his leading supporters, Brazil and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), had drafted legislation outlining what council members would receive in return for their support. Evans and Brazil updated the list after the meeting, Brazil said.
Council members who were promised community fund money said yesterday they were only looking out for their constituents.
Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) said she met twice with the mayor to talk about funding her projects, including as much as $40 million for commercial development along Good Hope Road, South Capitol Street and Martin Luther King Jr. and Minnesota avenues and $5 million for a "learning and sports center" that would be adjacent to the Fort Greble Recreation Center.
"That's why I was being supportive," Allen said. "I was able to negotiate something good for my ward."
Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), a staunch supporter of the stadium proposal, said he secured a commitment of $2 million for laptops for students at McKinley Technical High School and $10 million for a feasibility study to look at building a hospital on the D.C. General Hospital site.