There was no official announcement. All the news came from "sources close to the negotiations" or "sources familiar with the talks." But at some point last week, the District clearly got the high sign from Major League Baseball.
All of a sudden, "cautiously optimistic" morphed into "confident" that the Montreal Expos were coming to D.C.
District officials began releasing details of their super-secret negotiations, including the site of a proposed stadium and the precise sums they are proposing to collect from team owners, from in-stadium sales taxes and from the business community. They briefed the D.C. council on Sept. 21, and city business leaders the next day.
And who led those briefings? Who delivered the hopeful news that, after 33 years, baseball was to return to the nation's capital?
Who rallied business leaders and appealed for the council's support of what is certain to be a politically contentious stadium financing plan?
Who stood before the District's corporate establishment to announce that a dream Mayor Anthony A. Williams has pursued virtually since he took office was about to be fulfilled?
Not Williams. He was in Paris, attending an auto show.
So the task fell to Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development; Mark Tuohey, D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission's board chairman; and Stephen M. Green, a special assistant for planning and economic development who handled the nuts and bolts of the negotiations.
Price, Tuohey and Green are a capable and persuasive team, and civic leaders were grateful to get information about the mayor's stadium proposal. But several City Hall observers remarked privately about the mayor's absence.
Since the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, when voters east of the Anacostia River gave a big thumbs-down to three incumbent council members and, by extension, the Williams administration, Williams has testily complained that he gets no credit for the good things he's done in office. But the mayor often seems to miss opportunities to bask in the warm glow of his own success, political observers say, and last week was no exception.
Asked whether he thought about canceling the Paris trip, Williams said no.
"We've been briefing the council personally [about baseball] for any number of weeks and months," Williams said. The Paris auto show "was an opportunity to bring huge investment to the city. We think it was a good use of time."
And a Soccer Arena, Too
While baseball bubbled and brewed, Tuohey announced plans to build yet another stadium: a 25,000-seat soccer and concert arena to be constructed by owners of the D.C. United soccer team on the eastern shores of the Anacostia River near Poplar Point in Ward 8.
The news struck Ward 8 like a bolt from the blue, and some residents weren't quite sure what to make of it.
Everyone has an opinion about baseball. It is, after all, the national pastime. But soccer?
Carolyn Johns-Gray, a longtime civic activist and director of D.C. Monitors, called the stadium proposal an insult to the community. Gray complained that the District government has stopped offering recreation programs in Anacostia Park that children in the community might actually enjoy.
"It's just going to bring a lot of traffic and crowds temporarily into the area, and then they're gone," she said.
Another Ward 8 activist, Phil Pannell, said the community has discussed other uses for Poplar Point, including a garden in memory of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader who became a high-ranking local official.
"I'm not a sports enthusiast. Is soccer really that popular in D.C.?" Pannell asked. He said he likes the notion of introducing local children to the most popular game on the planet. But, he said, "I can't see people who live here already patronizing it."
Albert "Butch" Hopkins, president and chief executive of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp., said he thinks a soccer stadium would be a great thing for the ward, which has been clamoring for years for more economic development.
Hopkins predicted that soccer would appeal to kids who aren't big or tall enough to play football or basketball.
And he scoffed at the notion that the stadium would be useless to a community that doesn't typically follow the game.
"I'm not worried about who comes to play soccer, but who comes to spend their money," Hopkins said. "You put the stadium here, and you will have development spinoff."