[from December 2004 issue]


When we wrote about this pig-in-a-poke boondoggle last month that was before more stuff leaked out about where this deal could very well end up taking us taxpayers and city residents--down the drain for sure. The deal stinks!

And, notwithstanding the Mayor’s celebratory press conference a mere half-hour after the vote, it was nevertheless a real squeaker barely in his favor. Given that the Council must vote yet again in a few days--the Second Reading as it’s called--we are keeping our fingers crossed that sensible minds will finally prevail.

While it is true that the vote on the Second Reading of bills before the Council is usually pretty much pro-forma, this time there could be a major upset. Just think about it: There were only six--count ‘em, only six--committed votes for the bill and three of those were cast by members who were recently repudiated by the voters and not re-elected to new terms. Then there were the four very strong nay votes to which were added three abstentions. Since a majority of seven will be required, the question is who among the abstainers, Chairperson Cropp, at-large member Mendelson, or Ward 3 member Patterson, will emerge to cast a vote kill the deal?

We urge all three to do so.

The arguments on both sides of the issue were, for the most part, impressively put forth in the day-long Council debate, which actually did demonstrate how, our city council members really are, for the most part, a very impressive group of legislators. Even a couple of members with whom we disagree on this issue, our own Jack Evans and also Vincent Orange, nevertheless stated their case cogently and impressively. However, we feel that stronger arguments were marshaled by members Fenty, Catania, Graham and Schwartz in particular; they had clearly engaged in major homework and with Fenty and Catania aggressively leading the charge on behalf of what is apparently, according to some surveys, the majority of residents, we can only wonder why the abstainers felt compelled to wait for another day. We urge them to boldly move over into the nay column when the next vote comes up.

One piece of “evidence” that the proponents expound on to bolster their view that this is something we all want is to repeat how the Board of Trade has been a strong supporter. Thankfully, one or two of the council members made the point that such may be all well and good, but the fact is that the Board of Trades’s primary membership is drawn from the large business and institutional world and that substantial numbers of those are not even subject to DC business income taxes, and so kicking in large sums calculated on gross receipts for them is not in the cards. So, for those corporate types, supporting this deal is cheap indeed.

But, as we mentioned at the start of this commentary, since that initial debate more stuff has leaked out and each new revelation is terribly disturbing. Even just this day, as we were preparing for press, The Washington Post reported that we could very well end up paying the multi-million dollar fee of the new team’s “consultant” on top of everything else we would be required to pay. Who is that very likely consultant? None other than the son of Major League Baseball’s very own representative who negotiated the deal with Mayor Williams and his crew!

We’re sorry, but from where we sit, this stinks. It’s another example of blatant conflict of interest for which there can be no excuse or rationalizing. And, yet, this seems not to trouble our mayor or anyone else other than us poor saps who will get stuck with this deal from which, under the contract, there would be no way for the city to extract itself without penalties that would break the bank--although the baseball guys could up and leave without notice or monetary damages.

Where was the level playing field? Of course, there never was one and no intention that there be one. Baseball simply assumes that we are a bunch of rubes who will fall for anything; it sure looks that way, though below the surface citizens are seething and the politicians may well rue the day they got us into this mess.

Now, to the credit of the council members toward the end of the debate, they did insist that certain especially egregious aspects be renegotiated and expressed the desire that baseball would do so in good faith. Unfortunately, however, the response a few days later from Mr. Selig, who runs the show, that he has no interest in more talk, declaring a contract is a contract. How arrogant, especially when one considers that, as one of the council members so correctly pointed out, there is in fact no contract until the Council actually records a final vote to accept--the old offer and acceptance doctrine still applies.

Why we would want to get ensnared with this bunch of corporate sharks is beyond our comprehension. Let’s hope the abstainers on the First Reading do the right thing on behalf of all our citizens; they will be heroes in the eyes of the voters if they do so.