Transcript: D.C. Mayor on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcripted excerpt of 'FOX' News Sunday, December 19, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Those were the so-called "Singing Senators" more than 40 years ago, when the nation's capital had a major league baseball team.

Whether or not the Washington Nationals ever play here is now very much in doubt, following a dispute about how to finance a new stadium. The broader issue is, should any cash-strapped city spend hundreds of millions of dollars of public money to pay for a professional sports arena?

For answers, we turn to the man in the hot seat here in Washington, who worked out exactly that kind of a deal with major league baseball, Mayor Anthony Williams.

Mr. Mayor, welcome. Good to have you with us today.

ANTHONY WILLIAMS, MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Chris, it's always a pleasure. Happy holidays to you.

WALLACE: Thank you. Same to you, sir.

As we sit here right now, is baseball in Washington alive or dead?

WILLIAMS: I would say we have a — it's late in the game, and we have a full count. I wouldn't say it's exactly dead, but it's certainly in great jeopardy.

WALLACE: OK. The holdup, for people — and we have to understand, this isn't just a local audience, but a national audience — for people across the country, who may not have been following this, is the D.C. Council chairman, Linda Cropp, amended your deal with baseball to require that half the funds for building a new stadium will come from private sources, or else the deal is dead.

Are you planning to sit down with Chairman Cropp? Are you planning to sit down with major league baseball? And, if so, when?

WILLIAMS: The answer is yes to all those questions. I mean, it always helps to have all the parties talking, regardless of their different positions, and certainly we're going to be doing that.

And I actually am somewhat hopeful and optimistic that we can work something out, in terms of how we review these options for private financing, how we can do this and at the same time have the guarantee and have the backstop that the original plan we put in place gives baseball the assurance and the expectation that this deal will go forward. And that's what's important.

WALLACE: So let's be specific. You're going to meet with Chairman Cropp tomorrow?


WALLACE: Will that be a joint meeting with major league baseball?

WILLIAMS: We're working out the details of that. I'm not sure right now. But we will be talking tomorrow between the two of us, certainly.

WALLACE: And what is the nature of a possible solution? That you would have ideas, or you would have some plans for private financing, but the deal, the stadium deal, would not be contingent on them?

WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, let's talk about — private financing, private financing — everybody knows, in every business, you've got — you know, we just had the treasury secretary here. I wish he were here. In every business, you've got debt you're extending...

WALLACE: Yes, you can't print money, sir.

WILLIAMS: Right — you've got investments. Santa Claus only comes on Christmas. No one's going to be showing up here with free money.

Which means, somehow or another, that the city's going to always have to give up something. It's a question of, in what way, at what cost, at what time. And that's what we're trying to work out.

The deal that we already have is public only insofar as the city is involved in it, but it's really private, in that the largest businesses of the city have stood up voluntarily and said, you know what, we think this is a good investment.

And I'll tell you what, Chris...

WALLACE: But that's — you say "voluntarily." It's not a donation. It would be a tax.

WILLIAMS: No, but they're willing to be taxed, the same way businesses are taxed in a special tax assessment district for a business improvement district, because they think it's a good investment. They're saying this is a good investment.

And the fact that right now we probably have nine, 10 — and the number is climbing all the time — really viable private financing options on the table before us, I think, proves the economic viability of this site. And I think it undercuts all these economists out here who are saying this isn't a good thing for this city to do.

I can't speak for all cities, but this is a good investment for this city.

WALLACE: Now, the deadline, at this point, for the deal with baseball is December 31st. Do you think that negotiations with Chairman Cropp and with major league baseball can slip beyond that, or is that a hard date?

WILLIAMS: No, I think they're very important. First of all, I don't think anyone has an interest — I don't think Chairman Cropp, yours truly or anyone else has an interest in just extending this on out forever; that's number one.

Number two, I think an important issue here is living up to our commitments. You know, I sat with the council (ph) chair. I sat with the chairman of the Finance Revenue Committee on the council (ph), as we made these commitments with baseball. This isn't a situation where I was over, made a deal, then came back and said, "Hey, everybody, what do you think?" and they said, "Are you kidding?" No, everybody was involved at the table when making this commitment.

And so I think, if we are going to send a message to the world that this city remains a place for business, we had better live up to our commitment.

WALLACE: And our commitment is December 31st.

WILLIAMS: Right. Within the four corners of that commitment, I think there is some room for negotiation, obviously.

WALLACE: OK. Let's see if we can broaden this out for the national audience. I want to ask you a question that, in fact, I've been hearing from some people around the country.

I don't have to tell you, as the mayor, that Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has some very serious financial problems. And let's take a look at some of them.

The city doesn't have the $2 billion to $3 billion it needs to repair schools, libraries and streets. Test scores in D.C. schools are among the lowest in the nation. Almost 70 percent of 4th-graders score below basic in reading.

