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Colbert I. King

Strike One. Strike Two.

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page A23

With only one bite of this apple per week, today's column will have to be a two-fer. Both subjects, however, have a direct bearing on the kind of governance we're getting in the District.

The Baseball Vote: Winners and Losers

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A Heavy Legacy of Wars (The Washington Post, Nov 27, 2004)
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The 6 to 4 D.C. Council vote to build a publicly funded stadium for wealthy baseball owners is being heralded as a major victory for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Some triumph.

Half the mayor's six votes were cast by Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Kevin Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) -- three lame-duck council members who were kicked out of office by voters in September's Democratic primaries. Without them, the mayor was doomed. Here's hoping those soon-to-be-ex-council members get a few tickets out of the bargain.

Plenty of folks in my part of town believe the real winners were council members on the losing side. Ward 4's Adrian Fenty (D) and at-large member David Catania (I) are considered heroes. They, along with Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), fought gallantly on behalf of residents who believe that Williams gave Major League Baseball the keys to the city's vault. Fenty, Catania and Schwartz aren't alone in winning praise. Council Chairman Linda Cropp also performed a valuable public service by focusing the stadium financing debate where it properly belonged: on the project's enormous and steadily rising price tag and its potential financial liabilities for the city. The ballpark financing deal was a home run for the owners. Little wonder. They were served a big fat one right down the middle.

Cropp has taken a lot of shots, some disgustingly cheap, for pressing her very legitimate concerns. But she put her duty to District taxpayers first. In acting as a legislator rather than hustler, Cropp earned the respect of a great many of her fellow citizens across the city.

Schwartz, a loser in several mayoral races, has probably made her last run for the top spot. But Fenty, Catania and Cropp now enjoy enriched political futures because they put the interest of Washingtonians ahead of skyboxes, perks and pats on the head from the powerful. Adrian Fenty especially warrants a closer look as a possible mayoral candidate, with or without Williams in the race.

The same cannot be said for council members Jack Evans and Vincent Orange, both of whom want to be mayor. Evans and Orange may have a leg up in raising campaign funds, given their attractiveness to business interests. But as Evans discovered in his last run for mayor in 1998, which he launched with a hefty campaign treasury, money takes a candidate only so far in this city. Evans got trounced for his troubles, ending up a distant third with 10 percent of the vote. His performance during this year's baseball debate -- a curious display of alternating excessive enthusiasm, bad temper and condescension toward the opposition -- hardly endeared him to voters, who have long memories, especially when they feel disrespected. The chances of Evans ever being called "mayor" are about as likely as the council member's getting hit by a meteor in his office. The same holds true for Orange, who apparently has convinced himself that he has a political life beyond Ward 5. Maybe as president of the D.C. Board of Trade. An Orange-for-mayor campaign? A guaranteed lemon.

Which gets us to Tony Williams. Those who accuse Williams of selling out have got him all wrong. A sellout is one who compromises beliefs or principles for money or gain. What if there are no core beliefs?

Granted, a harsh question. But it's one that's being asked across many dinner tables and in barbershops and beauty parlors, especially in parts of town where Tony Williams seldom ventures.

That's ironic, too. This week Williams landed the presidency of the National League of Cities. Yet he remains a prophet without honor in many parts of his own city, and at a key juncture in the city's history. It's all rather sad.

"He doesn't value or believe anything unless it comes from someone rich or powerful" is a criticism of Williams increasingly heard in the city. That view comes through in the baseball stadium controversy, in discussions of his desire to take over the schools and in his administration's attitudes toward economic development and gentrification.

The Jonathan Magbie case: an update

He is one of the D.C. government's latest victims. Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic sentenced to 10 days in the D.C. jail, died on Sept. 24 while in the city's custody. Late yesterday, the Health Department released a report on its investigation into Magbie's death. One conclusion: Greater Southeast Community Hospital did not comply with federal and local rules while Magbie was in its care. And this: "Hospital staff failed to evaluate the appropriateness of the emergency department's discharge plan for [Magbie] on Sept. 20, given his prior history and equipment needs."


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