The Washington Post

Bowser, Goodell discussed stadium

Mayor sought provision in spending bill to transfer RFK site back to D.C.


With the potential sale of the Washington Commanders in a state of uncertaint­y, the team’s stadium search appears similarly stuck in limbo. But whenever the stadium discussion resumes, a three-jurisdicti­on race may become a real possibilit­y.

On Dec. 2, one month after team owner Daniel Snyder announced he was exploring the possibilit­y of selling all or part of the team, NFL Commission­er Roger Goodell told D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) that the league supported her efforts to obtain the RFK Stadium site from the federal government because he wanted D.C. to have a seat at the table in the Commanders’ efforts to build a new stadium, according to two people with direct knowledge of the call. Goodell also offered lobbying assistance from the league on Capitol Hill, the people said.

“The league and Mayor Bowser agree that Washington, D.C., should be at the table when a new site is considered,” an NFL spokesman said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the mayor’s office, the Commanders, and Congress to that end — just like we are in contact with local officials in Maryland and Virginia as they review site and stadium options.”

Bowser’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Days after the December call, Bowser met with then-speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) and the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in hopes of getting a provision attached to the 2023 government spending bill that would transfer ownership of the 190-acre parcel on which RFK sits from the National Park Service to the city.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, confirmed Pelosi and Bowser had met “at the mayor’s request” and said Pelosi “encouraged continued cooperatio­n and discussion­s with” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Raúl M. Grijalva (D-ariz.), the thenchairm­an of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdicti­on over land transfers.

On Dec. 19, Congress released the spending proposal, and it did not include the RFK provision.

The lame-duck effort was Bowser’s boldest yet to gain

control of RFK, and it circumvent­ed Norton and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). For months, Norton had said she would not introduce RFK legislatio­n in Congress until Bowser and Mendelson could agree on how to use the site and whether to try to lure the Commanders.

“[ The mayor’s office] knew it was a Hail Mary,” said one person with knowledge of the city’s plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing process.

Now, with a divided Congress, there are new challenges. Republican­s control the House — including the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdicti­on over land transfers — and may oppose the terms of a transfer. Bowser has two options: continue carrying the city’s political football with the NFL and the Commanders or try to work with Mendelson to facilitate Norton’s introducti­on of legislatio­n.

For now, D.C.’S struggles to obtain the RFK site don’t seem to be hurting the city in a competitio­n.

Maryland’s offer from last year stands: a $400 million package to improve the area surroundin­g Fedex Field that explicitly forbids aiding the constructi­on of a new stadium. Virginia has not reintroduc­ed the stadium authority bill that failed last summer, and last month, state senators signaled opposition to the proposal of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to spend $500,000 in 2024 on studying ways to lure the Commanders.

If Snyder does sell the team, it could stoke competitio­n for the new stadium. The NFL and a new owner probably would make replacing aging Fedex Field a top priority, and each of the three jurisdicti­ons could become more aggressive. In November, when Snyder announced he was considerin­g a sale, Bowser pointed out that the second of her two longtime objections to the team returning to the RFK site — the former name and the owner — might soon be gone.

One person with knowledge of NFL stadium matters, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing negotiatio­n, said Goodell regularly speaks with local officials, and that person expects those conversati­ons to continue.

“He did that in New York with the Bills deal, which turned out to be a heck of a deal,” the person said.

In 2022, the Commanders spent $580,000 on lobbying, according an analysis by the nonprofit Open Secrets. Most of it was related to the House Oversight and Reform Committee investigat­ion of the team’s workplace culture, but the team also paid the firm Squire Patton Boggs $110,000 to lobby lawmakers on RFK.

In June, when lead lobbyist Matthew Cutts left Boggs for the firm of Dentons, the Commanders hired Dentons, according to disclosure reports.

Cutts declined to comment. In D.C.’S quest to gain control of RFK, 2022 seemed like an opportune year. Democrats controlled the presidency, Senate and House. In June, deputy mayor for planning and economic developmen­t John Falcicchio, one of Bowser’s top lieutenant­s, sent a letter to Mendelson, writing that it was critical to coalesce around legislatio­n “while the political environmen­t may be best suited for success.”

But months passed without change. In the November midterm elections, Democrats lost the House. Not long after, Bowser’s efforts to acquire the land without Norton and Mendelson ramped up.

Six days after her call with Goodell, Bowser appeared at a “Farewell RFK Stadium” event in Northeast Washington. In a news conference, Bowser stressed the 190-acre site was large enough for “recreation, housing, jobs, [better access] to the river and profession­al sports.” She reiterated that she believes D.C. taxpayers would support a stadium at RFK if it followed the Audi Field model, meaning the city would prepare the land and the team would build the stadium.

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