The Washington Post

Nationals box, tickets again a bone of contention for council

It’s that time of the year again.

In what’s become a spring tradition, some D.C. Council members are suspicious of how council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) has been distributing the free tickets that the Washington Nationals hand out to local elected officials for each home game.

Seems this year, the problems stem from the Washington Nationals’ scaling back the number of suites that elected officials can use at Nationals Park.

After former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) got into a high-profile spat with then-council Chairman Vincent C. Gray over Nationals tickets three years ago, the Nationals resolved the squabbling by giving the mayor and council separate luxury boxes for the games.

But this year, according to council officials, the Nationals expect the mayor and council to share one box.

We hear Gray isn’t pleased that he now has to share a box with his old colleagues, but the arrangement conforms to the original terms of the city’s lease with the Nationals after construction of the stadium.

The mayor and council will have access to the same luxury suite, which can accommodate about three dozen people. The Nationals also gave the city about 25 individual season tickets scattered in other locations throughout the stadium. Each council member also gets an annual pass for free parking at Nationals Park.

Gray and Brown split the allotment in half, but fewer tickets has meant more jockeying among members for the best seats.

Brown hasn’t given council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) — who was the only member to vote against Brown’s education bill when it came up for a vote this month — any tickets to the mayor-council suite. Instead, Mendelson has received tickets for field seats, according to council officials.

“I got more important things to worry about,” Mendelson said after a reporter asked whether he felt slighted.

But other council member said they don’t understand why there isn’t room in the suite for all 12 council members.

“There is just a lot of speculation that the chairman keeps tickets for himself or plays favorites,” said one council member, who asked not to be identified so they could speak freely about the matter. “Tickets don’t seem to be handled the same way as they were” under Gray.

In an interview, Brown defended his distribution policy, saying the loss of one box forced him to have to make more decisions this year about who gets to sit where.

“We just split them up and gave them out,” Brown said. “The field is not bad, it’s right behind home plate. … Constituents love tickets on the field.”

Brown added that he’s spent “zero energy focusing on tickets” this year.

“Nothing has really changed,” Brown said. “Some members get field tickets and some will get tickets in the box and we will rotate them.”

Last year, some council members rebelled against Brown after following that he was not fairly distributing tickets to the Verizon Center, where members also have year-round, free access to a suite for Washington Wizards and Capitals games and concerts.

In 2009, after the nasty feud between Gray and Fenty over tickets to Nationals Park, Brown proposed auctioning off the tickets to help the city close a budget shortfall.

But that proposal died in committee without debate amid concerns that the city couldn’t legally sell something that they technically do not own.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.


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