Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 8, 2007; Page DZ01
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has a new hired gun to help him maintain support in Ward 8, where residents have complained that he's moving too slowly on a plan to build a soccer stadium at Poplar Point, 110 acres along the Anacostia River.
The Fenty administration hired Phinis Jones, a longtime resident with deep ties to influential Ward 8 leaders, about three weeks ago to do "community outreach" on Poplar Point. In this case, that might be a euphemism for "damage control."
Ward 8 leaders have been increasingly vocal in their support for D.C. United's plan to build a stadium as an anchor to mixed-use development. But Fenty (D) broke off talks with United over the summer and launched a formal process to solicit alternative proposals.
Since then, D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) has beaten up on Fenty during community meetings, calling him and his aides "nice people who don't know what they're doing." Now, Fenty is fighting back in the form of Jones, who has lived in Ward 8 for 38 years.
Jones, who referred requests for comment to the Fenty administration, has a long history in city politics. In 1995, Barry nominated Jones to head construction of the city's convention center, but Jones was forced to withdraw after being tied to a scandal involving a businessman who renovated Barry's home.
More recently, Jones served as Fenty's campaign coordinator for Ward 8, helping him in his historic sweep of every precinct last year.
At a recent meeting of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, Jones told the audience that his role is to inform the public about the process at Poplar Point and to bring their input back to the mayor. He seemed particularly eager to temper expectations about the development's timetable.
Poplar Point is owned by the federal government, which has agreed to transfer control to the District. But the process will take years, including significant environmental study and remediation, he noted. Development on the property probably will begin no sooner than 2011, Jones said, to the dismay of many in the audience.
During the question-and-answer session, as residents expressed frustration with the Fenty administration, Jones did his best to parry the blows, occasionally reminding audience members that like them he lives in Ward 8. To Barry, Jones's performance made clear why Fenty hired him.
"He wanted to shut me up," Barry said of the mayor. "But I told Phinis, 'Don't do anything to undercut the will of this community.' "
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Neil O. Albert scoffed when told of Barry's comments. "We wanted somebody who understood the ward," Albert said of Jones.