Will D.C. United Fans Vote With Their Feet?
For the alarmingly influential print platform of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about D.C. United having fallen off the face of the political planet since the last mayoral election. Pick up a copy, read the column, get out the vote.
Four years ago next month, just before being elected mayor, Adrian Fenty came to RFK Stadium for a United game and told the fans what they wanted to hear.
The money lines of Fenty's speech:
“It is great to see over 20,000 fans here at RFK supporting D.C. United. It is my hope that [United] fans will soon be coming to your brand new soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Anacostia. World class fans, and a world class team like D.C. United, deserve a world class stadium. And I am going to make it a priority to help you build that stadium.”
No soccer stadium was ever built during his first term, and if voters give Fenty a second term or not, it's mega-doubtful United will get a home inside the city anytime soon.
A lot of United fans, including Nicole Gara, a follower of the team from Day One who is quoted in the column, haven't forgiven Fenty for not living up to the pledge he made in 2006 in that pre-election speech. Gara, a longtime Capitol Hill resident, will be thinking about the lack of follow-through when she stuffs the ballot box with a vote for Vince Gray on primary day.
But then there's Paul Sotoudeh. He's the president of the Screaming Eagles, the D.C. United fan club and tailgating geniuses. (Gara is titled "Ticket Mistress" for the same club.) Sotoudeh, who turned 37 this week, says he will be voting for the first time as a D.C. resident this election season. He's spent his whole life in the area, but outside city limits—grew up in Rockville, adult life in Northern Virginia — but Sotoudeh just moved into the District proper this summer. He says that his image of D.C. as dysfunction junction, which he got from watching TV reports and reading newspapers in his formative years during the Marion Barry Era, kept him in the suburbs all these years.
But when D.C. United came around in the mid-1990s, he began spending more and more time downtown, and his fear of the city started to break down. And Sotoudeh, just relocated from Baileys Crossroads to Foggy Bottom, now credits the soccer team for getting him to leave the 'burbs and add his name to D.C.'s resident and voter rolls.
"I remember back to Barry's first term, when there was a lot of hope for him, but then there were years of problems—the developer sellouts, the blizzard where he didn't pick up anything, and didn't shovel anything for weeks while he was at the Super Bowl—and the disconnect was there," Sotoudeh says. "But then I started going to United games after college, and the team not only brought me into the city, but I'd stay there after games. I was a kid without any real ties to D.C. proper, and the team really bonded me to the city. Now I'm living here, and I can really say this is the end of a process that was started by D.C. United."
And, Sotoudeh says, much as he'd hoped to have a new stadium for his beloved United, he's not going to hold that against Fenty when he goes to the polls.
"I know there's a lot of anger with Fenty about the stadium," Sotoudeh says, "But I intend to vote for him anyway. I can't hold it all against him. I wanted a stadium, and I know RFK isn't viable. But I don't think anybody could have made a new stadium happen by snapping their fingers, given what happened with the economy. Fenty has taken care of things in the city, that's my perception, and things just work better here now than they used to. That's important."
He has some advice for the next mayor, whether Fenty stays or Vince Gray comes in. "United fans want a stadium, but they realize what the situation is," he says. "But they absolutely do not want any more empty promises."