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Fenty Ends Council's Baseball Ticket Tempest

By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 18, 2009

The baseball ticket standoff between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council ended quietly this weekend when a young aide from the office of Deputy Mayor Neil O. Albert handed them over.

Starting with the Washington Nationals' game Wednesday against Pittsburgh, council members and their guests will have access to the 19 seats in Suite 61 until the end of the season, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) announced yesterday.

Fenty's decision to release the tickets settles, at least temporarily, a dispute that has come to symbolize the acrimony between the council and the mayor. The squabbling lasted more than a month. Some council members and critics also raised questions about whether Fenty (D) was being petty and stubborn by failing to turn over tickets for the suite designated for council use.

The standoff was even evident during the weekend's Dragon Boat Festival on the Potomac River. After a boat sponsored by the council defeated one sponsored by the mayor, council staffers started singing "Take [Us] Out to the Ball Game," and chanting "Give us our tickets!" one council member said.

"I think it is great we can put this behind us at this point," council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said yesterday. "It was bad for the mayor. It was bad for the council. It was bad for mayor-council relations."

The council and the mayor had the same tug of war over the baseball tickets last year and over tickets to a Verizon Center box the year before that. According to a verbal agreement made last year, council leaders expected that the Nationals would give this year's allotment of tickets to the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, which was then supposed to give them to Gray.

But all the tickets apparently went to Fenty, who kept them. As the baseball season progressed, Fenty repeatedly dismissed criticism by saying he had more important tasks than worrying about tickets.

"It's tickets," he said. "I'm working on the budget."

Last month, Gray pleaded with Nationals Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner to void the missing tickets and reissue them directly to the council. But the Nationals steered clear of the battle. On Thursday, Gray sent Fenty a letter in which he again demanded the tickets, suggesting the mayor had taken council property.

Gray said Albert unexpectedly called him late Saturday afternoon to inform him that a staffer would be delivering the tickets.

"The unnecessary delay in giving the council its tickets was an unfortunate distraction from the real and important work of the government," Gray said. "My colleagues join me in welcoming the opportunity to make tickets available to constituents who might not otherwise be able to attend a game at the ballpark."

Mafara Hobson, a Fenty spokeswoman, declined to comment.

The resolution came less than a week after the council tentatively approved the mayor's budget after making several changes. In an interview Thursday, Fenty denied accusations that he was using the tickets as leverage in budget negotiations.

But some council members question the timing of Fenty's decision.

"It was just handled very poorly from the beginning," said council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5). "To reduce negotiations down to baseball tickets is not good for anybody."

The mayor, council members and their staffs left yesterday for the annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas, an event at which the council and mayor work together to lure new business to the city.

The ticket delivery also could have been a peace offering from Albert, deputy mayor for economic development, whom Fenty named as the new city administrator with the pending departure of Dan Tangherlini. President Obama has nominated Tangherlini to be assistant U.S. treasury secretary.

Gray, who said the tickets would be "equitably distributed to all members as soon as possible," said he plans to come up with a permanent solution that will prevent a similar controversy next year.

Council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large) thinks he already has one. Brown introduced legislation last month to auction off the mayor's and the council's baseball tickets to raise as much as a half-million dollars for city services.

"I still think they are the people's tickets," Brown said. "And we are still in a deficit and can use the money. We will have a hearing on the bill, and we will hear what the people have to say."

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