Mr. Mayor, the question is, why is a city with such big financial problems talking about spending $500 million — and that's the possible cost for this stadium — to enrich a bunch of millionaire baseball owners?

WILLIAMS: Because we're not just — in every business proposition, whenever we lure business into the city — and this is what we're doing, very importantly, we — all the economists who are saying there is no real gain from this are all looking at cities where the city already had a baseball team and moved the baseball team from one location to another, cities with a fairly broad tax jurisdiction.

Our city has very narrow tax boundaries; we don't already have a team.

I think the MCI Center, where we brought the Washington Wizards, is a case in point, where we got behind this deal, brought the MCI Center to the city, and we're seeing $200 million and over additional tax revenue to the city because of this investment. I think the same thing is going to happen here. That's why I think this is a good investment for the city.

And the second point is, money does not equal outcomes. Since I've been mayor, I've put an additional billion dollars into the schools, $250 million into recreation, $50 million into the libraries. I think with the recreation and libraries, more dollars can make a difference. With schools, it's unclear whether more input will equal better test scores.

WALLACE: All right, let's take a look at what Chairman Cropp has been saying about this idea of public financing, which she seems to think is a very big deal and, frankly, so do a lot of people around the city. Let's take a look.


LINDA CROPP, CHAIRMAN, D.C. COUNCIL: I would say 90 percent feel as if this was a lousy deal. Even for those who are supportive of baseball coming in, who want it at all costs, they all say it was just a lousy deal.


WALLACE: Mr. Mayor, I don't have to tell you, that's a widespread sentiment in this city. In fact, in the city council elections in November, three insurgents won, including former Mayor Marion Barry, all winning seats in the city council by making the argument that they were against public financing of the stadium.

WILLIAMS: And you know what, Chris, we didn't have a team for 30 years. We didn't have a team for 30 years for a lot of different reasons. Most recently, the reason has been that there is a team in Baltimore. Baseball really didn't want to deal with the Baltimore issue. They didn't really want to be here.

My point has always been, if we wanted a team, under the circumstances we're playing under, the environment we're in, we had to put a premium deal on the table.

I put this premium deal on the table. I realize — I'm not stupid — I realize this isn't the best deal in the world. But I think it's a good enough deal to bring a return to the city and bring baseball to the city. I think that's good.

WALLACE: Let's talk about Anthony Williams. Haven't you made some serious mistakes as a politician, making this deal without succeeding in lining up all the votes you needed so that we now have this spectacle that's happening in the holiday season?

WILLIAMS: I mean, I make mistakes. I mean, to the extent I would rather have had all of the votes lined up and be in a different place right now, of course I'd rather be in that place.

But I think that when you sit down with the leaders of the council (ph) and they give you their assurance that they can deliver, and you're jointly making a commitment to baseball, I think you should be able to take that to the bank.

Now, apparently you can (ph). We have to rework this, and that we will do.

But one thing I will always do is, I believe that there is a custodial function of being a mayor, where you are basically taking dinner orders, answering requests.

WILLIAMS: And there's a trustee function. You're elected not to be a refrigerator or a mirror and just reflect what people are saying. Ten, 20 percent of the time you're elected to do what you think is in the best perm (ph) interests of the city. And if people don't agree with that, they can throw you out the next time. And I think this is one of those issues.

WALLACE: Some people have suggested that race is an issue in all this, that we're talking about a city with a black majority spending all this money so that well-to-do, primarily white suburbanites will be able to come in and enjoy baseball and put money into the coffers of rich, white baseball club owners. Do you see any race in this issue?

WILLIAMS: Look, race is in many American cities. In this city, there are always race and class issues that metamorphosize, you know, emerge here.

You know, the way I look at this is, look, is it true that a lot of the people who are clamoring for baseball live in Maryland and Virginia? Yes. Am I worried about that? No. I think this is good. This is what we've been trying — every city is trying to do, is what? Bring investment into the city, bring dollars that aren't already otherwise in the city into that environment. That's what we're trying to do here.

The fact is — and one of the economists, Mr. Zimbliss (ph), in an article in The Washington Post about a month ago or so said, you know, this is actually a different case, because a lot of the dollars that are going to fuel this, prompt this, promote this are out-of-city dollars. That's exactly what we want to do.

WALLACE: All right. We have about 30 seconds left. What's going to happen?

WILLIAMS: What's going to happen is I'm confident that God is a just God and an understanding God, and we will have baseball here. I do believe that.

WALLACE: And what about the argument that baseball is bluffing, that, in fact, you have more leverage and they really aren't going anyplace else anyway?

WILLIAMS: Baseball is not bluffing. We had to put a premium deal on the table to get them to this point. They have other options. That's an important point. I know we may not like that, but that's the truth.

WALLACE: Mr. Mayor, we want to thank you. Thanks for coming in.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

WALLACE: And if you get a moment in the next two weeks, have a happy holiday.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

WALLACE: Thanks very much, sir. Appreciate it.