The senator with virtual life or death control over the District's proposed Washington civic center chastized the city government yesterday for what he said was its failure to give and comment on information relating to the controversial project.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), chairman of the five-member Senate District Appropriations Subcommittee, expressed sympathy with numerous community representatives who complained at final hearings on the center's fate yesterday that they could not obtain certain types of data on the project from city officials.
"This committee has done its best to deal fairly with the city and those interested in the convention center, and I expect the same kind of consideration from the city," Leahy said. "I'm quite chagrined when I hear from witness after witness that documents on the center were available only from this subcommittee and not from the city itself."
Leahy's subcommittee, with only the chairman in attendance, heard more than two hours of largely negative testimony on a revised proposal for a $99 million convention center that is to be constructed in the old downtown area near Mount Vernon Square NW.
A countepart committee in the House has already approved the revised convention center proposal, which now only needs the go-ahead form Leahy's subcommittee in order to begin construction.
The center proposal has long attracted both vehement supporters and detractors, among them the Democratic and Republican candidates in November's D.C. mayoral election.
"A main economic development goal must be revitalization of the old downtown," said Councilman Marion Barry, the Democratic mayoral contender, who argued the center would transform that section of the city from "a 9 to 5 downtown" to a "Living downtown" and create jobs for residents who sorely need them.
"The civic center by itself makes little sense," Barry said. "It only makes sense in the context of an overall downtown economic development plan consisting of major new retail shopping outlets, rental and condominium housing units, restaurants, new hotels as well as new office buildings."
But Arthur Fletcher, Barry's Republican opponent, said he did not think D.C. residents should be forced to pay for what he said is essentially another national monument like the Jefferson or Lincoln Memorial.
Urging that the convention center issue be put to a referendum. Fletcher said the city should have held hearings in every ward "to have the views of all the people affected."
Several opponents of the proposal, including those who hope to place an initiative on the ballot in April restricting the use of public funds in its construction, took exception with news editorials, particularly one in The Washington Post, criticizing Leahy for delaying the city government supported project.
"You've been portrayed recently as the bad guy holding off the posse at Gully Gulch," said Carol Gidley, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing Friendship Heights and American University Park. "I believe this to be an unfair as well as irresponsible statement."
When another opponent said he "resented" a Post editorial criticizing Leahy's action, the senator quipped:
"If the facts are on your side, you pound the facts. If the law is on your side, you pound the law," said Leahy. "If neither facts nor law are on your side, you pound the table."
Leahy said he was distressed that the city had failed to provide community groups with a list of proposed center-related private spin-off development that is to produce tax revenues to cover the center's mortgage and operating costs. Such development is a prerequisite to Leahy's approval of the project.
Democratic at-large City Council nominee Betty Ann Kane complained the list of spin-off development was not available to citizens prior to mid-August hearings the city held on the center - even though most of the commitment letters later released by the city were dated prior to those hearings.
Leahy said he would make a final decision on the center's future within the next few weeks after consulting the subcommittee.