Monday, November 08, 2004


Mayor Williams Unplugged

Mayor Williams agreed to do a Q&A on The Washington Post today. Here is a rundown of what was said and my reaction (in a vibrant, yet tasteful red)

Bristow, Va.: Mayor Williams: I wish you the best in your endeavor to bring the Washington Nationals to Washington, D.C. I really believe that the agreed on site on the Anacostia near the Navy yard is the only viable site that MLB will agree to unless another site in DC near Downtown and further from Baltimore can be found. RFK Stadium and Vicinity for a permanent site is a complete non-starter or no-go for a team in Washington.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: Thanks everyone for the opportunity to visit with you. In fact, RFK is a non-starter. It's in a residential neighborhood, has limited or zero economic development potential, and in fact is not much cheaper than the Anacostia site.

(Way to chose a biting comment there, Washington Post. Go for the jugular! Williams misrepresents a bit, but just a bit. The RFK site is near residential. It's not like houses will be razed to build the stadium. It is unlikely to develop economically, but according to almost all studies so is any area - thanks to a stadium. It's not much cheaper - probably less than the 20% figure, but when you're up at totals over 500 million any percentage cheaper is a big deal.)

Washington, D.C.: According to the Washington Post, "Some prospective ownership groups of the team said they thought that Cropp's plan would not automatically reduce the value of the franchise or tamp down bids". This suggests that some prospective ownership groups believe that a new stadium site near RFK may be revenue neutral from a business standpoint (compared to the site near South Capitol Street). If their analysis supports this conclusion, then why not go with the least cost solution and give beleagured DC taxpayers a break?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: In fact, baseball values the RFK site less than than the South Capitol site. As for beleagured taxpayers, we ought to be seeking maximum benefit for our investment. The South Capitol St site offers this; RFK doesn't. And finally, all of this is moot because baseball will not come to the District to play at RFK. I just heard this again today -- for the nth time.

(Decent point in this actual question. Baseball values the RFK site less, but actual businessmen who would buy the team don't really care. A stadium supported by the public will be a windfall for any owner, regardless of the area around it. It's only an issue to MLB who want it as far away from Angelos as possible. They will also keep saying they won't play at an RFK site...until they have no choice. Just look at past labor negotiations. It always is "we won't go any further than this", then they always do. The Mayor's point about investment is a true, but it's like saying "If I'm going to throw my money away on a lottery ticket, might as well make it for 100 million". The fact is it's a bad investment, and the money shouldn't be going there at all.)
Washington, D.C.: Given that Councilwoman Cropp's plan will lead to no new development around the proposed stadium, will her plan in fact save the city any money at all at the net level? It just appears penny wise and pound foolish to me.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: It doesn't produce what the Anacostia Site produces and it doesn't cost much less. First of all, we don't own the site. The National Park Service does. And they don't turn over property overnight. (I know.) Second, there are federal environmental rules that are triggered, and the Wilson Bridge was delayed two years. That costs money. Finally, we won't get the same lease payment from the RFK site. So you're really not saving a significant amount of money, with no benefit.

(Wow. Another tough one for the mayor. These may all be valid points - I'm not familiar enough with the land laws of the district to say otherwise. But he offered no real hard numbers or evidence to support his stance that it wouldn't save money, just a lot of conjecture. And that last statement, makes him look foolish. Saving money is the benefit.)

Washington, D.C.: How confident are you that you can get the 7 votes needed?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: As confident as I can be with a legislative process. Look, this is about keeping our commitment. Baseball did not want to come to DC, we lured them here and agreed to the Anacostia Site. We've already gone over RFK with them and they don't want it. Do we want baseball or not? Do we want economic development with baseball or not? These are the questions.

(Baseball did not want to come to DC? Ha! He's no Margaret Cho, but damn that's funny. Once Governor Warner wised up and said no to the Northern Virginia plan, baseball desparately wanted to go to DC. It had Vegas and Norfolk ready. Portland was close. But it was no contest. They wanted DC, the Mayor wanted them, but they would only agree to a sweetheart deal. So he crafted up one and promised it to them, without really debating it or seeing if the public wanted it. Notice also he doesn't even offer the prospect of economic development without baseball, as if the only way this area can be improved is if baseball comes in and saves the day. )
Washington, D.C.: Has Councilwoman Cropp been in touch with MLB, and if so what is their position on the RFK site? How confident do you feel about passage without her support?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: She has and they've told her what they've told me. You committed to a deal. Period. This would break that commitment.

(As Congresswoman Cropp explains herself, the deal has changed so it's not fair to count on her continued committment : "This is like negotiating $28,000 for a car to be paid out over a certain number of years. But when it comes time for me to sign the document, the price of the car has escalated to $48,000 a year and they have added another six years or so during which I have to pay that," Cropp said. "I would not handle my business like that, and I would not handle the citizens' business like that," she added. I disagree with her plan too, but in this point she's completely correct.)
Washington, D.C.: Dear Mayor Williams:
Just wanted to let you know as a resident of DC for over 10 years, I support your position entirely. Baseball can be a revitalizing force, but it cannot revitalize a parking lot! Is there anything I can do to help? I'm in Fenty's ward and he has expressed that he is not supporting either position. I just hoped that Cropp's Folly doesn't ruin the return of baseball for all of us!

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: Fenty is not being responsible on this. I don't see my job as a weather man. That's not the job I sought and it's not what I was elected to do. I was elected to enslave myself to the people the great majority of the time, leaving me to use my own judgement (even at my political peril) in a few key instances. I'm leading here, not following, because it's in the long-term interests of the city. The best thing you can do is have people call Councilman Jim Graham and others who haven't declared their final position.

(So far this makes 3 supporting comments, 2 nuetral, and one leaning toward negative. A quick glance below gives one more negative and a bunch of nuetrals. Just so you know where the Post stands...

This is an age old political debate - on whether an elected official is to simply voice what the majority of people he represents want or if they elected them trusting their judgement, knowing at times they may disagree, for the people's own good. I lean toward the latter view, BUT only on things that are split close the middle, or if you can prove that the people are misguided. This is neither situation. To say Fenty is being irresponsible for probably being more in tune with the people he represents and defending a position on public funding that has facts and real-life examples on his side is unbelievable. )
Washington, D.C.: Mayor williams: Why does it seem that virtually every other city that has proposed a publicly-funded stadium has let it's citizens vote on that proposal? Yet, you have not pushed for us to vote a potentially half billion dollar project?
A ward six VOTER

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: First, we don't have the time. And second, I was elected to represent my constituents. I know I face a penalty if the citizens don't agree with me, but that's leadership, not followship.

(Special elections can be difficult to set up and face turnout problems but I imagine it could have been placed on the ballot for the November election with little issue. The point he raises is the same as in the last question. But often major decisive issues do go to the public - because you want the voters to have the responsibility for such things (like the gay marriage issues). The real reason he didn't want a vote is because it would have failed. Of course almost all higher taxes issues would fail to get popular support, so this isn't a strike against the Mayor's plan in particular.)
Washington, D.C.: Mayor Williams,
Thank you for taking the time to do this.
Do you think the money generated from the Expos franchise will offset the majority of DC's investment in the stadium? And can MLB still back out of their deal, or will the Expos be moving here no matter what?
Thank you again.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: MLB may play temporarily at RFK. But they will not play there permanently. It's not on the table. That's why this talk of an alternative is just that, talk.

(He didn't even answer that first question. Not a good sign.

Like I said, they'll be at RFK next year definately (so Montreal can stop hoping). After that they may move, but in my mind MLB would take almost any offer to stay in DC. The Mayor doesn't want to take that chance though. Anything but the Anacostia stadium would be a political failure for him. How would you like it if you were shown to not have negotiated the best deal for your constituents, potentially costing them millions? )
Manassas, Va.: How about thinking about creative ways to further help the district.
Maryland and VA have license plates that raise money. How about a Nationals License plate (Sell souvenir plates too so that those outside the area can buy them.)
Buy a brick program - a personalized brick in the areas around the stadium.
The proceeds can go to city programs.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: I'm all for creative financing techniques, achieving a symbolic as well as substantive purpose.

(Whatever. The Post is either ignoring the hard questions or considering them already answered by the softballs raised earlier. No questions about previous studies? About other examples where it didn't work? About forcing the vote before the anti-stadium newly elected officials take office? I find that hard to believe)
Arlington, Va.: Mr. Mayor: In your negotiations with Mrs. Cropp, would you consider a cost cap or some form of cost containment for the Anacostia River site? Would you consider changing the responsbility for cost overruns on the original site?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: We have alotted a generous amount for contingencies, and will contract with the builder for a guaranteed maximum price contract. Thanks.

(Sure he answered the question but they could set the maximum price at $650 million. There's no telling. Plus depending on how stringent the contract was, they could always make a new one for "extra work" on the stadium to cover the difference if they go over. This doesn't work like people think it would.)
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Mayor -- What is the logic behind the cap on the gross receipts tax? Why are big companies let off the hook? Shouldn't they pay the same rate as small family-owned businesses, many of whom will see absolutely no benefit from the stadium?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: There not off the hook. In fact the largest companies pay the greatest amount in our proposal.

(He's completely half-answering the question here. Yes he is correct if you consider totals - but not in percentage, which is what really matters. $6,500 to a a 4 million dollar company is far more important that $48,000 to a 300 million company. I don't have a copy of the plan in front of me, but generally small business do end up with the lion-share of the costs)
Jacob, Washington, D.C.: I understand that the South Capitol Street site is essential to the bargain you struck with MLB. Can you explain why the site is advantageous for the District, given its higher cost, and the fact that the District has substantial needs in other areas, most notably for a public hospital?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams: The CFO has certified that economic benefits will flow from the Anacostia Site. We are tapping these benefits to create a community investment trust that will provide dollars for initiatives such as the new hospital we are planning with Howard University. Thanks everyone for writing. Watch our presentation tonight on Channel 16 at 8 p.m.

(Actually more like "economic benefits could flow". He also mentions the community investment plan and hospital as if it were things planned from the beginning. Actually, these came as opposition to the stadium remained very strong. And if there are limtied or no benefits - there will be a much smaller community investment trust. A very likely scenario)

Very informative. I know more about baseball in DC than the average Joe.

Perhaps you could have called this article "Mayor Williams Expos'd". Hello?
Dammit - that's much better than mine.
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