Like two teams before a big game, supporters and detractors of a plan to bring baseball to the District are preparing their lineups for tomorrow's showdown before the D.C. Council.
More than 170 people have signed up to speak at the public hearing in the council's 160-seat chamber, one of the largest lists ever. Yesterday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams was witness No. 157, many spots below a founder of the Dance Institute of Washington, while a former council member was sandwiched between the president of the D.C. League of Women Voters and a high school baseball coach.
But the witness list had been scrambled from its true order by council staff members concerned about its sensitivity. The jockeying for position has been intense, with phones in the office of D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) ringing nonstop as people tried to secure an early speaking slot. Although staffers said speakers would be limited to three minutes apiece, they already were predicting extra innings: The hearing could last until nightfall, and arrangements were being made for overflow seating.
The Washington Interfaith Network planned to mobilize 100 members, all wearing T-shirts reading, "Neighborhoods first!" A protest organized by the group No D.C. Taxes for Baseball was set for 9:30 a.m., a half-hour before the hearing begins. Stadium opponents have passed out 2,000 fortune cookies with anti-stadium slogans. Economists, including those from the Cato Institute, have prepared statistic-laden reports about the dubious impact of a new stadium.
It's all over whether the city should spend millions of public dollars on a stadium in Southeast for the Expos, who Major League Baseball plans to relocate from Montreal to Washington in the spring.
"I can't imagine why, with all the things happening in the world, the Cato Institute would take the time to analyze the impact of baseball in Washington, D.C.," Williams (D) said yesterday during a luncheon speech at the University Club.
At the council hearing, Williams and city officials -- with the support of construction companies and baseball coaches and players from across the region -- will insist that a new stadium would bring pride to the region and economic revitalization to the neighborhoods. The stadium would be financed by a gross-receipts tax on large businesses, taxes on tickets and concessions and an annual rent payment by the team.
The witnesses scheduled to speak against the stadium proposal include neighborhood activists, economists and religious leaders who say public dollars would be better spent on schools, hospitals, libraries and recreation centers.
"They want a multimillion-dollar stadium for millionaires, and we don't have rec centers for kids," said Angela Jones, executive director of D.C. Action for Children.
Sczerina Perot, an activist for the homeless, wondered how city leaders could propose such a plan when they routinely reject her pleas for funds. "I heard that [rejection] about everything I ask for," she said.
During the daylong hearing, in which as many as 20 witnesses an hour could speak, the council could hear dramatically different views in the space of a few minutes.
"It will be really exciting for my players to see a baseball game for the first time in their lives and to have baseball players as athletic role models," said Frazier O'Leary, the baseball coach at Cardozo High, who plans to testify.
Jay Haddock, general manager of the Capital Hotel group, said he believes the stadium would improve Washington's image nationally.
"We're not second to Baltimore or other cities that have baseball teams," he said. "Let's do it and be proud of it."
Some speakers planned to say a stadium would not bring significant economic development to the neighborhoods. Analysts at the Cato Institute argued in a paper released yesterday that "specific sectors of the economy that are frequently predicted to be the big winners from stadium construction are likely to benefit very little or even be harmed by it."
But Patton Hash, of the 500-member Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals, said he will testify that "there are very clear benefits to the neighborhoods."
Public opinion is so split that the Southwest Advisory Neighborhood Commission will speak against the stadium, while the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly will support it under certain conditions.
And why did Fabian Barnes, founder of the Dance Institute of Washington, sign up to speak? Because the sports commission has helped young people at his organization through grants and free tickets to events, he said.
"If baseball comes," Barnes added, "the commission will be able to work with a lot more community groups."
Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.