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Cropp Willing to Save Deal, But 'Not at Any Cost'

By William Branigin, David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 17, 2004; 12:33 PM

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said today she wants to save a deal to bring a baseball team to Washington, but "not at any cost," and she expressed willingness to meet with the city's mayor and Major League Baseball to work out a solution.

In an interview on WTOP radio, Cropp (D) said her surprise move Tuesday night to require partial private financing for a new baseball stadium -- a requirement firmly rejected by Major League Baseball -- was not intended to scuttle a deal negotiated between baseball officials and Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The D.C. Council voted 7-6 to approve a stadium financing package that included Cropp's amendment, which requires that up to 50 percent of the cost of building the new stadium come from private sources rather than public funds.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp leaves a news conference in which she asked baseball to "give us a few months." (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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"My vote was to try to see what we could do to save it," Cropp said. "I don't want the deal to be over. If I wanted it to be over, I would have voted with six of my colleagues" against the stadium legislation. "I could have made the deal end at that point."

Cropp made the comments after Williams this morning called on supporters of baseball in Washington to "speak up now" to help save a deal to bring a Major League team to the city, a dream that he said is "close to dying" but can still be realized with more hard work.

In an earlier interview on WTOP, Williams (D) predicted that the D.C. Council would ultimately approve a stadium deal with Major League Baseball, although he said it would be very close.

Cropp repeated her call for Major League Baseball to extend the deadline for the city to approve a stadium financing package for a few months so the District can find private money to add to the deal.

The council and baseball officials have been engaged in a standoff over the future of the Washington Nationals since late Tuesday night, when Cropp attached an amendment to the stadium legislation that requires partial private funding of the construction.

Cropp said on WTOP that she hopes to talk to Williams "fairly soon" but acknowledged that he is "agitated" with her now. She said she wants to reach a common position with the mayor so that each is not saying "something different" to baseball officials.

Cropp also said she is "open to communication with Major League Baseball" and that contacts have been made, but she refused to provide details.

Asked why she, the mayor and Major League Baseball could not sit down together and work something out, Cropp said, "We're in the process of trying to make that happen. I will not say anything else." She would not say whether such a meeting could be held before a Dec. 31 deadline that Major League Baseball has set for a stadium deal, but added "it's my hope that that will happen."

Without her amendment, Cropp said, "I was prepared to vote no" on the stadium legislation Tuesday night." Instead, she said, "I decided to try to work out a process where we could keep baseball and reduce the cost and risk to the District of Columbia." She said she had submitted "an optimistic amendment," since she is convinced that 50 percent private financing can be achieved.

"I want baseball here, but not at any cost," Cropp said, and not by giving "a blank check" to Major League Baseball.

Cropp said she would not put the stadium deal on the agenda for next Tuesday's D.C. Council meeting "if there is no resolution" of the current impasse, and she called the Dec. 31 deadline "artificial." Three new council members opposed to Williams's stadium financing deal are scheduled to take office Jan. 3. But Cropp said she believes they would support her private financing position if the deal comes before the new council.

At a news conference yesterday, Cropp said, "Give us a few months to finalize private financing." She added, "If not, the legislation stands."

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