H ere we go again. While the rest of us gear up to celebrate love and dream of peace, the D.C. Council savors spending its holiday season as it did last year: searching for new ways to send Washington's baseball team packing.
"If it's over, then let it be over," chairman Linda Cropp said yesterday at an all-day hearing on the city's $535 million stadium deal with Major League Baseball. "It is time to cut our losses."
You'd think that after the Washington Nationals' banner inaugural year, even District politicians could see that the team was enough of a cash cow that it should be a powerful catalyst for economic growth and a fixture of civic life.
Think again: Never underestimate the ability of the D.C. government to see life as a battle between suburbanites and city dwellers. Council member Carol Schwartz (At Large) drew the line yesterday, saying, "The people who are asking us to 'Save baseball! Save baseball!' are suburbanites. So they can help pay."
Without major financial concessions from baseball, said council member Jim Graham (Ward 1), "the notion of building a stadium in Southeast is pretty much dead."
Let's remember that these council members who are suddenly so concerned about cost overruns are the very same elected officials who oversee a government that, as The Post's David Fallis and Dan Keating documented in devastating stories this week, throws your money around like a million drunken sailors and hasn't a clue how the loot is spent.
Before we fall for the council's latest holiday special, let's get a few basics straight: The deal with baseball is a signed agreement, approved by the council a year ago. The city is obligated to build a stadium along the Anacostia River. If the council now reneges on its word by rejecting the lease, baseball will go to court to enforce the deal.
Led once again by Cropp, the council is now gearing up to "save" $200 million by shifting the new ballpark site to the RFK Stadium grounds.
Cropp, as I said here exactly a year ago, is running for mayor. Back then, she called me in tears and said that I had done her wrong by ascribing her grandstanding on the baseball issue to her mayoral ambitions. "So you're not running for mayor?" I asked then.
"I don't know," she replied. "I may retire."
In September, Cropp announced her candidacy for mayor at a rally where her biggest applause line was this: "Many people told me that I shouldn't take on the baseball league. But I did." In her campaign speeches, she now tries to win credit both for helping to bring baseball to Washington and for making the deal more economical by insisting on some private financing. Which, all sides now agree, only makes the deal pricier, because the city can borrow money at lower interest rates than can Deutsche Bank.
There's nothing new about politicians trying to have it all ways. Some of the most strident voices yesterday were those of council members who happily snarfed up freebies from the Nats all summer. For example, council member Kwame Brown (At Large), a regular in spectacular field-level box seats during the season, now presents himself as the agent of salvation from a raw deal the District cannot afford.
Yes, the deal with baseball is bad. By definition, deals with arrogant monopolies are lopsided. But the District did right by its citizens: By putting the stadium in a scruffy industrial section at the edge of downtown, the government maximized the chances that baseball would spark retail, residential and office development, building up the tax base to better afford needed services.
Sure enough, investors are pouring hundreds of millions into that area in anticipation of exactly that scenario.
Now the council proposes to move the show over to a new RFK, ignoring the fact that neighbors there would go nuts over such a plan.
Yes, a new RFK might be much cheaper because the land, in theory, could come free. But those savings are illusory. A new RFK would engender zero development, making any public investment there unjustifiable. A $500 million public investment in Southeast will repay today's taxpayers many times over. A $300 million ballpark at RFK would be a pure gift to the barons of baseball, using money stolen from taxpayers without the slightest hope of a return.