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Colbert I. King

Stepping Up to the Plate for the City

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, December 18, 2004; Page A27

"Thanks for that stupid woman that you call council member to vote against the baseball stadium. Do you really think that that dumbass jungle monkey and her socialist ways is going to win? Why are you people full of envy for upstarting and growing a community that needs something like this? No wonder so many of you kill each other, none of you don't have brains and feed off like animals. Nice job socialists!!!!"

-- e-mail to D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp at 8:26 a.m. on Dec. 15.

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Linda Cropp has come under heavy attack. She's been described as a double-crossing, treacherous demagogue because she had the temerity to question the cost of building a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium. Her eleventh-hour proposal to require half the cost of the stadium to be funded with private financing, which was backed overwhelmingly by her council colleagues, has sent the yahoos off the deep end.

Cropp's motives have been publicly and intentionally demeaned, and she has been unfairly characterized as an ambitious politician out to feather her own nest. I've known Cropp and her husband, Dwight, probably longer than most of her critics have. With Linda Cropp, the city comes first. The same can't be said for some of those calling for her scalp.

Cropp, of course, isn't alone. Other city legislators are coming in for some heavy shelling, especially from the suburbs, where most of the baseball fans make their home, and from local pundits who are unable to conceive of council members as thinking people capable of forming independent judgments.

Where do those council members get off acting as if they're important? Don't they know their place? The "ruling class" wants baseball. The city's genial, compliant mayor gets it. How dare those council clowns not go along? And what's with this business of challenging the Major League Baseball owners with facts and figures?

Historian Lerone Bennett Jr. reports that Frederick Douglass faced the same thing when he broke the pattern and began to speak out. One abolitionist warned Douglass, "Better have a little of the plantation manner of speech than not; it is not best that you seem too learned."

But Douglass rejected the stereotype and said he couldn't follow the injunction. "For I was now reading and thinking. New views of the subject were being presented to my mind. It did not entirely satisfy me to narrate wrongs; I felt like denouncing them. . . . Besides, I was growing and needed room."

Opponents of the mayor's deal, such as council members Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), David Catania (I-At Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) need room, too. They have grown in stature during the baseball debate, notwithstanding attempts to cut them down with ridicule. And Cropp, if anything, is more confident and bolder than she was before she took on the owners and the latest poster boy for D.C. debacles, the mayor.

Whether the owners will peddle their team elsewhere is unknown. It's their bat and ball; they can do whatever they want. This much is clear, however: Despite howls and the weeping and wailing of area baseball fans and some sportswriters and pundits, there are many dry eyes in the city. Most D.C. residents weren't clamoring for a baseball team in the first place. Sure, it would be nice to have one. But not at any price.

At least the blowup over baseball hasn't been in vain. The owners learned a valuable lesson about doing business in the nation's capital -- critical knowledge gained by D.C. residents the hard way, to wit: Mayor Anthony Williams talks a good game, but when it comes to the D.C. Council, he can't deliver diddly squat.

If the owners had done their homework, they would have learned that Williams's political judgment is about as reliable as Metro's Red Line when it snows. Who but the politically tone deaf Williams would have gone out and negotiated a stadium financing deal that 69 percent of D.C. residents would reject? If he had spent half as much time going around the city and listening to community groups as he spent in China or sitting on the front row in the council chamber during the baseball debate, he might have learned something useful. The council's decision to alter the agreement closely reflects community sentiment.

This mayor, pure and simple, is out of touch with those who put him in office. He's completely under the spell of developers and folks downtown who have convinced him and his closed circle of hucksters that the District should be put for sale -- cheap. On Tuesday evening, the D.C. Council finally pushed back, and city is all the better for it. The question now is whether the council will hold its ground.

WRC-TV news anchor Jim Vance spoke for many on Wednesday evening when he heard that the owners had rejected the council's revised baseball stadium financing deal. Vance blurted out: "Great. Let them go screw some other city."

kingc@washpost.com


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