D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is participating this weekend in a London conference co-sponsored by Deutsche Bank, which is negotiating with the city over a plan to invest $246 million in a new baseball stadium.
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) criticized the mayor yesterday for accepting an invitation and expense-paid trip to the conference on urban affairs sponsored by the German financial giant and the London School of Economics. In February, Williams (D) participated in a similar conference in New York.
Orange, a persistent critic of Deutsche Bank's pending deal with the city, called the mayor's decision to participate "highly bizarre and highly irregular."
The mayor's spokesman, Vince Morris, said yesterday that Williams was aware of Deutsche Bank's role in the conference and concerned about any questions that might be raised. Williams specifically asked that his travel and expenses be paid by the London School of Economics, Morris said.
"He thought someone might make a connection, so to be safe he asked that the university pay," Morris said.
Williams has faced other criticism from council members and community activists over his frequent travel. Since September, he has made trips to Greece, Germany, Austria and China, as well as California, Texas, New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina. Williams recently announced that he will not seek a third term.
Also attending the conference this weekend is Andrew Altman, the former city planning director and departing head of Anacostia Waterfront Corp.
Williams, the only elected leader from North America listed in the program, is scheduled to join a panel discussion today on European cities. The weekend conference -- "London: Europe's Global City?" -- is sponsored by the School of Economics and Deutsche Bank's Alfred Herrhausen Society, the social policy forum named after the bank's founder. The opening and closing remarks were to be delivered by Wolfgang Nowak, the forum's spokesman.
Ricky Burdett, director of the Urban Age series of conferences, said Williams was actually invited to speak to an unrelated European mayors' conference yesterday. That is why his expenses were paid by the London School of Economics, the Corporation of London and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
Under terms of the stadium financing agreement, which have not been finalized, Deutsche Bank would provide $246 million of the projected $535 million cost of the ballpark in exchange for the revenue streams from stadium taxes and the Washington Nationals' annual rent payment.
Orange, who is running for mayor, said the deal would not save taxpayers any money and would be an opportunity for Deutsche Bank to gain a windfall profit with little risk.
Last month, Orange wrote Williams and other city leaders asking them to investigate Deutsche Bank's business dealings over the years, which he said include lawsuits, government investigations and a 60-year-old charge that the bank lent money to a firm to build a slave labor rubber plant inside the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.
In a response sent to Orange and Natwar M. Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, the bank addressed each issue, including cooperation with the Nazis. "In the 1930s, the German Government essentially seized control of the Deutsche Bank corporation and removed its management, most of whom were Jewish," the bank's statement said.
"Deutsche Bank's complete participation in a successful program of compensation and settlements for survivors was a prerequisite to the Bank starting to conduct business in the United States in 1999," the statement added.
Orange said his attempts to investigate the Deutsche Bank deal have been rebuffed by Williams and the D.C. Council, which rejected his call for a formal inquiry.
Morris noted that Williams did not originally propose Deutsche Bank's involvement. He said it was the council and Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) who pushed for private financing. The bank's proposal was the only private financing deal forwarded to the council by Gandhi.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.