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Sherwood's Notebook: Lew Scores, but the Mayor?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rendering of the proposed D.C. United stadium, unveiled at Thursday's press conference.

    City Administrator Allen Lew has another big accomplishment to his name.

    Or does he?

    DC Soccer Stadium Deal Brings Excitement to Fans, Developers

    [DC] DC Soccer Stadium Deal Brings Excitement to Fans, Developers
    Plans for a new soccer stadium in the District are bringing promises of economic growth for Southwest Washington. DC United's new home would be just down the road from Nationals Parks. As News4's Tom Sherwood reports, the $300 million is exciting developers as well as soccer fans. (Published Thursday, Jul 25, 2013)

    It’s probably too early to tell whether the city’s tentative deal with D.C. United for a new soccer stadium is well grounded or not. There are too many moving pieces that are far from settled.

    But Lew deserves some benefit of the doubt.

    Mayor Announces D.C. United Stadium Plans

    [DC] Mayor Announces D.C. United Stadium Plans
    Mayor Vincent Gray announced a deal to build a new, $300 million, 25,000-seat pro soccer stadium near the city’s ballpark Thursday. The D.C. United soccer team will build the stadium, which is to be located on Buzzard Point, across South Capitol Street from the Nationals' ballpark. But the city will provide the land. (Published Thursday, Jul 25, 2013)

    Lew orchestrated construction of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Now open a decade, it has been neither the white elephant nor the neighborhood scourge that critics foresaw.

    Lew also oversaw construction of the city’s baseball stadium. Yes, it cost more than first projected. But the ballpark appears to be a plus. It has great sightlines, and its architectural design fits well with the developing neighborhood. (Thank goodness the city didn’t give in to temptation to build a retro ballpark that looks like something Disney would construct.) The stadium is drawing big suburban crowds, the construction bonds are being paid off and maybe — maybe — the Nats will turn around this season.

    But back to Allen Lew.

    Although there has never been a full public accounting of how much D.C. has spent on school modernizations, Lew also gets lots of credit for overseeing the renovation and reconstruction of the city’s once-decrepit school buildings. New classrooms, new bathrooms, new HVAC units and state-of-the-art playing fields have done a lot to raise neighborhood pride in formerly embarrassing facilities.

    ■ Media “strategy”? The Gray administration shot itself in the foot by the way it handled the soccer announcement. It secretly shared advance details with The Washington Post while shutting out all other media (including this reporter and NBC4).

    The Gray administration — and other mayors — have done this before. The reason usually given is that The Post is the big foot in local media, and it can give a story major treatment on the day of the announcement, with details, background, photos and graphs.

    It’s an outdated ploy even if it was once useful.

    NBC4, the area’s leading television station, has a website for such information, and so do other media outlets, so the Post favoritism doesn’t make as much sense.

    And if this mayor or other politicians believe they’re currying favor with Post reporters, editors or the editorial page, they better rethink that. The long record of scandal stories and related editorials say otherwise.

    But it is true that such favoritism is dismissive of other media outlets, which are left out of advance information sharing and stonewalled when asking breaking-news questions.

    Here’s a little media inside baseball on the soccer announcement.

    The mayor’s staff bitterly complained that your Notebook’s TV persona on NBC4 covered the big soccer story without including the mayor’s comments on his big announcement. (The largely upbeat story did quote Lew, the architect of the deal, among others.)

    The mayor got minimal attention in other reports, too.

    To summarize — the mayor’s office snubbed the major media and then complained when the mayor, who is under federal criminal investigation, wasn’t given the favorable centerfold attention his staff thought he deserved (and needs).

    Good media strategy is an important part of any politician’s or public official’s portfolio. The media is paying attention. It’s not personal; it’s business.

    ■ The soccer deal. The deal negotiated by Lew is far from complete. He says so himself. Land parcels owned by developers have to be appraised. Legal land remediation and swaps need to be drawn up. Decisions have to be made on how much the city will pay developers.

    Lew told NBC4 he thought it would be at least a year before anyone is close to any groundbreaking.

    As Post reporter Mike DeBonis wrote, there are many possible pitfalls between now and an opening-day kick.

    “Whatever numbers are presented at today’s news conference, one thing is certain: They will change,” DeBonis wrote.

    DeBonis noted that landowners Chip Akridge, Mark Ein and Pepco “are savvy players who will be intent on getting top dollar for their land. How much will the costs inch up over time, fueling opposition to the deal?”

    And DeBonis and others wonder whether D.C. Council members will — like they did with the baseball stadium — insist on costly changes and community benefits.

    “It happened with Nationals Park,” DeBonis wrote. “Don’t be surprised if it happens here.”