Williams Political Ally Is Stadium Mediator

Dennis Archer, shown in 2003,
Dennis Archer, shown in 2003, "is well respected. He's a former mayor and jurist. That's the issue," said a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. (By George Nikitin -- Associated Press)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer, a longtime political ally of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams's, was selected yesterday to mediate a dispute between the District government and Major League Baseball over the stalled agreement to build a new stadium.

Archer, 64, was in town yesterday for an initial meeting between Williams and representatives from the Washington Nationals and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. Officials from the American Arbitration Association, which is handling the mediation process, also were involved.

Vince Morris, a spokesman for Williams (D), described the gathering as an introductory meeting in which details about the controversial stadium lease agreement were not discussed at length.

The lease negotiations are at a deadlock as Williams seeks to make changes to persuade the D.C. Council to approve the lease with baseball. Council members have expressed concerns over the rising costs of the stadium project along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

Baseball officials filed a claim with the arbitration association this month, and mediation is the first step. If the two parties do not agree to a solution after 15 days, the matter could be decided by binding arbitration.

Archer, who served eight years as an associate justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, has a long, distinguished résumé. He is chairman of Dickinson Wright, a Detroit-based law firm.

Archer and Williams used to talk by telephone every month, and Williams has said he based his initial blueprint for governing the District on Archer's work in Detroit. Archer, who was Detroit's mayor from 1994 through 2001, is a former president of the National League of Cities, a role Williams filled last year.

Morris played down suggestions that the close relationship between the two would automatically work to the District's advantage.

"This guy is well respected. He's a former mayor and jurist. That's the issue," Morris said. The arbitration association, he added, has its "own sense of who are appropriate people to use. They picked someone who is high-profile and well respected and understands law."

Williams and his aides are continuing to talk with council members this week in hopes of gaining more support for the lease and avoiding arbitration. Williams's aides said they will submit a revised lease to the council by Jan. 27, in time for Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) to schedule a vote for Feb. 7.

In a written statement, Williams said: "It's good news that Dennis Archer has agreed to help the District with this process. We are fortunate to have someone of his stature involved. My hope is that our ongoing talks with D.C. Council members will continue to bear fruit."

Last week, Cropp sent a letter to Williams guaranteeing that the 13-member council will approve the lease provided that Williams can meet 10 provisions related to capping city spending on the stadium and winning other concessions from baseball.

The stadium project has been estimated by city financial officials recently at $667 million, up from the $535 million budget approved last year.

Williams's aides said they are working with Clark Construction, which has been hired to build the stadium, to develop a guaranteed maximum price on the ballpark. They are negotiating with developers to cover potential cost overruns related to acquiring 14 acres. And they are seeking a commitment from the federal government to pay for a $20 million overhaul of the Navy Yard Metro station.

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