Hearts Are Light, Men Are Laughing, Little Children Shout
That massive sigh of relief you can hear all across the Washington area tonight is the sense not only that the Nationals are now on firmer ground as a permanent institution in these parts, but also a hope that the District can move on beyond the needlessly polarizing politics of baseball.
Even the greedheads of Major League Baseball could see that any effort to extend the uncertainty over the D.C. stadium lease would result in disaster--a lost chance to build a new neighborhood around the stadium, a significant and potentially longlasting deterioration of the Nats' fan base, and an extension of the ugly and downright idiotic wrangling with the D.C. Council, a fate you wouldn't wish on your worst enemies. So MLB today said Yes to the stadium deal.
Only a fool would say that this ends the stadium issue. It's entirely possible that the D.C. Council will seek yet again to muck with the deal. But as we move into the heart of an election year, more and more council members just want to be rid of this issue. So there is hope that the bonds can be issued and construction begin on the ballpark. With luck, the Nats will have an owner by Opening Day (of course, now that player rosters are pretty well set for the first half of the season, an owner may not be able to make much of a difference on the field, but almost immediately, an owner can fix many of the ills besetting this franchise--the total lack of marketing, the impossibly awful TV deal, the woeful concessions at RFK.)
Looking back on the past year-plus, the most remarkable part of the embarrassing political war over the stadium is that it really didn't need to happen. For evidence of that, look across the Potomac to Virginia:
In his first weeks in office, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is already doing what D.C. Mayor Tony Williams should have done at any point over the past 16 months if he were really serious about getting past the brinksmanship that became synonymous with the Nationals baseball franchise.
As the Post's Michael Shear reports, Virginia Gov. Kaine is preparing to take his war against his state's transportation ills to the people. To push hard for combination of taxes and fees that would pay for new transit and road improvements in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the governor is getting ready to lobby Virginia voters to in turn pressure their state legislators. Kaine's tools: radio ads, a direct-mail campaign, and robocalls to voters.
More times than I can count, we've heard that Williams was preparing the same sort of attack to win over public opinion on the baseball stadium issue that has paralyzed city government for more than a year. Yet other than a few slogans on the city's web site, nothing ever materialized.
Would it have made a difference? Would the political climbers on the D.C. Council and the greedhead owners of Major League Baseball have come together more amicably and quickly had they known that the city's voters were on board with a plan to expand the District's tax base by using baseball to create a new neighborhood of retail, residential and office development? Surely such a shift in public opinion would not have eradicated the barriers between the council and the commissioner's office, but much of the divide that again and again brought the District to a deadline day stems from the sense the city's politicians have that public spending for a new stadium is generally unpopular and racially divisive.
An intelligent, honest public information campaign by the mayor would have sold the connection between the spending on the stadium and the enormous investment in the stadium area that has been sparked simply by the possibility that baseball will come to Southeast Washington. Kaine understands the power unleashed by getting the voters on your side; he learned in his fall campaign that the public is smarter than many politicians give them credit for, that it is indeed possible to sell the connection between land use and transportation and the notion that growth requires investment.
The same basic issues frame the baseball debate, yet the mayor never came through with the political effort--the campaign--necessary to win over the city's residents. Result: Stalemate, gamesmanship, and the now-receding but still-present danger that the city, after a 33-year-long fight to bring baseball back home, will squander its chance.
By Marc Fisher |
March 5, 2006; 6:18 PM ET
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