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At the End of the Day, Cropp Owns the Deal

Baseball Doesn't Flee, It Compromises

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page B05

A week ago, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp wrestled away control of the city's baseball deal, and hopes of luring a team seemed to be unraveling.

Suddenly, Cropp (D) was in the center of a storm she created.

Council members Jack Evans, center, and Harold Brazil are smiling after Chairman Linda W. Cropp concluded votes on the baseball financing deal. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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Baseball fans were furious and blamed her for jeopardizing baseball's return to Washington. She was demonized by talk-radio hosts and columnists.

She also was hailed by supporters as a champion of working people because she was willing to take on baseball's millionaires.

Yesterday, Cropp remained in control as she orchestrated another crucial council vote. This time, she helped to seal the baseball deal.

"I certainly have been bent through this process, but I have not been broken," Cropp said during yesterday's baseball debate.

In negotiations with Major League Baseball, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) had promised to build a publicly financed stadium. Last week, Cropp persuaded the council to mandate that at least half the cost of the stadium be covered by private financing.

During the past week, Cropp demanded and helped to secure a compromise. Yesterday, she presented that compromise in the form of two amendments to the baseball legislation, winning council approval for changes that she said could save the District $193.5 million.

She was all business, rejecting any attempt to alter the new deal cut after she, too, had talked directly with baseball officials. She even slammed the gavel down to quiet baseball fans who began to sing, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

"All right, order," Cropp said, steely eyes looking over reading glasses.

In the end, Cropp appeared to have it her way. Even her opponents wound up acknowledging that she had tapped a vein of resentment in the city that took Williams and baseball supporters by surprise.

By Monday, everyone seemed to be kowtowing to Cropp. Baseball officials, who had insisted on dealing with the mayor, were working to assuage her concerns. Williams -- who Cropp said had largely ignored her during negotiations -- paid a visit to her office to make peace. And some of her fellow council colleagues held a news conference to defend her legislative honor.

The new negotiations even worked around Cropp's dinner plans Monday night. Cropp and her husband left the John A. Wilson Building to meet friends at Charlie Palmer Steak. When she returned, the mayor's aides waited while she reviewed the final wording of the compromise.

Finally, Monday night, as the mayor and Cropp prepared for a joint 11 p.m. news conference to announce the changes, a mayoral aide asked the media to move from the mayor's press briefing room to the council meeting room. The aide said Cropp had requested the change.

Even her opponents said Cropp wound up improving the deal. "I think she had the best interests of the city at heart," Charlie Brotman, the former announcer for the Washington Senators, said after the deal was approved yesterday.

During the final debate, Cropp seemed to address those who had tried to analyze her motivations. Some had said that she has been grandstanding or trying to lay down a populist path as part of a plan to run for mayor in two years.

"I've had a lot of motives attributed to me over the past months,'' Cropp said, a slight smile betraying her lips. "Most people don't know A to B about motives.''

© 2004 The Washington Post Company