On the ground in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Barry and Thomas reached deal on Gage-Eckington Park

September 1, 2010 - 01:06 PM
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Gage-Eckington Park
Plans for the new Gage-Eckington Park in LeDroit Park are back on track.

The road to getting a new parks project off the ground in the middle of the 2010 D.C. campaign season is fraught with political potholes, as all those involved in this morning's groundbreaking for the planned Gage-Eckington Park learned this summer.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations over this single field in LeDroit Park grew even more intense in recent weeks, as members of the D.C. Council met in private to hammer out a deal.  

As you'll recall, Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) placed a procedural hold on Gage-Eckington at the end of July. He did this, he told City Paper at the time, out of a sense of "responsibility to protect the taxpayers’ money," but the general consensus among city leaders was that Barry was just trying to prevent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty from posing for yet another photo op at the height of the 2010 election season.

The hold expired on Friday without further action from Barry, and the credit for that is largely going to Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation chair Harry Thomas, Jr. (D-Ward 5), who met with Barry in the middle of last week to negotiate some kind of deal (the details of which are still somewhat murky) that allowed today's groundbreaking to occur. Barry himself even put out a statement applauding Thomas for reaching out.

"Harry and I reached a harmonious and mutual understanding regarding my lingering concerns which involved identification and verification of funding sources for the project, rather than the merit of the project," Barry said. "Chairman Thomas is to be commended for his leadership and efforts to bring needed park space to the LeDroit Park community."

Thomas's intervention became necessary after a political game of chicken between Barry and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), in whose ward the park is located, devolved into an intractable standoff, according to several sources involved in the negotiations.

After Barry started putting holds on parks in Graham's ward, Graham started putting holds on parks in Barry's ward right back, with neither man apparently willing to back down until the other did first. And of course all of this was playing out in the context of the Council's ongoing investigation into city parks contracts awarded by the Fenty administration, as well as the upcoming mayoral primary election. While neither councilman has officially endorsed a candidate in the mayor's race, Barry has been spotted around town wearing a sticker promoting Fenty's opponent, Council Chairman Vincent Gray, and Graham went out of his way to say nice things about Fenty to The New York Times recently.

"It was clear that this was becoming kind of silly with the election season," says one senior council staffer.

So Thomas stepped in to end the stand-off. As far as what exactly he may have offered Barry in exchange for his cooperation, that's still something we're working on finding out.

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