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D.C. Council stewing over Verizon Center tickets

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; B04

With Adrian M. Fenty no longer mayor, D.C. residents might have thought that council members' annual squabbling over tickets for the Verizon Center and Nationals Park would come to an end.

Think again.

Concerned that D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) was not fairly distributing the tickets the council receives for the Verizon Center, several council members brought up the subject at a council retreat last week.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), for example, said that he needed tickets for Thursday's Lady Gaga concert.

Since Brown became chairman, Graham and other members have said they have not been getting their share of free tickets to one of the two city boxes at the Verizon Center.

The D.C. mayor and council have access to about 36 tickets in two boxes supplied to the city compliments of the late Wizards owner's family, which until last year owned a majority stake in the Verizon Center.

Two years ago, after Fenty (D) and Vincent C. Gray (D), then council chairman and now mayor, got into a nasty feud over tickets in a luxury box for elected D.C. officials at Nationals Park, Brown proposed auctioning off the tickets to help the city close a budget shortfall.

But that proposal died in committee without debate. And after being elected chairman last year, Brown's now in control of handing out tickets to other members. That's proving to be a tricky responsibility.

"There was a concern about what the process was under the new chairman," Graham said. "It would be so much more uniform and fair on its face if you said, 'Every council member had two tickets for every event.' "

In 2007, Wizards owner Abe Pollin gave the city government access to one box as a goodwill gesture after the council approved $50 million to renovate the Verizon Center. But then Fenty and the council got into a tiff over who could use the suite.

To end the feud, the Pollin family agreed to give the council members access to another luxury suite, with the council chairman in charge of access.

The arrangement appeared to work for the remainder of Fenty's term.

Since Brown became chairman in January, however, council members have been complaining that they have only sporadically received tickets. And when they have received any, members say, often it was only one.

When the issue came up at the retreat, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) proposed that the city consider the council's and mayor's boxes as joint property so there is room for all 12 members to have two tickets to each game, according to several council members, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were supposed to be private. That would leave four tickets for the chairman and eight for the mayor.

Evans declined to comment, but Graham said his colleague's proposal would make it "much easier" for members and alleviate concerns about how the tickets are being handled.

Graham and council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said that they want to share tickets with constituents but that the current system makes that difficult.

"It's really frustrating if we don't get the tickets ahead of time," Wells said. "I try to promise them to all the schools and different fundraisers so, generally, when they ask for them, I have to say, 'I don't know if I will have any.' "

But Brown said through a spokeswoman that Evans's proposal won't work.

Brown says he will be distributing tickets to the Verizon Center to members "on a rotating basis." The only way he could give each member two tickets, according to spokeswoman Traci Hughes, would be to poach them from the box reserved for the mayor.

"There are not enough tickets to the Verizon Center for each council member to receive two," Hughes said. "There just simply are not enough."

Brown did fulfill Graham's request for two tickets to Thursday's Lady Gaga concert. But Graham, who said he "rarely" uses sports tickets, stressed that he plans to go to the concert alone.

"I am going to use only one of them, and I'm going to give the other one away," Graham said.

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