Late-Night Shifts on Baseball Vote

By Marc Fisher
Thursday, February 9, 2006

In Drama City, the show never ends. Every day brings a new plot twist, a jaw-dropping outrage, an only-in-Washington keeper.

Marion Barry sauntered into Courtroom 12 at the federal courthouse yesterday morning for his sentencing hearing not nine hours after he'd left the D.C. Council chambers, where -- Nationals cap tugged over his brow, dime-store eyeglasses perched on his nose -- he'd pulled one of the great switcheroos of his storied life in politics.

For a few hours Tuesday evening, baseball in Washington was dead. Deal off. Voted down. And then, after midnight -- Barry time -- the deal with Major League Baseball was resurrected.

What happened?

The former Mayor for Life explained it all in two words: "Things shift."

In many parts of the world, it's hard to buy anything without first haggling with the merchants. The price you settle on in the bazaar may be no better than the one you started with, but it's the ritual that counts. The anthropologists tell us the purpose of the haggling is like that of courtship before marriage: It's a way to get your issues out of your system, let everyone vent. It supposedly strengthens the final result.

That's the charitable take on dealing with the D.C. Council. I don't know about you, but when I leave the bazaar after a bout of haggling, the first thing I do is check my wallet. Then I'm overcome with a deep desire to wash my hands.

Which brings us back to the council. For those who weren't glued to the D.C. cable access channel all night, here's what the commotion in the motion looked like: After the council rejected the stadium lease that has paralyzed city politics for more than a year, the phones started ringing with top-shelf real estate developers on the line, the mayor (remember him, the bow-tie guy?) resorted to begging, the big boys from baseball started making threats about leaving town (again), and, lo and behold, the council reversed itself.

Who switched? Carol Schwartz and the three council members who were elected in 2004 by running against the stadium deal: Barry, Kwame Brown and Vincent Gray. Never mind that the stadium deal they campaigned against was considerably cheaper than the one they've now approved.

Enjoy your reelection campaigns, gents! (All Brown could say to explain his reversal was: "People say, 'You campaigned against this, you campaigned, you campaigned.' Well, at some point, you have to be for something.")

Barry suddenly noticed that "we now have major developers going to develop that area, and we now are going to reap thousands of jobs around that stadium. That's what made me change my mind."

In the cacophony of the marathon council session, with lobbyists and lawyers virtually falling over each other in the Wilson Building, I guess we somehow missed the moment when John Kerry must have arrived to offer council members the sparkling sound bite that served him so well: "I actually did vote against the stadium before I voted for it."


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