Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon said yesterday she would do "anything in her capacity" when asked how much of a leadership role she plans to play to win a major league baseball team for Washington.
Dixon, who frequently uses baseball terms in her conversations, was a sandlot pitcher as a girl and a Senators fan, so it is not surprising she thinks it's "terrific" that D.C. has made the list of six finalists from which two expansion franchises will be chosen for the 1993 National League season.
Asked if she plans to personally lobby for a franchise, Dixon, who for the past two days has been locked in meetings with budget experts advising her on ways to remedy the mammoth deficit she will inherit Jan. 2, said:
"I'm going to have somebody touch the bases. I don't have the staffing in place yet to make all that happen. But I'll do what's necessary. If there is something I have to prioritize immediately, I will find somebody in the private sector. I think it is in our interest to promote this, clearly."
The city has been without a team since the Senators moved to Arlington, Tex., after the 1971 season.
John Akridge, the developer who heads the group of investors seeking a franchise for Washington, said it will be important for Dixon to take the lead making a "PR and marketing effort to sell the city."
The list of finalists also includes Buffalo, Denver, Miami, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Dixon said she thinks the District will fare well in the final analysis, even when its reputation for the drug trade and homicide is measured against the relative benignity of Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando and the Rocky Mountain allure of Denver.
"You enjoy instant stature having as a home for your team the nation's capital," she said. "I think Washington has enormous assets. It's a great plus."
In selecting two franchises, the NL Expansion Committee will weigh heavily the amount of local government and community support.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Council voted approval of a 45-year lease of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium for the Akridge group. As chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission, Council member Frank Smith Jr. (Ward 1) has been the city government's point person for bringing baseball to the city.
But active involvement and promotion by a new mayor who enjoys a solid mandate from the citizenry and considerable popularity on Capitol Hill also represents a strong symbol of local support, observers say.
"It will be a factor, no question about it," the Pittsburgh Pirates' Douglas Danforth, chairman of the expansion committee, said of the importance of community involvement.
"We'll be looking at hard support -- not words, but hard support. What they will do vis-a-vis a stadium. You all have several authorities down there" that influence developments.
In addition to Council input, the D.C. Armory Board has oversight of RFK Stadium. The city has committed itself to financing $30 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund renovation costs to the stadium if the NL awards the Akridge group a franchise. The group would contribute up to $10 million to pay for the construction of luxury boxes.
Dixon ran afoul of some District sports fans a couple of months ago during the mayoral campaign when she said she would oppose any plan to build a replacement stadium for the Washington Redskins that requires a major financial commitment from the city.
The team's owner, Jack Kent Cooke, has said he would build a new stadium next to RFK if the city would issue taxable revenue bonds to finance about $60 million worth of road improvements, new sewer and water lines and parking. He also has indicated he has options to build in Northern Virginia, but would prefer to keep the team in the city.
Outgoing mayor Marion Barry, who is the current chairman of the armory board and who negotiated the terms with Cooke, criticized Dixon at the time, saying she "should seek correct information before speaking." The new stadium would cost the city nothing, he said, because the bonds would be retired with revenue the stadium generated.
Dixon defended herself, claiming she was responding to a hypothetical question posed during a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors that suggested the new stadium could not be built without city funds.
Staff writer Steve Berkowitz contributed to this report.