Washington area baseball fans support locating a ballclub in the nation's capital over a rival site in Loudoun County, according to a poll commissioned by the District that fueled the increasingly partisan battle over where to relocate the Montreal Expos.
In announcing the survey's results yesterday, D.C. officials boasted that they had the better location, the better financing proposal and the population, average income and fan base to land the Expos. They also took a more confrontational approach to their competitor across the Potomac, making fun of Loudoun and threatening to ban a rival ballclub from Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
At one point at a news conference at the Wilson Building, D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) said Loudoun is so out there that "I don't know where it is." Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the finance committee, said that if Northern Virginia beats the District, the city could pass legislation banning the team from using RFK Stadium as a temporary home.
Evans said that he had not discussed the matter with the council or the mayor and added that it was merely an option he might push for.
"Given the dynamics of the process right now, that the District is hands-down the favorite to get this team, if Major League Baseball awards this team to Virginia against all logic, I think there's going to be considerable anger in the District of Columbia . . . and there's no telling what could happen," Evans said.
Gabe Paul Jr., the executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, was unavailable for comment, spokesman Brian Hannigan said. "We're not going to react to the Evans statement," Hannigan said.
Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York (I-At Large) said a site in Northern Virginia was superior, the "negative comments about Loudoun County" notwithstanding. "The players would have an excellent family atmosphere, excellent schools, a low crime rate . . ," York said. "We're also in an area where we've got high corporate growth and job creation occurring, and a wonderful international airport."
Evans, who referred to the site near Dulles International Airport as a "Disneyland village," said the joking was good-natured. "We're in many ways a political contest. We point out their negatives, and they point out ours," he said.
Major League Baseball officials have entered the final stages of negotiations and met this week with officials from the District and Northern Virginia, the two jurisdictions often cited as being at the top of the list of contenders. The competition has stoked the old debates about the Washington area's identity and the differences between its suburban, outer rim and its urban, inner core.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to make a decision before the season ends in October. Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which sponsored the survey, said he believed Selig would receive the recommendation of baseball's relocation committee next week.
The phone survey of 919 baseball fans 18 and older in the District, Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs found that 82 percent prefer a ballpark in Washington rather than Loudoun County. Fans said they would attend fewer games in Loudoun for a variety of reasons, including that they believe it is too far, with too much traffic and without public transportation, according to the poll, conducted from last Thursday to Wednesday.
The survey, which was conducted by the Glover Park Group and cost about $22,000, questioned baseball fans in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the District, Arlington and Fairfax counties, Alexandria and Falls Church. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
Northern Virginia has taken its own polls, and the results, not surprisingly, paint a different picture. Last May, Virginia baseball officials released the results of a poll that showed that a major league team in the commonwealth would enjoy solid support from Virginians, particularly those in the suburbs. Virginia baseball officials are trying to bring the financially troubled Expos to a planned development in Loudoun, although they backed away from plans for a 450-acre site and are now pushing a scaled-back version.
The District poll comes on the heels of another survey that showed opposition to using public funds to pay for a baseball stadium in Washington. The survey of 571 D.C. residents was conducted in June by the Service Employees International Union, which opposes funding a stadium entirely with public money.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is proposing to sell bonds to finance construction of a 41,000-seat stadium and repay the debt with sales taxes on tickets, parking and other stadium concessions, and with a new tax on business. The stadium is projected to cost $278 million to $383 million, depending on the location.
Yesterday, Evans disputed characterizing the financing as public money. He compared it to the funding of the new Washington Convention Center. The bulk of the funding for that project came from $507 million worth of bonds backed by hotel and restaurant taxes.
District officials said that no money would be taken from city services to pay for the stadium. The poll did not ask residents whether they would support a baseball team in Washington if it meant using taxpayer funds to build a stadium.
Jamie Kendrick, executive director of the SEIU Maryland-DC State Council, said the city's priorities are skewed. "The question," he said, "is why are we using all of this political capital and bonding capacity when our schools are crumbling and Greater Southeast hospital is on the brink of closure?"