Council Cries Foul Over Fenty's Distribution of Nationals Tickets

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

When it comes to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council, the seat of power can be more than just a turn of phrase.

Sometimes it comes down to where you sit. Or not.

Last year Fenty (D) and the council fought over tickets in a luxury suite at Verizon Center. This week the fight has moved to the new Nationals Park.

Council members are refusing to accept tickets to Washington Nationals games to protest Fenty's apparent exclusion of four of their members.

On Monday, Wednesday and yesterday, tickets were hand-delivered to all council members except Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).

And each day, the office of Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) rounded up the tickets and brought them back to Fenty's office. "There will be no leaving out of members," Gray said. "Everyone will be treated equally."

The standoff is the latest skirmish between Fenty and Gray, who have been at odds over a number of issues. Their fight, Gray has said, often boils down to respect for the council and the chairman.

When the Nationals played at RFK stadium, Gray received 28 tickets in the council's stadium box for each game. Gray got four tickets while the other 12 council members received two each.

Gray said there are 19 seats in a suite at the new stadium. With 13 council members, the division is not as easy, but could be done in a way that would not leave out the same four council members each time, he said. "How does that happen?" he said.

The tickets also were distributed hours before each game, leaving no time to give tickets to constituents, a common practice of many council members, he said.

On Tuesday, after not receiving enough tickets the day before, Gray sent a four-paragraph letter: "The Washington Nationals have told me the DCSEC [DC Sports and Entertainment Commission] received tickets to suites 63 and 61 and 25 tickets near-the-field. We look forward to receiving tickets for the entire season for one suite and 12 of the near-the-field tickets by the next home game, Wednesday, April 9th. I would appreciate the tickets being transmitted to me so they may be equally distributed to all Councilmembers."

On Wednesday, there still were not enough tickets.

At about 4:40 p.m. yesterday, the tickets arrived for the Nationals' 7:10 p.m. game against the Florida Marlins.

"The tickets are here," said Dawn Slonneger, Gray's chief of staff, grinning and holding an envelope that contained two tickets for Gray.

Minutes later, aides to other council members came by with envelopes. "United we stand, divided we fall," said Donna Rouse, an aide to Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

Carrie Brooks, the mayor's spokeswoman, did not return phone calls or respond to e-mails seeking comment. Abe Pollin solved last year's Verizon battle by giving the council a suite of its own.

Mendelson, chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, has a theory. He said the council members who did not receive tickets chair committees that are not receiving cooperation from Fenty's office. "Certain council committees are not getting witnesses from the executive," said Mendelson, a frequent Fenty critic.

Schwartz, chairman of the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations, chided Fenty in February for offering buyouts to employees without obtaining council approval. Schwartz said yesterday that she was simply "sad and mad" about being left out. Brown, who could not be reached for a comment, recently disagreed with Fenty on issues in his economic development committee.

Alexander, who does not head a committee because she is one of the most freshmen members, said she was "just confused" as to why she did not receive tickets?

"I haven't the slightest idea," she said. "I'm not the most avid baseball fan, but my constituents, nonetheless, would love to have tickets." Alexander and the three other excluded members received parking passes for the season, as did their nine colleagues.

The parking passes could be useful, Gray said. "We drive up to the garage, turn on the radio and listen to the game," he said.

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