D.C. election could help Va. in Expos bid

3 pro-stadium council members lose on Tuesday, hurting D.C. hopes

Baseball

September 17, 2004|By Peter Schmuck and Jeff Barker | Peter Schmuck and Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

The Montreal Expos may be headed for the Washington area, but the defeat of three pro-stadium members of the D.C. City Council in Tuesday's primary election may steer the vagabond team to Northern Virginia.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been pushing for a recommendation from Major League Baseball's relocation committee by the start of the postseason in early October, but the selection process developed a snag when popular former Mayor Marion Barry won the Democratic primary for the Ward 8 City Council seat and declared that a publicly financed baseball stadium would be built "over my dead body."

Barry and two other Democratic primary winners who oppose public financing for a downtown ballpark - Kwame Brown and Vincent Gray - are expected to breeze through the general election on Nov. 2.

Selig said yesterday that he isn't sure how the reshuffled City Council will affect the deliberations of the committee.

"I don't know [Washington] politics, but that's a good question," Selig said from his Milwaukee office. "I've asked our people. The relocation committee is working on this day and night. I've asked a lot of people, like [Boston Red Sox president] Larry Lucchino and others who have worked in that area. I just don't know. The development is an interesting one."

It certainly was met with great interest in Northern Virginia, where the public financing available for a stadium near Dulles Airport will expire if a deal is not reached by Jan. 1 - about the same time that the outgoing District council would have to finalize a stadium deal.

"We're not that plugged into the District," said Jerry Burkot, spokesman for Virginia Baseball, "but any time you take three votes supporting something and replace them with three votes that are opposed, I think it changes the dynamic."

Factor in the notion that Selig and MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy would like to plant the Expos in a potentially successful market with the least possible negative impact on the Orioles, and there is plenty of room to speculate that the likelihood of a move to Virginia has improved dramatically.

"We believe they are taking the Virginia option very, very seriously," said Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. "Clearly it does provide additional assurance because of baseball's concerns about the possible impact on the Orioles."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos declined to comment on the situation last night, but he refuted a report in a Washington newspaper that he is well into negotiations with Major League Baseball over how much the Orioles would be compensated for any lost revenue should a team move into the region.

Technically, several other cities remain in play, including Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Norfolk, Va., but the committee clearly has been focused on the D.C. area this week.

Angelos has steadfastly opposed the placement of the Expos in either Washington or Northern Virginia, claiming it would doom both teams to small-market mediocrity.

It now appears, however, that his best chance of keeping baseball out of either location may develop in Miami, where lawyers for the former limited partners of the Expos want a judge to block the Expos' move.

If the judge in the federal RICO case goes along with a request for a hearing in November, it would leave baseball just weeks from drop-dead dates in both Washington and Northern Virginia and could force the Expos to remain in Montreal for one more season.

The possibility of an injunction was raised after Major League Baseball took its first legal step toward moving the Expos, notifying the U.S. District Court in Miami on Tuesday that it intends to relocate the team. In 2003, U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages required baseball to give the court 90 days notice of any attempt to move or sell the team. The notification did not specify where the Expos would go.

The primary election clearly was a major setback for the District, but Mayor Anthony A. Williams indicated that he may attempt to push the proposal through the lame-duck council. The council also must approve about $15 million to renovate RFK Stadium, which would be the team's temporary home until a new stadium is built.

Meanwhile, the current RFK tenant, the D.C. United soccer club, is preparing for the possibility of sharing its quarters.

"We are aware that [baseball coming to RFK] is a possibility," said D.C. United president David Payne. "In our lease, baseball has priority in certain areas. But we haven't heard anything official. ... They seem to believe there could be an announcement, but we've not been shown any formal plans about how the two operations would work."

Sun staff writer Sandra McKee contributed to this article.

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