Barry Acted to Block Stadium
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
D.C. Council member Marion Barry accused Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday of "fumbling and bumbling" the debate over a new baseball stadium and claimed credit for rallying a majority of the council to block the mayor's ballpark plans.
Barry (D-Ward 8) said he had been negotiating his own deal late last week that would have ensured the council's support of the lease, but that plan fell through after the mayor's office botched it. Barry said, he then recruited a council majority to vote against the ballpark lease agreement. Late Monday, Williams (D) asked the council to postpone the vote.
"I'm standing strong to say whether the vote is tomorrow or whether it is later, there are at least seven of us on the Council who remain strong and will still block this horrible . . . agreement," Barry said in a written statement.
To some on the council, Barry seemed to be exhibiting more leadership than Williams or council Chairman Linda W. Cropp. Still, his involvement in the negotiations appears to have further complicated an already politically perilous campaign to approve the stadium lease agreement.
Since the council approved the mayor's ballpark plans one year ago, three of Williams's supporters have been replaced by more skeptical council members. And Cropp (D) and other members are seeking higher office or reelection and are reluctant to vote for a deal that many city residents view as overly generous to Major League Baseball.
At a midday news conference yesterday, the mayor acknowledged that he did not have the votes to win council passage. As his lobbying offensive continued, Williams pledged to improve the lease agreement sufficiently over the next two weeks to win a council vote tentatively scheduled for the first week in January.
But city leaders appeared divided at a subsequent closed-door meeting in Williams's office suite yesterday afternoon.
Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said he was considering hiring a risk-management company to oversee construction and assume responsibility for all cost overruns, according to a city government source with knowledge of the meeting. But Cropp continued to push to change the stadium site from the planned location along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington to an alternative site near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the source said.
"I will do everything in my power to ensure the best deal for the residents of the District," Williams said at his news conference. "I hope the council members will rise above politics to keep the Washington Nationals in D.C."
The council has grown increasingly concerned about the project's rising price. The council approved $589 million in public funds, but recent estimates by city financial officials put the cost at $667 million.
Although the council's next scheduled meeting is not until Jan. 4, baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said in a letter to Cropp on Monday that baseball would prepare to take the stadium deal to binding arbitration if the lease was not finalized by Dec. 31.
Tuohey had breakfast yesterday with Richard Weiss, an attorney for baseball, and said he believes baseball will allow the city two or three weeks to find a way to secure council support.