United We Spend How Ward 8 learned to love soccer

Pitch Set Me Up: Thanks to team’s lobbying, Barry’s high on soccer-stadium proposal.
Darrow Montgomery

Last year, the Barry Farm Beavers were in trouble. The peewee football team serving kids in the Ward 8 housing project needed money to cover various bills, and funds from the city weren’t going to cover it. So at a community meeting at an Anacostia church, the team’s coach put out a plea: I’ll take whatever you can spare.

Such entreaties come with no guarantees in the city’s poorest ward, but that night, a fellow with unusually deep pockets was in attendance: Victor MacFarlane, the San Francisco-based real estate developer who had recently moved into the D.C. market in a big way. According to people present, MacFarlane announced he would match whatever the crowd could muster, and folks pulled out their wallets and pocketbooks for the young gridders.

LL’s not typically in the business of pumping up the charitable works of the city power elite, but MacFarlane’s spendy ways in that part of the city help explain why a deal for a publicly financed soccer stadium managed to grab big headlines last week when the Washington Post revealed that such a deal was moving forward with the backing of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and several councilmembers.

Make no mistake: In a town where there is no hotter political potato than sports-stadium financing, the soccer proposal is far from a done deal. Wilson Building regulars, like council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, have played dumb on the matter, and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has raised concerns about whether the city should shoulder more stadium debt.

Even so, credit D.C. United’s public-relations machine for getting the notion onto the table—a campaign whose roots lie in Ward 8 and stretch back before MacFarlane’s January 2007 purchase of the team. The team’s flacks, among other things, have made a true believer out of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr., who once said he was “absolutely, unequivocally” against the stadium before becoming, by all accounts, the most unabashed stadium proponent in elective office.

The team’s suits have verily taken up residence in Ward 8. Anacostia activist and serial meeting-goer Phil Pannell estimates that United representatives, team president Kevin Payne and lobbyist Craig Engle in particular, attended “well over 100 meetings.” Tops on that list was a team-sponsored December 2005 event at Ballou Senior High School, to which 650 people showed up.

James Bunn, executive director of the Ward 8 Business Council, puts it this way: “Turkey giveaways, Christmas giveaways, you name it. They’ve just been outstanding.”

The result? When Fenty announced he was eschewing a sole-source deal with MacFarlane and opening Poplar Point for bids, Barry deemed the mayor’s move a “betrayal.” When four developers, none of them affiliated with MacFarlane, presented their proposals for the site in a packed Anacostia gymnasium on Dec. 12, the crowd—many of them organized by local ministers—peppered the presenters with question about whether they could include a soccer stadium and cheered wildly when Barry arrived and told the crowd, “We like all four proposals, but we like the one that’ll have a stadium first.”

Barry hasn’t been the only Ward 8’er to undergo a road-to-Damacus moment on soccer. The Rev. Anthony J. Motley, a minister and activist, once told a previous LL that D.C. United had “wined…and dined” his fellow activists into submission (“The Next Stadium Fight,” 11/11/2005). Now, he’s foursquare behind the stadium, saying he saw the team “getting more and more involved in the life of the community”—cleaning up a field at the Barry Farm rec center, setting up a soccer program, funding neighborhood events, like a tea for survivors of violence.

And, he says, he got a free trip to a United game—but that’s it. “They haven’t given me any money,” he says. “I got a hot dog. I thought it was nice.”

To have ministers, advisory neighborhood commissioners, business honchos, and ornery activist types all on the same page, says Pannell, “is like herding stray cats. This is the first time I’ve ever seen so many people actually agree on something.”

Just about everyone in Ward 8 LL talked to on the matter was sensitive to the notion that United’s outreach and philanthropy equated to Ward 8 being “bought,” but Pannell says that’s how the world works down Anacostia way.

“People don’t really feel that they’re being bought by any means.…For an organization that will not only present [their proposal] but also help feed the people, that really shows that they’re being sensitive to people’s needs,” he says. “Some folks claim you’re gonna be bought off because of a chicken wing. That’s not it at all.”

To be fair, that’s coming from a guy who’s been on the D.C. United payroll. The 2005 Ballou event, which featured free food, T-shirts, and soccer balls, was organized by Pannell, who estimates he’s personally received less than $8,000 for three years of advocacy. “I did not in any way hit the gravy train,” he says. “I’m not one of those $500-an-hour type of persons.”

However, the team’s Arent Fox lobbyists—Engle and Jon S. Bouker—are $500-an-hour type of people, because winning hearts and minds in the John A. Wilson Building isn’t quite the bargain it is in Ward 8. And perhaps no move was as canny as MacFarlane’s move to bring on longtime Barry confidant Linda Mercado Greene in July 2006, solidifying the mayor-for-life’s loyalties. Since MacFarlane bought the soccer team in January 2007—less than a week after Fenty ascended to the mayoralty—Greene and Bouker have been Wilson Building fixtures on MacFarlane’s behalf.

Greene was on vacation this week and could not be reached; Bouker and Engle both referred LL to MacFarlane spokesperson Julie Chase, who could not provide an accounting of the developer’s community work by LL’s deadline.

Greene, Engle, Bouker & Co. are going to be plenty busy in upcoming months, especially with the team seeking a reported $225 million in public financing from the city. This, coming from a team that less than a year ago was promising to build the stadium itself, leaving the District only to chip in for infrastructure costs.

That reality may have yet to sink in on the team’s Ward 8 supporters. Pannell, for one—in a conversation with LL he expressed some confusion about reports that the team now wants a hefty construction contribution from the city.

“Oh, they do?” asked a surprised Pannell. “When did that change?”

