Official Promises To Deliver Stadium
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
One might expect Mark H. Tuohey, the man at the center of the District's negotiations over a new baseball stadium, to be discouraged, resigned and bowed by the political battle that has put the future of the project in limbo. But these days, the head of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission sounds like the most confident person at the District building.
"It's going to get done," Tuohey said recently over lunch at a downtown steakhouse. "People said we were not going to get the team, but I said we would, and we got it. People said we were not going to get RFK [Stadium] renovated on time, but we did. And people said we wouldn't get the lease finished, but this will get done, too."
Statements such as these have led some at the District building to sarcastically refer to Tuohey, 59, as the most optimistic man in town. But come this week, Tuohey, who has been the city's lead negotiator with Major League Baseball, said he expects to have a new deal all but finished and D.C. Council support locked up for a vote on the critical stadium lease early next month.
There are recent signs that he might be right. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said last week that she could guarantee council support for the lease if Tuohey and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) could meet 10 provisions related to capping stadium costs and winning other advantages for the city from baseball.
To Tuohey, who works for the commission pro bono, the messy debate has been unfortunate but expected, typical vetting that comes when millions of public dollars are at stake.
"When you have public financing of sports facilities in any measure, there is going to be controversy," he said. "It's going to generate what I consider is healthy public debate and criticism and divergent views."
To others, including several D.C. Council members, Tuohey has been part of the problem. They describe him as a likable and committed chairman whose inexperience negotiating was exploited by baseball's Jerry Reinsdorf, the powerful Chicago White Sox owner.
Not only did the city's negotiating team agree to pay for the stadium and all cost overruns, but it even threw in the kitchen appliances, a concession that drew chuckles in baseball circles, according to MLB sources.
"Did they take a hard enough line? The answer is no," council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) said of Tuohey and the city's other negotiators. "When were we going to say to baseball, 'Okay, we're going to walk'? It's always, 'Here's the best deal we could get. We worked hard for it.' It's like they're always putting a happy face on it."
Tuohey bristles at such criticism, pointing to baseball's concession last month to a payment of $20 million that had not been included in the original stadium agreement in 2004.
"Is Jerry Reinsdorf a more able negotiator than I am? Yes, he's probably been better," Tuohey said. "But we got two things that are unprecedented -- the $20 million and a non-relocation agreement in which we have a lien on the team."
Tuohey, a partner at the law firm Vinson & Elkins, was tapped by Williams in late 2003 to take over a sports commission whose previous chairman and executive director resigned in the wake of allegations of misspending and other financial problems at the agency.