Poor Linda Cropp. So misunderstood. So unfairly maligned.
The chairman of the D.C. Council just wants to help. She's not against baseball, she says. She wants baseball. That's why she put off approval of the deal for the Washington Nationals to pursue a harebrained financing scheme.
Cropp was so hurt by the firestorm over her delay tactics that council member Carol Schwartz (At Large) suggested Tuesday that the critics attacked "because you were a woman."
Or maybe it's just because Cropp continues to play power games for her own political gain. Even after the rest of the council accepted all her changes to the deal Tuesday, when it came time to vote, Cropp abstained. Vote for me, I never said Yes to baseball! Vote for me, I never said No to baseball!
She was not alone in this craven act: Phil Mendelson (At Large) and Kathy Patterson (Ward 3) joined in parading their political cowardice.
The deal passed with the support of three lame ducks, who had nothing to lose, and some council members adult enough to rise above their colleagues' timidity -- Jack Evans (Ward 2), Vincent Orange Sr. (Ward 5) and Sharon Ambrose (Ward 6).
The deal's most vociferous opponents, Adrian Fenty (Ward 4) and David Catania (At Large), deserve credit for their principled agitation on behalf of the view that the stadium deal is fiscally irresponsible.
What Fenty and Catania miss is what baseball can do for the region and the District, both as an intangible boost to our communal spirits and as a bottom-line lift to the city's coffers. Critics of the deal correctly note that in a perfect world, baseball's owners would pay their own way. In that sweet arcadia, we'd have a regional stadium authority so we could all help pay for a ballpark that will benefit Maryland and Virginia, as well as the city.
Back on this planet, any deal with Major League Baseball is by definition inequitable. Still, there is a beauty to this deal that makes abstaining indefensible.
Anti-stadium types look at ballpark deals elsewhere and see a shell game. A team such as the Orioles, which draws fans overwhelmingly from Maryland, does little for the taxman. If you and the family take in a Sunday afternoon at the Yard, the state of Maryland is ho-hum about your largesse because if you hadn't gone to the ballpark, odds are you would have dumped a similar sum on dinner out in Bethesda, a shopping expedition to Arundel Mills or a day at Six Flags America in Largo. The accountants in Annapolis don't care which one you pick: Thanks for your patronage. Keep on spending.
But the District is a wholly different story because of the peculiar way our region is organized. The great majority of fans at Nats games will come from the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Their decision to go to a game will trigger a flow of tax dollars to the District that otherwise would have stayed home. That is a meaningful transfer of resources from the suburbs to the city, a social good and economic advantage made possible by public investment.
So even if you don't believe that the Capitol Street corridor will blossom as a result of the stadium development, this deal is sweet. That a majority of the D.C. Council lacked the courage to say so is shameful. That three members were so derelict as to take no position is unforgivable.
Last time I wrote about Cropp's stadium games, she called to say that my ascribing a political motive to her moves was "grossly unfair. Get me on the facts, but attributing my work on the stadium to that belittles what I'm trying to do."
"So you're not running for mayor?" I asked.
She got very quiet. Then: "People have asked me about it. I don't know what I'm going to do. I may retire. I don't know."
This time, Cropp says she abstained "to be able to keep pressure on the mayor for a better deal." But Cropp's idea of pressure has so far nixed plans to use the stadium deal to revive the city's sad libraries and prevented baseball from putting a new team owner in place by Opening Day. She contends that "I am not harming our relationship with baseball." But 24 hours after her bombshell last month, baseball's lawyers convened to look at their options.
If that's Cropp's idea of helping, all we can say is, Go, Linda, go -- to that retirement condo in Ocean City.
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