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D.C. Baseball

Opposition Group Makes Final Push

Foes of Stadium Plan Hope To Sway Council Members

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page C05

No D.C. Taxes for Baseball is amassing impressive numbers while fighting a new publicly funded stadium in Southeast: more than a dozen news conferences and community appearances, 100 seat cushions, 2,000 fortune cookies, 40,000 fliers, 45,000 telephone calls.

But with just two days left before the D.C. Council takes a final vote on the stadium financing legislation, the coalition is looking at a smaller but more significant number: 3.

Ed Lazere, co-leader of No D.C. Taxes for Baseball, speaks at a rally in front of the Wilson Building. With him are D.C. Council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), in hat, and David A. Catania (I-At Large) and co-leader John Capozzi. (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

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That's the number of council members the group needs to convince to block the stadium deal between Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Major League Baseball.

The council voted 6 to 4, with three abstentions, to give the bill preliminary approval last month. Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who abstained, are considered the swing votes.

"I don't know if we will stop it or not, but we got out our message that this is a huge expense of tax dollars," said Ed Lazere, co-leader of No D.C. Taxes for Baseball. "We have reminded people how financially risky this deal is for the District. We helped neutralize the argument that the stadium is about economic development."

The group is making a final blitz this weekend. Along with distributing the fliers and mounting a telephone campaign with recorded anti-stadium messages, No D.C. Taxes for Baseball has produced a radio advertisement that is playing on local stations.

Lazere's group is made up of activists who usually spend their time fighting for different causes: schools, health care, housing, social services and the environment. They are united behind the idea that a stadium is a terrible public investment.

Under the mayor's plan, the stadium will be funded primarily by a gross receipts tax on the city's large businesses. But the coalition believes that any tax dollars should go to more pressing needs.

"We have the city council realizing they need to address these needs ahead of time and not at the end hand us a carrot and make us go away," said John Capozzi, another co-leader. "They realize we're a force to be reckoned with."

The coalition did not back an earlier proposal from the mayor and some council members to invest $45 million in libraries and $30 million in other needs such as laptop computers for students.

To the coalition, $75 million for community benefits was hardly enough to justify spending up to $600 million on a baseball stadium. The money for libraries and other needs was stripped at the first council vote in an amendment offered by Cropp, who was responding to concerns from businesses that taxes would be too high.

But Lazere said it was important that his group hold its ground. "This was an important message that public resources are sacred and should be spent in a way that people want to improve the quality of their lives," he said.

Along the way, Lazere and his cohorts angered some public officials with their relentless protests on the steps of city hall and at community forums.

When he's not fighting the stadium, Lazere is executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank that analyzes the city's budget and tax issues to influence policy with a focus on low-income residents.

Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the council's most ardent stadium booster, said Lazere "crossed the boundary" in the baseball debate.

"His work is becoming suspect," Evans said. "He's bright, and I hate to say this about him, but he's tailoring his studies to suit his own viewpoint."

Lazere took umbrage at that remark. He noted that a poll that No D.C. Taxes for Baseball commissioned found that about two-thirds of city residents opposed using public money for a stadium. Baseball proponents released another poll the same week with exactly the opposite conclusions. A short time later, a Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of residents did not support a stadium built with public money.

"My organization is doing things in this campaign we've never done before in trying to generate public sentiment," Lazere acknowledged. "But we did it because we're up against powerful forces in the city and Major League Baseball. But they've never been able to tell me why I'm wrong. I tried to be intellectually honest and said what the research showed."

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