The Council and Baseball
MEMBERS OF THE D.C. Council have come in for some barbed criticism from representatives of Major League Baseball as well as from some local baseball fans for the way they have acted on the stadium lease agreement. Critics have likened the interminable negotiations between the mayor and the council to a form of anarchy in which disorder was allowed to reign.
We don't see it quite that way. True, Mayor Anthony A. Williams turned out not to be the authoritative figure Major League Baseball thought it was dealing with when negotiations on the stadium project began. And yes, the council can prove to be an unwieldy body when trying to reach consensus. But the council's behavior, we believe, reflected the democratic process at work. Whether the finished product is workable -- whether last week's legislation will prove to be the final product -- is another question.
It falls to the city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, and to Major League Baseball to decide whether the now-passed stadium lease agreement, which caps the city's investment in the ballpark project at $611 million, is acceptable. Mr. Gandhi needs to be satisfied that the agreement will be favorably received by Wall Street, which must rate the construction bonds the city will issue. Major League Baseball wants assurances that the deal will get the stadium built on time and under conditions that will allow the Washington Nationals to be sold on good terms to new owners. The agreement leaves the question of paying for cost overruns pretty much up to the current or future owners. In a letter Friday, Major League Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said that the stadium spending cap adopted by the D.C. Council has "seriously disrupted" the previously negotiated ballpark agreement.
However, it's not too soon to assess how the city went about landing a team in the District or the steps it must take to keep a team here permanently. We raise this point because a year from now, some of the protagonists in bringing baseball to town will no longer occupy the offices they now hold. The two top posts in D.C. government -- mayor and council chairman -- will have new faces. Some council seats, including key chairmanships, will change hands. A new city administrator may be occupying the Wilson Building. Commitments on stadium spending and building costs made today still have to be honored in the years ahead, and in some cases, by public officials who had no hand in making them.
These facts argue forcefully for the mayor, council chairman and other city leaders to be far more forthcoming in their actions on the ballpark and baseball. Too much discussion has gone on behind closed doors and with limited consultation between city leaders and their constituents. That must end. City residents must buy in to the deal if baseball is to have a welcoming and comfortable home in the District. Bringing lawmakers and the people they represent fully on board, and keeping them there, are steps yet to be taken by the mayor or Major League Baseball. Complete the stadium deal. But, by all means, get started on the rest.