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September 4, 1997

Post reports small convention center payoffs while Barry gets set to squander the big bucks

The Barry administrationıs use of taxpayer money to buy community support for the proposed convention center at Mt. Vernon Square is now so routine that it runs as filler in the Washington Postıs back pages. Todayıs example: An ANC Commissioner whose support is critical to the project gets thousands of dollars in city money for the rec center he runs. [Washington Post District Weekly, 9/4/97, p. D.C.7]

ANC Commissioner Lawrence Thomas has not always been inclined to believe that big projects in Shaw will benefit his community. "We were raped," by the MCI Center, he told the D.C. Council on May 20, 1997. Thomas and other Shaw leaders know that fewer than a dozen Shaw residents got construction jobs from the project, despite promises of hundreds of jobs and training slots.

But Thomas has apparently forgotten about that experience, possibly aided by some up-front money from the Barry administration, the Washington Convention Center Authority, and the hotel and restaurant industries -- the big backers of the Mt. Vernon convention center proposal.

Following a break-in that cost Thomas' city-funded rec center "television sets, a microwave and a portable phone," the Washington Convention Center Authority, D.C. hotels, and other related groups have flooded Thomas with cash, "seven computers, seven televisions and two videocassette recorders, as well as games and other equipment," according to the Postıs Todd Beamon. Thomas is now one of the proposed project's biggest fans.

"The mayor does so many things behind the scenes," Thomas told the Post. Especially if a development worth hundreds of millions of dollars is on the line. Washington Convention Center Authority spokesman Tony Robinson is not afraid to explain why the WCCA chose this moment to help Shaw: "Mr. Thomas has been a good friend of the convention center."

Luckily, the connection between the Barry administrationıs benevolence and the fate of the biggest boondoggle in DC's history is lost on Beamon. Hotel industry officials and the Washington Convention Center Authority are happy to spend a few bucks to pay for the support of leaders like Thomas and groups like the "Shaw Task Force" and the "Shaw Consensus Group" -- the center's primary support groups -- some of whose officials have received direct payments of up to $25,000.

But this is pocket change. The big story is how the Washington Convention Center Authority can rationalize spending $650 million to build an undersized convention center on a site that will cripple downtown traffic, destroy a residential neighborhood, and offer no future expansion capability. That story has continued to elude the majority of DC's press, to the delight of those who continue to make big profits at the expense of an insolvent city. They are more than happy to give away a few used VCRs.

For more information, contact, the Shaw Coalition (202) 789-7864.

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