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Ralph Nader and Shawn McCarthy, League of Fans
Letter to Mayor Anthony Williams on DC Sports and Entertainment Commission
August 21, 2003




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August 21, 2003

The Honorable Anthony A. Williams, Mayor
District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mr. Mayor:

Your leadership is needed regarding the troubling practices and wasteful spending by the highest-paid employee of the District government, Robert Goldwater, and the agency for which he is president and executive director, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission (DCSEC).

Don't you think it is time to end your practice of giving the DCSEC a free pass with public money? We urge you to ask for the immediate resignation of Mr. Goldwater. You must send a strong message to this agency that taking liberties with the public's money will not be tolerated. Additionally, we ask that you support a revised mission for the DCSEC that focuses not on the wants of wealthy developers and sports moguls, but on the recreational needs of D.C. residents.

Your leadership regarding the DCSEC is long overdue:

  • The DCSEC, in its current form, is your product. You gave the agency a mandate to turn D.C. into an entertainment complex by attracting high-profile events, such as the Olympic Games, the Grand Prix and Major League Baseball. Responsibility for the DCSEC's fiscal mismanagement, questionable activities, secrecy and refusal to seek community input on projects has to rest eventually on the shoulders of the Mayor. Moreover, your preference for attracting "world-class" sporting events by dumping public funds into the laps of private businesses in the name of economic development no doubt added fuel to the DCSEC's wasteful spending and arrogance toward heartfelt community dissent.
  • The June appointment of a "Blue Ribbon Panel on Sports Commissions" in response to reports of serious and ongoing problems at the DCSEC is worthless to the District. Dominated by business leaders and corporate welfare pushers, how can anyone expect the panel to provide significant recommendations for improving how the DCSEC operates? The commission is already concentrating its efforts on projects involving narrowly tailored corporate subsidies. A panel without such conflicts of interest would encourage the DCSEC to focus on expenditure reforms, audits and activities and programs designed to spread benefits broadly and enhance the well-being of the entire city.
  • In depleting its cash reserves from $18 million to $3 million since Mr. Goldwater was hired in late 2000, there has been a dramatic increase in DCSEC expenses. Much of the increase is reportedly attributed to excessive costs for travel, dining, lodging and entertainment, as well as questionable expenses for legal services and consultants.
  • The DCSEC has worked, largely without input from D.C. residents or the City Council, centering negotiations around backroom meetings with Major League Baseball and the Washington Baseball Club, promoters of the Grand Prix, the U.S. Olympic Committee and D.C. United owner Philip Anschutz for new sports venues. In so doing, the commission has entangled itself in proposed corporate welfare schemes designed to benefit narrow business interests at the expense of D.C. taxpayers and neglected District employment-generating programs and services.
    As Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist wrote this year, "There are very few fields of economic research that produce unanimous agreement. Yet every independent economic analysis of the impact of stadiums has found no predictable positive effect on output or employment. Some studies have even concluded that there is a possible negative impact." Subsidy and employment figures from your baseball stadium proposal were used by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute to estimate that the public cost for each (mostly seasonal, part-time, low-paying, low-benefit) job filled by a D.C. resident would be $900,000. D.C.-based Good Jobs First estimates that anything over $35,000 per quality (full-time, with wage and benefit standards) job is excessive for economic development subsidies.
  • Of the major high-profile sports projects and events that the DCSEC has attempted to secure, only the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C. has taken place. A complete disaster from start to finish, the DCSEC cut ties with the promoter of the race after one year, terminating a ten-year contract that likely leaves the District holding the bag for $5.1 million in race track construction costs.
    From the beginning, the DCSEC ignored the Kingman Park neighborhood residents who overwhelmingly opposed the race that ran within 50 yards of some homes and brought with it high levels of noise and pollution, kept important information on event financing from the public and the D.C. Council, and failed to conduct the needed environmental impact studies prior to the race.
  • The company hired by the DCSEC to organize the D.C. Marathon canceled this past spring's event just days before it was to take place. Citing security concerns due to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the marathon was canceled without consulting city officials. More than 6,800 runners from 50 states and 14 countries had trained to participate and paid between $65 and $95 to register for the race but were not accorded refunds.

Despite this recklessness, the running community of the D.C. area, including a broadbased coalition of organizers, running clubs and sponsors, conducted a remarkable all-volunteer "Unofficial Washington DC Marathon" on the same day and nearly the same course that the canceled event was to be held (though run on sidewalks, without the benefit of having streets closed off). Complete with registration, recycled race numbers, safety instructions, water stops, timekeepers, fans, and refreshments from generous sponsors, the event was organized in just 72 hours with 371 registered runners and hundreds of volunteers. Why are Mr. Goldwater, the DCSEC and the firms hired by them to organize events unable to come anywhere close to this coordination and prudence?

- The DCSEC has neglected to defend the stadium for which it is responsible, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Instead of encouraging more excess and waste by pushing for new taxpayer funded venues, the commission should be working to make a strong case for the versatile RFK hosting baseball, soccer and numerous other events.

If Major League Baseball or the Anschutz Entertainment Group want a major renovation of RFK to increase revenue streams, they can pay for it themselves. If they don't think RFK is good enough for them, they can invest their own capital, without eminent domain, in a new stadium if they see market opportunities. It should not be the role of Mr. Goldwater and the DCSEC to decide that RFK is not good enough for wealthy sports owners.

In a May 16 letter, five members of the D.C. Council requested that the Board of Directors of the DCSEC not renew the contract of Mr. Goldwater due to "a pattern of failed events, fiscal mismanagement, and highly questionable activities by the Commission under his leadership." Other recent D.C. Council comments regarding the DCSEC, published in the Washington Post include:

Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4):

"The commission is operating like Fortune 500 businessmen, but they are doing it with public dollars. This is absolute abuse of the public trust and of the positions they've been approved to hold."

"The Sports and Entertainment Commission has been one of the most mismanaged and wasteful agencies we have in the District of Columbia government."

"We have to show the residents of the District of Columbia that we are holding someone accountable for this blatant waste."

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2):

"Goldwater was hired at a salary of $275,000 a year for his supposed expertise, and then to turn around and spend all this money on consultants makes no sense."

Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6):

"What is the payoff of all these expenditures? Where is it leading? We are not getting a whole lot of events at RFK or the Armory, as far as I can tell. If their cash is down to around $3 million, what kind of marketing does that allow us to do for the District of Columbia?"

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1):

"This is Marie Antoinette spending. It shocks the conscience to hear of this type of lavishness, particularly at a time when we are cutting programs for children, families and poor people. They have displayed such poor judgement that I don't know how we can continue to have trust and confidence in their leadership."

Former Council member Bill Lightfoot, sponsor of legislation that created the DCSEC in 1994: "This is perversion and corruption of the original vision for a sports commission. Goldwater and all the commission ought to be fired. Get rid of them. You have to send a message that selfish, self-aggrandizing conduct will not be tolerated with public money."

Mayor Williams, your experiment with the DCSEC has failed. The internal audit of the commission by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer confirms that the current mission of DCSEC cannot be sustained. There is no excuse for the succession of controversies and embarrassments to the city associated with Mr. Goldwater and the DCSEC. It is time for you to take a lead role in redefining the leadership and goals of the commission.

In addition to running and maintaining RFK Stadium and the Armory, the major goal of a redefined DCSEC should require a dramatic effort to rebuild and maintain D.C.'s decrepit neighborhood and youth sports, recreation and entertainment facilities. Such public assets may not appear in personal financial portfolios, but you should not doubt the profound effect they have on the lives of the people and children of the District. This would help to make D.C. a more attractive place to live, especially for families, thus serving to help reverse the District's past residential exodus to the suburbs and to make your goal of 100,000 new residents more attainable. It is making D.C. a better place for everyone that will bring people back, not making the city a place for corporate welfare kings to easily extract public funds away from real life and displaced neighborhoods.


Ralph Nader
P.O. Box 19312
Washington, DC 20036

Shawn McCarthy
League of Fans
P.O. Box 19367
Washington, DC 20036

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