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Cropp Vowed to Back Deal, Mayor Believed

Chairman Admits Blindsiding Williams

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page A18

On Monday night, hours before the D.C. Council was set to cast a final vote on his plan to finance a new baseball stadium, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp met to work out a few last details.

"So, am I going to be happy or unhappy tomorrow?" the mayor asked Cropp when the meeting ended.

Linda Cropp acknowledged blindsiding the mayor and council colleagues. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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"I think you're going to be pleased," she replied.

As they parted ways, the mayor and chairman understood that exchange to mean two very different things.

Williams (D) was convinced that Cropp had promised to deliver the votes for his baseball package, officials said. But Cropp (D) said she was optimistic because she thought that Williams had agreed to go back to Major League Baseball officials and finagle a few last concessions to lower the public cost of the ballpark.

Over the next 24 hours, that gap in understanding between the city's two most powerful political leaders grew into a vast divide. On Tuesday, Williams wandered into the council chambers expecting to watch the triumphant finale of his six-year campaign to bring baseball back to the nation's capital. Instead, he sat in stunned silence as Cropp rammed through an amendment so poisonous to baseball officials that yesterday they halted ticket sales and canceled the scheduled unveiling of Washington Nationals uniforms.

Supporters and opponents of the baseball deal yesterday debated what drove Cropp to drop her bombshell and whether Williams should have known something was amiss.

In several interviews, Cropp acknowledged blindsiding the mayor, her council colleagues and even members of her staff with the amendment, which required that half of the cost of the ballpark come from private financing. She said she drafted it late in the day, "as I listened to the debate, and the concerns I've had over the past couple of months kind of percolated."

Those concerns prompted her to demand two weeks ago that Williams go back to baseball officials and renegotiate portions of the stadium agreement that the city and Major League Baseball signed in late September. Among her demands: The city should be able to use the stadium more often. The team should provide more benefits to the community. The city's liability should be limited if the ballpark is not ready for the 2008 season. And most important to Cropp, the city should be able to pursue private financing instead of being required to build the stadium with new taxes.

Cropp acknowledged that the list of concessions Williams presented to her Monday night met every one of those demands. But she said she wanted more, and that she gave Williams "language, amendments I had written" to take back to baseball officials. She described those amendments yesterday in vague terms, saying she wanted more "shared costs."

When baseball sent a final version of the list to Cropp about noon Tuesday, it did not contain any of those revisions, she said. She distributed it to her council colleagues, and many of them mocked it from the dais as petty and insubstantial.

"I told her, 'Mrs. Cropp, all they're doing is regurgitating.' I think that really made her mad," said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).

Cropp said the debate helped to crystallize her thinking and convinced her that drastic action was needed.

"I consistently said I will not vote for this unless I get some changes," Cropp said. "And I realized there were not substantive changes."

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