There are many reasons for D.C. officials to be wary of a Donald Trump administration. Health insurance for the poor and gun control restrictions could be rolled back. Abortion rules could be tightened.
In a city where 93 percent of voters favored Hillary Clinton, those are sobering prospects.
But there’s also reason to think Trump may help greenlight one of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s long-held interests: returning the Washington Redskins to D.C., in a new stadium that would replace RFK.
D.C. officials are studying how to re-use the 190-acre RFK site along the Anacostia River and one of the options on the table is a new 65,000-seat stadium that would allow the team to return to the District by the time its lease expires at FedEx Field in Landover, in 2027.
The District leases the RFK land from the National Park Service and to advance stadium plans Bowser inquired last year with Sally Jewell, Interior secretary under Barack Obama, about extending the lease. Jewell’s declined, saying she was unlikely to rework the agreement to accommodate an organization with a name she felt was a “relic of the past” that ought to be changed.
Since then, the political ground has shifted considerably around the team’s name as it relates to the stadium discussions. In May, a Post poll found that nine in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by the name.
Then Trump won the presidential election, in part by railing against Democratic officials he deemed preoccupied with political correctness. A pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, even ran a television ad against Hillary Clinton, saying she wanted to “mess up your football too” by changing the team’s name.
Trump has not named whom he will nominate as Interior Secretary (a post that oversees the Park Service) but reports from Politico and Buzzfeed this week suggested that former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is being considered.
There may be no better advocate for the Redskins name in that position than Palin, a frequent critic of the politically correct crowd who has previously come to the team’s defense.
“The government’s intent to force any owner of anything, in this case an NFL entity, to change a name is the antithesis of the American way of working through differences,” Palin wrote in a lengthy 2014 Facebook post.
She continued, coming to the defense of Chicago Bears legend and sportscaster Mike Ditka for backing the name and working in a dig at the D.C. political establishmnent to boot.
“[Ditka] thinks the name should always be Washington Redskins, as a source of pride? Take the word ‘Washington’ out and I’ll agree the team name is a great source of pride,” she wrote.
Asked at a Wednesday press conference whether Trump and the federal government potentially dropping opposition to the Redskins name could improve the odds for a stadium in D.C., Bowser said regardless of the election result she was expecting she would have to approach the post-Obama administration on the issue.
“We always knew that on January 21st that conversation would restart, regardless of what happened” on Election Day, she said.
Bowser’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Brian Kenner, said he didn’t know yet “what kind of an effect the Trump administration is going to have” on prospects for the team.
“It’s too early to tell right now. The mayor has been pretty consistent that RFK location would be the best location for the football team,” he said. “It’s close to public transportation, it’s close to highways and other things to get people in and out. It’s already been used as a football facility in the past. So I think it just makes sense to be honest with, because it’s in the middle of the region.”
There is an important caveat to those hopeful that Trump will return the burgundy and gold to the District. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (a Republican who cast a write-in ballot naming his father for president) has also said he wants to keep the team and has nearly 300 acres of national parkland in Oxon Hill, north of National Harbor, that could fit a new stadium.
A Redskins spokesman declined to comment.
Aaron C. Davis contributed.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz