Bush League

This blog is a Ukrainian focused one. However, while Kiev may have managed to sort of become my adopted city, I remain a Washingtonian at heart. Well, I guess a Northern Virginian if I really wanted to get specific, but that's neither here nor there...when I meet people and they ask where I'm from, I tell them Washington. And as a Washingtonian, the whole fiasco that has developed involving the proposed move of the Expos to D.C. really sickens me. Well, sickens is too strong of a word. The poisoning of a presidential candidate? That sickens me. This baseball thing just really disappoints me.

It's not because I'm a huge baseball fan either. In all honesty I find baseball to be kind of boring. When I was living in the states I would usually watch the playoffs but that's about it. I think I can count the number of actual games I've attended on one hand. But watch a regular season game on TV? Are you kidding me? No way. But I'll admit that I got a excited when it was first announced that after 33 years, there was finally going to be a baseball team in Washington. Actually going to a ball game is fun activity in the summer. The main reason that I've been to so few games is because I've never lived anywhere where just picking up and going to a game was an option. It's also tough to have a civic or regional interest in a team from a city you don't live in or have a connection to. As Seinfeld said, you're basically rooting for laundry anyway. If I'm rooting for laundry, I want it to be laundry that I'm tied to somehow. It finally looked like actually going to a game and rooting for my laundry was going to be a possibility (whenever I moved back to DC).

It also seemed like a pretty good deal for the City itself. The neighborhood where they were looking to put the stadium is, to be charitable, a dump and could stand to have some development and revitalising. And this is a dump that is about 5 blocks south of the freaking U.S. Capitol Building. When I first moved to Washington back in the early nineties Anacostia was the center of what was actually called "The Crack Wars." Mayor Marion Barry had just been arrested for smoking crack himself. You could buy T-Shirts that said "Goddamn Bitch Set Me Up" just like he did on the FBI surveillance tape! Now, fifteen years after the Crack Wars that neighborhood is on the verge of getting cleaned up, just like Downtown and Chinatown were after the MCI Center was built. From certain vantage points in the city you can actually see the wave of construction and gentrification moving towards the Southwest waterfront. To put a baseball stadium down there would jumpstart the whole process and permanently turn around a neighborhood that is otherwise a blight. It happened in Denver, it happened in San Francsico, it happened in Cleveland, hell it happened up the road in Baltimore. And it could have happened in the District.

Except for the fact that no matter what progress had been made the city is still bush league (no international readers, I'm not talking about the president). And as a Washingtonian, it kind of hurts me to say that. But it's true. Let's look at the facts here. Mayor Williams and MLB agreed to a deal to move the Expos here. That deal was (and I'm summarizing here) that the city would fully fund the construction of a ballpark in Anacostia and in return Baseball would move a team to the city. The funding for the construction of the ballpark would not come from Washington's general fund (i.e. the money they collect in taxes every year). It would come from bonds, rent payments by the future owners of the team, taxes on stadium tickets and concessions, and on some of the largest businesses in the city. This isn't money that was going to be stolen from schools, hospitals, or public transport. If there's no stadium, there's no money. Period. Anyone who tells you otherwise is flat out lying.

That is the agreement that was made between the City and MLB. And when the annoucment was made, there was no shortage of screaming, cheering, DC Goverment employees and council members wearing red Nationals hats and applauding what they had done. Three months later, what happened? First the city council, led by grandstanding Chairwoman Linda Cropp (who was up there in a red hat screaming with everyone else), starts trying to renegotiate all the terms of the deal. She changed her demands countless times, changing the site of the stadium, changing financing options, changing ancillary demands, and timeframes. She delayed votes. She canceled votes. She gave her public assurance that votes would have her support. Then that support was denied.

Even more baffling than the change of support for the stadium are the unstated motives behind opposition to the stadium. Take this quote from Cropp; "My phone has been ringing off the hook with howls of outrage about her sabotage of the deal. But most of the calls have come from the 301 and 703 area codes. It's the suburban area, people from Maryland and Virginia who do not have to pay for the stadium."

So wait a minute here...the public financing of the studium was going to be paid for largely by taxes on stadium tickets and concessions. Pepole from Maryland and Virginia are pissed that there isn't going to be a stadium built where they can spend their out-of-district money on tickets and concessions. And of course they weren't going to spend that same money at bars and restaurants in the neighborhood before and after the game...bars and restaurants where the taxes on their money would go into the coffers of the city's general fund. No, not at all. But somehow all of this is going to cost citizens of DC money. Ah, right, gotcha.

I'll tell you what this is (outside of complete stupidity). This is a self defeating backlash against gentrification and development. This is cutting of your nose to spite your face. Marc Fisher puts it best in the post today: "All the parties in this deal lost control when all of you allowed baseball to become a symbol for this city's divisive debate about gentrification, class and the return of whites to a city from which they fled when the Washington Senators were here."

Stadium opponents in the DC citizenry and Government can talk all they want about funding schools, improving resident services, and bettering overall quality of life instead of building a stadium. But the cold hard fact remains that the government and many of the citizens of D.C. would prefer the city remain underpopulated, would prefer the tax base remain low, and would prefer to have neighborhoods in D.C. that resemble Beirut rather than the Capital of the Free World to making an investment (basically with other peoples money) towards actually improving the City and (shock!) trying to attract people to move there.

D.C. Council and stadium opponents, do you think this is purely a local issue something with no bearing outside the confines of your Federal District? Think again. Waking up in Kiev to the BBC on freaking SHORTWAVE RADIO, what did I hear? A story about how the D.C. City Council failed to live up to a deal that they had struck with a large American business interest. What's this I read in the NY Times? An article about how D.C. government pulled "one of the great bait-and-switch moves in history." What did (inter)national sports channel ESPN call what has happened? "Arguably the biggest humiliation in sports-franchise relocation history." So let me pose this question to you, D.C. council, after this fiasco what do you think the reaction of decision makers will be the next time you propose to host a world-class event, oh something like hosting the Olympics in Washington, or the Super Bowl? What do you think American and International business leaders will think the next time you negotiate a deal to try toget them to move their business to our incorporate in Washington? What do you think any sane person is going to think the next time you start complaining about the lack of D.C. Statehood?

Oh, and that crack smoking Mayor booted out of office in the 90s? He's going to be on the City Council next year.

As I said, really disappointing and above all else, bush-league.

The Washington Post is, as expected, all over this story. Read all about it here, here, here, here, here, and here. And read Thomas Boswell too. I can't wait to read what George Solomon (who was wise enough to publish one of my letters before) has to say about all this on Sunday either.

Other Bloggers (both pro and con) following and writing about this probably more than I will are the always amusing whyihatedc, ballwonk, dcist, and capitol punishment.