D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, an outspoken critic of the mayor's proposal to raise taxes on business to pay for a new ballpark, said yesterday he will introduce an alternative plan that would force the former Montreal Expos to use Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium as their permanent home.
Stadium supporters, including council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), quickly accused Fenty of grandstanding. Evans said the proposal, if approved, would void the contract Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and other city officials so painstakingly negotiated to bring baseball to Washington for the first time in 33 years.
"We do not play at RFK. It's not on the table. That's been negotiated away. It would break the contract. They would take the team and put it somewhere else," Evans said. He said the question for Fenty and other stadium opponents is, "Are you willing to kill baseball?"
Fenty (D-Ward 4) countered that the mayor has cut "a sweetheart deal" with baseball officials and shown too little backbone in the negotiations. The Expos "will agree" to play at RFK beyond the three years specified in the plan while another stadium is built, Fenty said. "Where else are they going to go? They've already left Montreal. And no one else has a stadium ready."
Council approval is critical to the mayor's baseball deal, which was completed Wednesday with the announcement that the Expos would move to Washington for the 2005 season. The mayor's office yesterday delivered to council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) his plan to issue as much as $500 million in revenue bonds and repay them with sales taxes from in-stadium services and merchandise, as well as a gross receipts tax on businesses that take in more than $3 million annually.
The tax -- or "ballpark fee," as the mayor calls it -- would cost nearly 2,000 of the city's largest businesses between $3,000 and $28,200 a year.
The mayor's office also publicly released the 32-page Baseball Stadium Agreement between Williams and baseball officials. It says Major League Baseball has the right to terminate the agreement and reopen talks with other cities interested in hosting the Expos if the council fails to take "action to enable the construction, funding and operation" of a new ballpark near the Anacostia waterfront on South Capitol Street by Dec. 31.
Fenty said he thinks a majority of the 13-member council would vote to reject the mayor's financing package and require the Expos to play at RFK, an option baseball officials rejected. Evans, the council's point man on baseball, said Fenty might be right. Though eight council members have said they generally support the mayor's stadium package, several, including Cropp, have also cautioned that they want more details before they commit their votes.
Stadium opponents are growing increasingly vocal. Fenty said an anti-stadium rally is being planned for city hall on Tuesday, when the full council formally receives the mayor's stadium legislation. Last night, members of Black Lawyers for Justice and the New Black Panther Party called a "news conference and emergency town meeting" near the proposed site of the ballpark to discuss ways to "stop this stadium." About 60 people protested at Second and Q streets SW for the first of what organizers promised will be many rallies against the stadium.
Activists and lawyers Malik Shabazz and Donald Temple led speakers who included housing advocates and residents whose homes are threatened by the proposed stadium. Speakers challenged Williams, Evans and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who represents the neighborhood on the council. They accused D.C. officials of selling out the community without involving residents in negotiations or discussions of potential benefits for those who live there.
Those gathered said that although the stadium proposal calls mainly for taxing stadium services and big business, they feared that businesses would simply pass those extra costs on to consumers.
"Baseball may be coming, but right now it's at RFK, and I say keep it at RFK," Shabazz said. "We are about development, but development with compassion."
Yesterday, Fenty and the Downtown Cluster of Congregations wrote letters asking the D.C. auditor to study the mayor's stadium proposal and provide an independent analysis of the costs and benefits to the city.
In a statement, Williams defended his financing plan, saying, "I am convinced that the deal that I signed is the best business deal for the District." He said it "will bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the city and will advance the rate of development along the Anacostia and bring economic opportunity to the people in Wards 7 and 8."
Williams said there's no need for an audit because the city's chief financial officer will be preparing a fiscal impact analysis and the council will have at least one public hearing, probably the week of Oct 25. The mayor said he is planning a series of public meetings and information sessions.
As for Fenty's stadium proposal, the mayor's spokeswoman, Sharon Gang, said: "RFK is just not the right place for a new stadium. You wouldn't get anywhere near the economic benefit that you would get at the Southeast waterfront site."
Still, there were signs that Fenty could pick up support. David A. Catania (I-At Large) is among the most vigorous opponents of the mayor's financing plan. He said that he is not opposed to baseball, just to the enormous expense of a new stadium, and that he might support a move to make the Expos play at RFK.
"We'll raise taxes to build a baseball stadium, but we won't raise money to build a school," Catania said. "If we wanted to, we could tax these businesses and spend the money on a new public hospital, to improve public schools and the sewer system. It is dishonest to suggest that these dollars couldn't be spent on anything else."
Meanwhile, council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) offered his view of the stadium plan for the first time. He said he is leaning toward supporting it, even though "in my ward, most folks don't want it."
Chavous called the prospect of baseball in Washington exciting. But said he wants to "look very closely at the financing package to make sure it won't interfere with our school, library and recreation construction plans, as well as our neighborhood development plans."
Another voice missing from the stadium debate has been that of former mayor Marion Barry, who last month won the Democratic nomination for the Ward 8 council seat. Yesterday, a spokeswoman, Linda Greene, said Barry is totally opposed to public funding for a stadium, including the gross receipts tax.
"He welcomes baseball to D.C.," Greene said. But Barry thinks "they should play at RFK."
Staff writers Serge F. Kovaleski and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.