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Mayor's Presence Rewarded in Vote

Williams Delays Trip, Endures Debate

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2004; Page B01

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams postponed a trip, cleared his schedule and sat through nearly four hours of fractious debate yesterday over his plan to bring baseball back to the nation's capital.

And when the D.C. Council at long last took a vote, giving tentative approval to the mayor's baseball bill, the famously reserved chief executive leapt to his feet with a broad smile and began energetically shaking hands.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams walks through council chambers to say thanks to members who helped push through his stadium financing plan. (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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"Great job!" Williams (D) cried to Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), who declined to vote for the bill but marshaled it successfully through a minefield of hostile amendments.

Williams -- who is often criticized for failing to reach out to council members -- then rushed around the council chambers, cornering supporters and, one by one, offering his thanks.

"I thought it was important today to come down and have a visible presence to show how important this is for the city," Williams said later. "The council did a great thing today. I'm really excited."

It was the first time in anyone's memory that the mayor had come down to the fifth-floor council chambers from his office on the sixth floor of the John A. Wilson Building for an important vote. Cropp said it was the first time in her memory that any mayor had sat through most of a council debate.

Indeed, Cropp confessed that she was a little surprised to see Williams stride through the ornate wooden doors leading into the chambers for the first of three extended visits about 12:40 p.m.

"I think it was a good effort on his part, to tell you the truth," Cropp said. "It was extremely important for the mayor to be here and hear the concerns of members of the council. I think it's a feather in his cap."

Others were less impressed, particularly those who voted against the baseball package. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) did not get a handshake after he challenged the mayor directly to defend a financing plan that Fenty argues is overly generous to Major League Baseball. And council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) said the mayor should have come to the 16-hour public hearing on the baseball bill if he really wanted to get a feel for the opposition.

"It's kind of puff to show up when he knows we can't ask him questions," Catania said. "He gets no points from me on that."

Williams had planned to travel yesterday to Indianapolis, where he expects to be elected president of the National League of Cities this week. But Monday, the mayor decided to postpone his departure until this morning and devote the entire day to baseball.

The mayor's day began at 9 a.m. with a series of phone calls to local radio stations eager for Williams's take on the impending vote.

Soon after, Williams met with Cropp to discuss her plans for managing the legislative session. At that meeting, Cropp assured Williams that his bill would pass, though she wouldn't promise him her vote.

Williams, in turn, gave Cropp permission to announce from the dais that he had agreed to go back to Major League Baseball officials to discuss parts of the stadium-financing agreement signed in September.

After that, Williams sat in his office making calls and watching the start of the council session on TV. Suddenly, an aide said, he stood up and announced that he was heading down to watch the debate in person.

Except for breaks to eat lunch and do radio and TV interviews, the mayor spent the rest of the afternoon in the council chambers.

Williams at first played down his presence, saying he had visited the council "a couple of times for really big deals." Later, though, he acknowledged that his time had been "an illuminating experience" that gave him new respect for the dedication of council members.

"I actually ran out and did some errands while they were sitting there," he said, "which gave me a deeper experience of how much time they put in."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company