"Mr. Mayor, do you like the Yankees?"
Question: What was the clearest thing we learned at the House subcommittee's oversight hearing on President Bush's federal budget allocation to the District this afternoon?
Answer: Subcommittee chairman Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) really, really, really loves baseball.
Before even turning the microphone over to Mayor Fenty, D.C. Council Chairman Gray and CFO Gandhi to make their introductory remarks, Serrano felt compelled to offer this information to his audience: "My residence in New York is two city blocks from Yankees Stadium. My apartment here is 17 walking minutes from Nationals stadium. Life is good."
Over the next hour and a half, Serrano brought up his love for baseball at nearly every turn. He talked about it more than any other subject, never mind the pressing issues of the day: the city's budget, a recent spike in violent crime or the city's questionable bond investment strategy.
When Virgil Goode (R-Va.) asked Fenty whether the city would consider becoming part of Maryland in order to gain representation in Congress (Fenty said no), Serrano jumped in to note that that strategy would cause a worrisome disparity.
"Maryland would have two baseball stadiums and Virginia would have none," Serrano said. "It all comes down to baseball."
Later, Serrano, whose business card is reportedly in the form of a baseball trading card, complete with picture and stats, turned the floor over to C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) by saying: "Congratulations on your Orioles." Ruppersberger ignored him and leaned into the mic with a serious look, seemingly ready to end the jokey tone and get down to the business of tough Congressional oversight of the ward known as D.C.
"Mr. Mayor," Ruppersberger said. "Do you like the Yankees?"
Fenty was momentarily rendered speechless--should he insult Serrano by saying no or risk insulting D.C. residents by saying yes?
"I'll answer that as head of the subcommittee," Serrano said with a chuckle.
"It's a little rivalry the chairman and I have," Ruppersberger explained.
Toward the end of the hearing, Serrano asked Gandhi a few perfunctory questions that he read off a prepared document. He did not challenge any of Gandhi's answers. Then Serrano announced he would allow Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) the chance to address the subcommittee despite House rules that forbid non-committee members to speak.
"It's the right thing to do," he said, "and besides, she's the one who got me on the field at Nationals stadium."
After Norton finished, Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), in his final meeting with the committee, wanted to offer final thanks to Serrano.
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for teaching me about baseball," Regula said.
Serrano, who is from Puerto Rico, laughed.
"There are three things we have tried to import to Latin America: democracy, capitalism and baseball," he said. "One of the three is a success."
Everyone laughed. And with that, the hearing was adjourned.
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