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Ted Leonsis’s Suburban Arena Scam Is Nearly Kaput

Ted Leonsis sits.
Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Possibly Ted Leonsis and Glenn Youngkin were counting upon a severely compressed timeline to pressure Virginia lawmakers into shoving along their plan to extract billions of dollars in public financing for a new arena and entertainment district along the decaying Alexandria waterfront. Youngkin, Virginia's term-limited Republican governor, announced the Potomac Yard project at a big unveiling ceremony on Dec. 13, notably before he'd done the legwork of building a consensus in the state General Assembly, a body that is controlled by his political opponents. This was rash: Lawmakers would have just about three months to jam this mess into a biennium budget that covers the remainder of Youngkin's term. Three months is a long time in the life of a cockroach, but it is a very short amount of time in which to scrounge together a whopping $1.5 billion in debt-funded public financing.

The pressure campaign appears to have backfired. General Assembly negotiators unveiled a budget Thursday that does not include any mechanism for financing Youngkin's arena project. This budget, which includes raises for teachers and state employees and restores $229 million in funding for local school divisions, will go to a vote on Saturday; once it passes, lawmakers will adjourn the legislative session, and that will very nearly be that. Youngkin will have few moves left: He can send the arena financing proposal back to the Assembly as a standalone bill, but without the give-and-take of a budget negotiation there will be even less pressure on the plan's opponents to vote on its behalf.

Getting it into the budget was Youngkin's best bet; expecting lawmakers from the other party to work this out in a single 60-day legislative session was super extremely dumb as hell. "We’re talking about a lack of process, we’re talking about a lack of information, we’re talking about a rush, putting together a project that did not have to be rushed," said Sen. Mamie E. Locke, one of the proposal's opponents, per the Washington Post. "There are all kinds of problems that were part of this whole thing."

The rushed timeline wasn't the only obstacle. Hard as it may be to believe, there are elected officials in this country who oppose giving handouts to billionaires. Youngkin's main opponent in this matter has been Sen. L. Louise Lucas, chairperson of the Senate finance committee. Lucas seemed to gather steam after she and Youngkin traded jabs following a speech the droopy idiot governor delivered at a mock Republican nominating convention in mid-February, accusing Democrats of actively opposing "a strong America." Lucas's opposition has become more direct and forceful over time, to the point that Leonsis himself even schlepped down to Richmond to meet with Lucas face to face. The meeting, says Lucas, was cordial, but Leonsis left unsatisfied. "I do not believe we ought to put the full faith and credit of the commonwealth behind a project that's going to further enrich billionaires," she said Thursday, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, proudly acknowledging that she had become a one-woman roadblock for Youngkin's legacy-making ambitions. "If [Monumental Sports & Entertainment] wants this project, pay for it themselves, and not put it on the backs of the commonwealth's taxpayers, plain and simple."

Youngkin groused about this embarrassing setback Thursday, issuing lightly veiled threats about political retribution and suggesting that the General Assembly take Friday to negotiate the arena proposal—again, a complicated public financing scheme that would involve the creation of an entirely new governmental body—back into the budget. This is obviously deranged, as was pointed out by the arena bill's own sponsor. "We can’t negotiate a multibillion dollar deal in eight hours between two chambers and the governor’s mansion and multiple private parties," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, per the Post. "It’s nonsense and it’s a press stunt.”

So the Wizards and Capitals, both owned by Leonsis, may not be moving to Virginia after all. If the Potomac Yard arena proposal isn't quite officially dead—Youngkin might not have many moves left but he will for sure keep humping this chicken until it is a loose feathery goo—it is now very definitely a long shot. "We are disappointed in the legislature’s decision not to fully consider a proposal that promises transformative benefits for Alexandria and the entire Commonwealth," said Monumental Sports & Entertainment, in a statement to the Post. Nobody wants this damn Potomac Yard development, except for the slimy governor and the smirking billionaire. This may be the rare moment in modern history when that alone simply isn't enough.

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