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Mayor, Council Battle Over Wizards Tickets

By Nikita Stewart and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 6, 2007

Who's sitting in the catbird seat -- the city's 24-seat luxury suite at the Verizon Center with an unobstructed view of Gilbert Arenas and other Washington Wizards?

Nobody. For now.

Representatives of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and the D.C. Council are fighting over who should get to sit in the lavish box given to the city rent-free by Wizards' owner Abe Pollin. It's equipped with televisions, a food service area and a private bathroom.

It was Pollin's goodwill gesture to the city after the council approved giving $50 million to renovate the Verizon Center this year. The $50 million was the city's goodwill gesture to Pollin for building the arena credited with helping to revive downtown Washington.

But the goodwill between Fenty and the council has been waning in recent weeks. Rather than get in the middle, a politically savvy employee thought twice about handing over the tickets to Fenty folks who had planned to pick up the hot items last week. Something just didn't seem right. That exchange could have boxed the council out of the box. So the savvy employee contacted appropriate parties, and the tussle over the tickets was on.

A few council members didn't hesitate to demand their fair share.

At RFK Stadium, the 40 or so tickets for the Washington Nationals and D.C. United were split between the mayor, who received a third, and the 13 council members. The tickets are distributed by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

The Wizards tickets are being handled by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. That would be Deputy Mayor Neil O. Albert, who answers to Fenty.

As of Tuesday, there was no resolution to the issue.

Those council members aware of the tiff have been trying to keep it on the down low because it seems petty in comparison to bigger issues, such as the closing of 23 schools or the tax scandal.

But losing seats in the box could mark another lost battle for control. One council member said, "It's the principle."

First the schools, now the Wizards tickets. What's next?

All About Abe

Hundreds of fans and employees turned out at the Verizon Center for a classy reception Monday night to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the sports arena and thank Abe Pollin for building it.

Attendees were treated to an open bar, a buffet of crab cakes, strip steak and pasta, music from D.C.-area cover band Gonzo's Nose and an hour-long set from comedian Bill Cosby about why husbands have a love-hate relationship with their wives. (Sample line: "Abe didn't build this place for Washington. He built it so he would have somewhere to go where he could boss around a lot of people because [wife] Irene was the boss at home.")

Among the glitterati were Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Washington basketball legends Wes Unseld and 7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan, developer Jim Clark (whose company built the arena) and Wizards television announcer Steve Buckhantz. Pollin, who turned 84 that day, showed up despite poor health, and he was grandly feted, including with the showing of a 15-minute clip of a new documentary, "All About Abe: The Story of Abe Pollin."

The documentary was directed by Ivy Meeropol, granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who directed a 2004 look at her family's reaction to the Rosenbergs' trial and execution. Meeropol got involved with the Pollin documentary at the request of Robert Pollin, who financed the legacy-building tribute to his dad.

It's not clear who the market is for a documentary of Pollin. The flick was dropped in goodie bags for partygoers, along with a miniature replica of the Verizon Center and a crystal paperweight.

Educational Gathering

The grumbling continues this week in the John A. Wilson Building about the clandestine way in which Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee developed and announced their proposal to close 23 schools. It's not as if the two didn't drop a few hints.

On Nov. 17, D.C.-native Jim Shelton, an executive with the Gates Foundation, and his wife, Sonia, played host to a gathering of what the invitation referred to as "key education policymakers" at the home of Ilene Rosenthal, a top executive at Internet-based education company Achieve3000, and her husband, Steven.

According to one attendee, a major topic of the event, billed as a welcoming dinner for Rhee, was upcoming reforms.

"It felt like a rallying of the troops before the war," said one guest, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a private affair. "Fenty and Rhee just kept saying that some really unpopular decisions were going to be made."

So who scored the exclusive invites? In addition to Fenty and his wife, Michelle Cross Fenty, the group included Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso; State Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb; board member Lisa Raymond; new schools Ombudsman Tonya Kinlow and her husband, Eugene Dewitt Kinlow ; Jennie Niles, founder of E.L. Haynes charter school; and Tom Nida, chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

It was a bipartisan gathering. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), former presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) were there, as were council members Jack Evans, Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Carol Schwartz.

Speaking of parties, Fenty turns 37 today and is holding a bash from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. All are welcome, spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said.

Staff writer Theola Labb¿ contributed to this report.

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