Candidates revisit D.C. stadium deal
By Amy Doolittle
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published August 28, 2006
The five major Democratic candidates for D.C. mayor last night debated the city's baseball deal while taking jabs at each other during a televised forum at George Washington University.
The Washington Nationals' new baseball stadium and a proposal from candidate Michael A. Brown, 41, to halt its construction in Southeast and instead refurbish RFK Stadium, were the focus of much of the debate, which was part of the Citizens Forum Series sponsored by The Washington Times.
Held before a standing-room-only crowd at Jack Morton Auditorium on the GW campus in Northwest, the debate was moderated by Chris Core, a talk-show host on WMAL-AM, with Deborah Simmons, deputy commentary editor at The Times, and Lillie Hamer of Channel 50's "Inner Loop" as panelists.
"I've already rolled out a plan to refinance the baseball stadium deal: stop it where it is currently, and put it at RFK where it belongs," Mr. Brown said. "The question is about location. I don't think the current city leadership showed any leadership at all. ... It was a bad deal; it was irresponsible to begin with."
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, 58, who promoted much of the stadium deal, said moving the stadium back to the RFK site would exceed the $611 million spending cap set by the D.C. Council early this year.
"The reason we have baseball coming to the District of Columbia is because of the economic spinoffs it will provide," Mrs. Cropp said. "The idea of moving and stopping a baseball stadium from being built in Southeast right now and moving to RFK would be a very costly operation."
Other subjects touched on included the candidates' education policies, affordable housing, D.C. statehood and crime problems in the city.
Mr. Core asked the candidates if they thought Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who is not seeking re-election, had spent too much time away from the city during his two terms in office. Only council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., who represents Ward 5, said no.
But it was the new baseball stadium that held their attention through much of the hour.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty, 35, of Ward 4, who is leading in many polls heading into the Sept. 12 primary, was asked to defend his council vote against the stadium's construction.
"It's my responsibility to make financially prudent decisions," Mr. Fenty said. "As mayor, we'll have to live with what happened, and we'll have to make sure it's a great project, but I stand by my vote."
Marie C. Johns, 55, a former Verizon executive who has never held public office, said as mayor she would use her business experience to make sure the baseball stadium leaves money for the development of D.C. communities.
"A $600-million-plus deal has to be about more than just baseball," Mrs. Johns said. "What I would focus on is ensuring that the baseball stadium spurs development [on the Anacostia River] waterfront, that we have economically mixed communities that are built out, that we have the most aggressive opportunities for our local business community."
The five-section debate included a chance for the participants to ask each other one question. Mr. Core told each candidate to whom they would direct their question.
Mr. Orange, 49, asked Mr. Brown to explain the financial credibility in his proposal that the stadium be moved.
"Here we have a [chief financial officer in Natwar Gandhi who] has balanced the budget for 10 consecutive cycles. I personally have secured $125 million for school construction and modernization, $45 million for libraries, $10 million for a feasibility study for the new hospital and $200 million for laptops," Mr. Orange said. "That's on page 33 of baseball legislation. I want to know how you are going to safeguard all those benefits."
Mr. Brown said city officials have done their math wrong. He said moving the stadium to the RFK site makes fiscal sense.
"Your numbers were wrong," Mr. Brown said. "You all should've shown a little more courage and said to Major League Baseball, 'We want you here, but you're going to have to be at RFK.' "
Mrs. Cropp was directed to ask Mr. Fenty a question.
Rather than ask him to address accusations of neglect of an elderly ward -- the subject of a series of attack ads paid for by her campaign -- she asked him to talk about his presence on the board of a city charter school.
"You sat on the board of a charter school where $15 million of taxpayer money was wasted. You stated that you didn't attend meetings," Mrs. Cropp said. "How can you sit on the board that has a lot of responsibility for taxpayer dollars and not attend meetings?"
Mr. Fenty said that his position did not require attendance and, instead of giving a lengthy answer, turned the question around on Mrs. Cropp.
"Simple answer is: It was an advisory position," Mr. Fenty said. "And one of the things that people keep e-mailing me, as they are continually turned off by your attacks, is how you sat as the president of the Board of Education as the school system went downhill."
Mr. Core asked Mrs. Johns and Mr. Orange who they would support for mayor if they are not the nominee.
Both are trailing in recent polls and both skirted the question.
"The talk around town is that actually Marie Johns is the most qualified person to be mayor, but she can't win because it's a two-person race," she said, referring to Mr. Fenty and Mrs. Cropp. "The fact is, if you vote for me, I'll win."
Mr. Orange blamed reporters for his standing in the polls.
"I think the media should be ashamed of itself," he said. "I think media should've called all these candidates and looked at the record, not the money."
Mr. Core asked the candidates if they think press coverage has been fair.
"Just out of curiosity, we've got five candidates for mayor, one is going to be the next mayor of Washington," Mr. Core said. "How many, by a show of hands, think the media has been fair in this campaign?"
Only Mr. Fenty raised his hand.