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11.10.2004

Beltway Boondoggle? 

The most fascinating story of the winter is shaping up to be the Montreal Expos' move to Washington. After the stadium agreement seemed to be greased up and on its way to passage (built mostly with public funds), D.C. city council chairwoman Linda Cropp has finally decided to throw some sand into the vaseline.

On an almost daily basis she's come up with new ways to stall, derail, deride and confuse, which I reluctantly admire, even though others most certainly do not. The idea of taxpayer-funded ballparks is distasteful; in this day and age it's a civic outrage. So whatever shenanigans Cropp foists upon Mayor Williams, even if she ends up looking flip-floppingly foolish, are worth the attention the process sheds on the done-deal arrogance of MLB.

Would a new stadium along the Anacostia River bring a reflowering of civic life to a blighted neighborhood, as the Post's Michael Wilbon claims? Maybe, maybe not. There are arguments on each side. (Slight tangent: did Pac Bell revitalize the South of Market/China Basin area? It certainly hasn't hurt, but that neighborhood has been the target of massive, long-term urban planning. It might have taken a wee bit longer, but without the ballpark it would no doubt still be booming.)

In this country, large outflows of public money that directly benefit people who are already extremely rich should be the subject of open debate. It often doesn't happen that way. The D.C. mayor and MLB will scream and yell that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and there's no time to waste, but I don't see how D.C. could get worse if the ballpark deal falls through.

If I were a D.C. citizen and/or businessman about to have my taxes raised, I would much rather keep the Expos in Montreal for another year, even risk losing them to Las Vegas or Norfolk, Va., or Great Falls, Montana, than have a corporate welfare subsidy rammed down my throat.

I'll say it again and again: crap on Peter Magowan and his alleged skinflintedness all you want, but he never asked the people of San Francisco to subsidize his rich man's fantasyland.


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