By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Some looked angry. Some looked nervous. And just before members of the D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 to reject a critical piece of the deal to build a ballpark for the Washington Nationals, council member Jack Evans, who has worked for years to bring baseball back to the nation's capital, pushed his chair away from the dais and briefly teared up.
"We are at the end of the line," Evans (D-Ward 2) told his colleagues. "When baseball leaves this time around, they will be gone for good."
But even before baseball boosters could properly mourn the vote, the stadium deal was being revived.
Outside council chambers in the marble hallway of the John A. Wilson Building, a phalanx of TV cameras waited for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to make his way down from his penthouse office to express his disappointment. Just out of view, City Administrator Robert C. Bobb was quietly urging council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) to make a move to reconsider the vote.
We could do it, Barry told him, if the mayor would accept a cap on spending for the stadium, including funds raised by the quasi-independent Anacostia Waterfront Corp. "Eight or nine of us on the council would not fight it," Barry told Bobb.
Bobb looked startled, then dashed off to catch the mayor before he made his public statement.
"I'm very, very disappointed," Williams told the cameras moments later. "I beg and implore the council to reconsider the deal, even tonight."
A short while later, Bobb was back in the council chambers. He huddled with an aide to council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D). He huddled with an aide to Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who had voted no. He huddled with Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who had also voted no. Then he suddenly sprang up and ran out of the room, his ostrich-leather cowboy boots clicking across the marble floor.
"Make sure they don't leave the chamber yet!" Bobb yelled to a reporter as he caught an elevator up to the mayor's office.
By 10 p.m., a huge and hopeful crowd had gathered at the dais. In the center, mayoral aide Stephen Green was trying to placate Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who wanted to make no changes in the deal for fear of alienating Major League Baseball officials.
Off to the left, Bobb hunched over a piece of paper with three of the no votes: Schwartz, Barry and Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large). As they talked, Barry adjusted a pair of too-big drugstore bifocals and scribbled revisions.
Cropp dashed frantically between her chair and her office, printing yet another version of the compromise legislation. And Evans sat in the center of it all, looking happy and relieved.
"What's happening? It's happening right in front of you," Evans said, with a laugh and a nod toward the bustling room. "Now whether or not baseball will agree to any of this, that we don't know."
Nearly three hours later, the lease was approved.
It was a remarkable ending to what had been a fairly grim day of arm-twisting, name-calling and frantic messaging about the murky fate of a stadium lease agreement with Major League Baseball. The low point came about 6 p.m. when Cropp lost control of debate in the council chamber and hustled her colleagues into a private room and locked the door.
Outside, a horde of outraged reporters gathered to accuse Cropp of violating the city's open-meetings law by moving the public debate behind closed doors. Inside, several council members vented their frustration with the mayor's lease agreement and refused to vote for it without a cap on spending that would apparently leave MLB liable for overruns.
Baseball officials were furious about that proposal, and the mayor's liaison to the council, Gregory McCarthy, spent much of his day shuttling between the conference room in the mayor's sixth-floor suite and Cropp's fifth-floor office, where her aides worked with two consultants to craft legislation that would satisfy baseball officials and meet Cropp's need to limit the city's share of the stadium costs.
At one point, it appeared as if a third nerve center might be forming when Barry, an opponent of the lease agreement, disappeared into a room with veteran lawyer and lobbyist Frederick D. Cooke Jr., who once represented a private investor interested in helping to finance the stadium. But observers lost interest when they realized that Cooke is also Barry's attorney in the misdemeanor tax case for which he faces sentencing today.
Through it all, Bobb kept trolling for votes. He grabbed Brown and buttonholed Schwartz and even chatted up Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), a stalwart opponent of the stadium deal. When reporters rushed over to eavesdrop, Bobb flashed his wide smile.
"This is about Oak Hill," he said, referring to the District's troubled facility for juvenile offenders. He pointed to Fenty. "But he did just pledge his vote for baseball."
Fenty laughed. So did Bobb. And they both retreated to their respective corners to await the final round.
Staff writer Eric M. Weiss contributed to this report.