Monumental hires firm to conduct survey on proposed Potomac Yard arena

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Monumental hires firm to conduct survey on proposed Potomac Yard arena
Several residents have received unsolicited phone calls surveying them about the proposed Potomac Yard arena. (Graphic/Jessica Kim)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

Many Alexandrians have been receiving mysterious and unwanted phone calls from unknown numbers asking their opinion on the arena proposal for weeks. The callers? An advocacy firm hired by Monumental Sports & Entertainment.

Since the Dec. 13, 2023, announcement by Monumental and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin that the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals were to move to Alexandria – pending necessary approvals by City Council and the Virginia General Assembly – city residents have debated the merits of the proposal on social media, in public meetings and even formed protest groups.

Monumental has hired ABI Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and advisory firm that, according to the company’s website, “offer[s] full-service public affairs and strategic communications that deliver results” to call Alexandria residents about the proposed arena. ABI is a small firm founded by Bradley Beychok and Ankit Desai in 2021. It has John Anzalone, a pollster for President Joe Biden, and James Carville, a political consultant and strategist most known for his work on former President Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, as senior advisors.

The relationship between Monumental and ABI was confirmed by a representative from ABI and Elizabeth Bolton, vice president of strategic communications at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. The ABI representative, who is an Alexandria resident, requested anonymity because of the controversial nature of this initiative in the city.

The representative from ABI confirmed the firm only runs their business in the private sector, is funded exclusively by private companies and has no connection to the city or state legislature.

They also said these calling campaigns are “typical [of a] public affairs campaign.”

“There’s no method to this madness,” the representative said. “We’re working on community engagement … [and] reaching out to citizens asking how they view this development.”

They said ABI hired a calling center to conduct these calls, which may explain why residents have received calls from numbers outside of Alexandria or out-of-state. Residents said via social media and emails to the Times that a Carteret, New Jersey, number was calling them, but the ABI representative was unable to confirm if this was one of their calls.

The Times attempted to reach the phone numbers posted online or received in an email, but two of them did not go through. The New Jersey number led to a voicemail for a woman named Tammy.

Laurent Janowsky, co-owner of Del Ray Cafe, said he received a phone call on his personal cell phone number from this same New Jersey number. He told the poller he was neutral about the arena, which he said was a response she seemed to not expect.

“I was taken by surprise for a moment because the person knew my name and I didn’t know who she was,” Janowsky said. “I called the number back the following day … just to find out that the woman [who answered that number] said that I was the 60th or 70th person that had called her and said, ‘I missed a [call] from this number and I’m calling it back.’”

Janowsky said his properties will be at least indirectly touched by the arena.

“We have a business in Del Ray and we live in Rosemont,” he said. “I don’t want to say this will affect us, but indirectly it definitely will [impact] both properties.”

Janowsky said the caller did not identify herself, so it is unlikely it was ABI Associates’ call center making the call.

Mary Harris, an Old Town North resident, said she had received four unsolicited calls in two days asking her about the arena and was unsure if the person identified themselves.

“The caller reads a script telling of the wonderful benefits of the sports arena deal and then asking if she could connect me with Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker’s office to tell her to support the deal,” Harris wrote on Nextdoor and confirmed in an interview with the Times.

The ABI representative said although the firm does not work with the state government, legislature or legislators, it’s typical to offer to connect constituents with their local representatives to “streamline the process.”

ABI said these calls will likely continue, at least until the General Assembly votes on the issue prior to its session wraps up on March 9. In this case, there just happens to be a prominent issue in the city, the ABI representative said.

The Alexandria Police Department encourages residents to call their non-emergency line at 703-746-4444 if these or any callers try to collect personal information or if residents believe they are a scam.

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