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The U.S. Capital is more than a tale of two cities: it’s a tale of two worlds. There is Washington, home of the White House, the Capital Building, and the National Gallery. This city is the province of puffy-faced power brokers and slick talking interns oozing from one five star steak house to the next.
Then we have DC, a majority African-American city with some of the highest poverty, infant mortality and HIV rates in the Nation. This city is where residents taste the daily lash of a cold reality where services have been cut to the bone. 50% of young black men are in prison or on parole. The only public hospital was shut down. The schools creak in buildings that predate the Model T. And the roads have potholes cavernous enough to house a litter of Labradors. DC simply aches for any kind of funding.
Mayor Anthony Williams–our bow tied business mayor–after six years in power, has finally decided to raise taxes on businesses to the tune of $440 million, but that cold cash won’t fill one pothole or buy a single textbook. Every last dime is going to build a baseball stadium for the billionaires that run Major League Baseball. Now the wretched Montreal Expos get to move from an old near-empty stadium to a brand spanking new near-empty stadium in South East Washington DC.
How a couple dozen of the richest men in the United States got one of the most impoverished cities in the Western Hemisphere to give them $440 million, is already being called the "swindle of the century." It’s the biggest heist since the Monorail came to Springfield on ëThe Simpsons’. Just to compare, the St. Louis Cardinals’ franchise is paying 77 percent of a $387 million stadium now under construction. The Detroit Tigers are paying for 62 percent of their $327 million stadium. In DC, the city picks up every penny.
Williams positively gurgled with glee at the press conference announcing the fleecing of city’s poor. He boasted that because the stadium would be funded by business taxes "the people in DC won’t pay one dime."
But Mayor Bow-Tie didn’t mention the rise in the cost of living, as businesses pass on these new taxes to consumers. He didn’t mention that cost overruns have no where to hide except in regressive taxes on the backs of DC residents.
He also didn’t mention that the city is willing to take people’s homes and bulldoze them into the ground if they live on the proposed stadium site and don’t want to sell. (This is called "fair use.")
But there is one pesky obstacle to Williams’ plan: the people of D.C. want no part of his orgy of corporate welfare.
A poll released by the Service Employees International Union found that 70 percent of the city opposes public funding, and more than half strongly oppose it. These numbers cross all ethnic and racial lines.
But Williams and his media ball boys are not waiting for resistance to develop. They are going on the offensive.
Tom Boswell, the baseball diva of the Washington Post, has built a career, beating every pablum father/son, rah-rah clichÈ to a fine paste. This week he played his part selling this stadium swindle by expounding about how "revitalized" stadium-blessed-cities like Cleveland are in the wake of Major League’s noblesse oblige. He neglected to mention that Cleveland was just named the poorest city in the United States.
The Great Sally Jenkins of the Post captured the true dynamic perfectly, writing, "If we strip away all the pastoral nonsense, and the nostalgia, and the exuberant projections about urban redevelopment, doesn’t it look like the nation’s capital is being extorted by Commissioner Bud Selig?"
The Mayor, in an attempt to secure a crumb of street cred, wants to name the new team The Grays after the area’s Negro League squad of yesteryear. It’s a sick joke to "pay tribute" to the Negro Leagues with a team that serves to squeeze and displace African-Americans and the poor. Maybe it’s disturbingly appropriate. The Grays name comes from a league that symbolized segregation, poverty, and thwarted potential. Perfect for Williams’ and Major League Baseball’s vision for the future of Washington DC.
DAVE ZIRIN has a book coming out, What’s My Name, Fool: sports and resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books) comes out in spring 2005. To have his column sent to you every week, just e-mail email@example.com.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org