At-Large Antics

As DCision ’08 rolls on, the race for the non-Democratic at-large council seat—the spot now occupied by four-term Republican incumbent Carol Schwartz—remains the most entertaining of the lot.

Where to begin? LL’s telephone ear has been burning for more than a week with rumors that Marie Johns, the former executive who turned in a spirited 2006 run for mayor, is considering mounting a bid for Schwartz’s seat. Fanning the flames, on the May 23 edition of WAMU-FM’s Politics Hour, certified political gossip Terry Lynch dropped Johns’ name on air.

Earlier this week, LL was able to get in touch with Johns, who says she’s not currently considering a council bid: “I don’t know where the rumor came from. I didn’t realize there was a rumor.”

LL asked Johns if she had been approached about a potential bid, and she started laughing: “I can’t believe I’m talking to Loose Lips. I know better,” she joked. “Why am I talking to you? I’m not talking to you anymore. God only knows what you’ll write. It probably won’t be kind.”

A Johns candidacy might prove to be attractive to members of the business community put off by Schwartz’s backing of mandatory sick leave for District employees. Johns, after all, is a former chief executive for Verizon Washington and former chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and keeps plenty busy, thank you very much, with a consulting gig and myriad volunteer works, including posts on the boards of Howard University and the CentroNía charter school.

LL did get a surprising response out of fellow candidate Dee Hunter, the Ward 1 lawyer and former council staffer, who says that if Johns enters the race, he’ll drop out and “throw everything I have behind her.”

“I think I have a lot to offer, but I can’t compare with the experience and level of community service she’s achieved,” Hunter says.

Well, OK. Informed of Hunter’s stance, Johns says, “No comment.”

Meanwhile, a newly declared candidate is hoping Schwartz won’t even make it to a general election matchup—not as a Republican, anyway. Patrick Mara, a 33-year-old Columbia Heights resident, announced last week he plans to run on the GOP primary ballot against Schwartz. (A Ward 1 Republican? Note to Jim Graham: Your ward is even more diverse than you think!)

Schwartz faced Republican opposition four years ago but dispatched Don Folden Sr. and Robert Pittman handily, with nearly 83 percent of the 2,368 GOP votes.

Mara’s issues don’t appear to be at odds with those of local Dems—supporting the mayoral school takeover and improving the local business climate. A former staffer for Rhode Island Sen. John Chaffee who has worked on renewable energy issues, Mara seems to be the kind of moderate Republican the District electorate can tolerate.

He can’t expect too much help from party elders: City GOP head Robert Kabel said on WAMU that re-electing Schwartz was the party’s “No. 1 priority.” Mara, as is en vogue these days, says he plans to take a page out of recent successful Democratic campaigns and burn some shoe leather, boasting he’s already knocked on a couple of hundred Republican doors. “It’s actually quite comical,” he says. “They assume you’re from [U.S. Public Interest Research Group] or MoveOn and start to close the door.”

As for the rest of the competition, Michael A. Brown’s been seen around town passing out campaign bills, and well-financed challenger Adam Clampitt opened up another frontier in the campaign over Memorial Day by holding a fundraiser in Schwartz’s weekend backyard in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Clampitt says the party—hosted by Mark Bromley and David Salie, proprietors of the Rehobus shuttle service—attracted about 60 supporters, many from the city gay and lesbian community, to the couple’s house, not more than a couple of blocks from where Schwartz has long kept a vacation home. Afterwards, Clampitt and supporters canvassed the beach, and he doesn’t hesitate to play the generational card: “Everyone’s positive—you know it’s mostly young folks at the beach.…They’re saying, ‘Yeah, we need someone young.’”

As for Carol? Still no campaign, she reports, though she has less than a month left to file her ballot petitions. (She hadn’t even picked them up by LL’s Tuesday deadline.) With regard to Clampitt’s pursuit of the Rehoboth-going demo, she said with a laugh, “It’s a free country!”

State of the Alexander Re-Election Campaign

When running for political office, incumbency certainly has its benefits, like free publicity and relatively easy fundraising. And if you’re a Ward 7 councilmember, you get to hold a “State of the Ward” speech.

On May 29, Yvette Alexander did just that, in the Kelly Miller Middle School auditorium, attracting close to 300.

But here’s LL’s question: Was this simply an opportunity to inform her constituency, or, with the primary just over three months away, a campaign event in disguise?

Here’s some hints: Outside the school, a line of Alexander re-election signs had been planted. A projector inside showed a slide show depicting Alexander at work and posing with council colleagues and the halls featured other propaganda. Munchies were laid out in the school cafeteria afterward.

And then there was the speech itself, which detailed everything from Alexander’s legislative accomplishments to development proposals to nonprofit earmarks. The whole show began shortly after 7 p.m. and didn’t end till 8:29.

President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech this year lasted about 53 minutes.

Alexander’s only declared competition so far, Twining advisory neighborhood commissioner Villareal Johnson, says he “didn’t have a problem” with the event, or the fact that it was financed from the councilmember’s constituent services account. Johnson, in any case, showed up and got a peck on the cheek from Alexander when he went on stage to collect a plaque that she gave to all ward ANC members.

Alexander denies throwing a stealth campaign event and says the timing of the event had to do with the fact she was sworn into office on May 15, 2007: “I wanted to celebrate a year in office. That’s why I chose to do it now.”

When LL pointed out to Alexander that she had outtalked the president, the rookie councilmember quipped, “I can’t help it if I have more accomplishments in one year than the president’s had in two terms.”

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Our Readers Say

See that is the problem with Carol Schwartz, she thinks it is o.k. to move like a turtle and take citizen's votes for granted.. Not this time......

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