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Tuesday's DC vote could affect stadium debate

Democratic primary could have an impact on United's stadium plans

WASHINGTON — Thousands of voters go to the polls across the District of Columbia to take part in primary elections on Tuesday, including many D.C. United fans anxious to see if the capital’s next round of leaders will take action to assist their team’s long-running search for a new home.

Driven in large part by the hotly contested mayoral race between Democratic incumbent Adrian Fenty and his challenger, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, a large turnout is expected throughout the District, which has only been able to elect its own leadership since 1974.

While the topic of a soccer-specific stadium for United has largely been marginalized in this year’s campaign, whoever occupies the mayor’s office for the next four years stands to play a pivotal role in United’s future.

Fenty’s first term featured continued population growth, economic development and marked improvement of many neighborhoods and government services. But the campaign has turned into a referendum on his brusque personality, which has turned off large swaths of the DC public and helped Gray push ahead in the polls.

For their part, many United supporters hold a grudge against Fenty for his about-face regarding a new stadium for the Black-and-Red at Poplar Point, on the Anacostia River. On the eve of the previous mayoral election six years ago, he addressed a raucous RFK Stadium crowd just before a DC match and uttered these fateful words:

“It is my hope that fans will soon be coming to your brand-new soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Anacostia. World-class fans, and a world-class team like D.C. United, deserve a world-class stadium, and I am going to make it a priority to help you build that stadium.”

But negotiations between the club and the city stalled, and Fenty’s administration eventually cut the stadium out of the master plans for Poplar Point. The entire mixed-use project was then shelved when the recession hit in 2008. To this day, the site remains in limbo between federal and city control, and United have had to look elsewhere for a new home.

Any day now, the Maryland Stadium Authority will release a long-awaited feasibility study on a potential United stadium in downtown Baltimore. Despite a clear preference for remaining in the District, the club has acknowledged that relocation to the Charm City may soon become the only option for long-term viability.

Gray has done precious little to indicate that a soccer stadium ranks on his list of priorities. But if he hangs on for a primary win as predicted—and in left-leaning DC, general elections are a formality for Democrats—he’ll eventually have to decide what he’s prepared to do to keep United in the District.