By Lori Montgomery and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Anger over District plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new baseball stadium boiled over at a mayoral debate in far Southwest Washington yesterday, forcing D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp to defend her efforts to push the ballpark deal through a reluctant council.
"How come we see you on the news every night trying to get a backdoor stadium deal when our schools look like Nazi camps?" Chinua Walker, an Emergency Medical Services worker who lives in Ward 8, demanded of Cropp (D).
Added Victoria Nance, a paramedic who lives in Ward 5: "Next time I'm doing CPR, trying to intubate a patient, I'm taking them to the stadium, because there's no hospital down here!"
Cropp rose from her chair and hollered heatedly at her inquisitors, her voice rising to match their passion. She argued that she has raised funds for crumbling public schools and pushed policies to create more affordable housing even as she has worked to broker the stadium deal. And she argued that a new ballpark on the Anacostia River would do as much to revive a forgotten part of town and to fill city coffers as have other successful public development projects.
"Our visionary mayor, Marion Barry, put the Reeves [Municipal] Center up on 14th and U streets because it acted as an incentive to bring about economic development that changed the area," Cropp said. "The MCI Center, which is another stadium, is now bringing in $115 million to $200 million a year, another vision from Marion Barry . . . and we put those dollars into the schools.
"If we do it right, if we pass it [the stadium deal] . . . you will have another $200 million to plow into the community for everyone in the city," Cropp concluded.
Many of the nearly 200 people packed into a basement room at the Washington Highlands Public Library burst into laughter and applause. In the front row of folding chairs, Barry, now a Democratic Council member from Ward 8, raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"I've seen a poll that shows 60 percent of people in this city strongly oppose this stadium deal. Down here, it's more like 80 percent," Barry said. "I think Linda's beginning to see that."
The stadium was just one point of ire aired during the debate, organized by Democrats in Ward 8, the city's poorest area. When the floor was opened to questions from the crowd, Cropp and Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) were targeted by voters furious about the rising cost of housing, deepening poverty rates, deteriorating public schools, an ineffective response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic and a lack of programs for troubled African American boys.
Mary Cuthbert, a vice president of the Ward 8 Democrats, complained about the chronic lack of "amenities" in the ward, such as supermarkets, restaurants and other stores.
"What have the incumbents done for the residents of Ward 8?'" Cuthbert said. "They haven't done nothing."
The mayoral panel featured a third council incumbent: Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5). But he escaped condemnation, in part because Cropp and Fenty are viewed as the front-runners in the race to replace retiring Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). But Orange also went on the attack, telling the crowd that Cropp and Fenty voted to disenfranchise residents east of the Anacostia River by denying coveted committee chairmanships to their representatives.
"The truth is that Wards 7 and 8 are not at the table," he said, "because these individuals voted for you not to be at the table."
Marie C. Johns, former president of Verizon Washington, also jumped on the anti-incumbent bandwagon, urging those present to look at "not who's been in office and on TV every day, but who's been in the vineyard," laboring on behalf of impoverished city residents.
Afterward, Cropp and Fenty dismissed the audience's hostile sentiment, with Cropp accusing Johns and candidate Michael A. Brown, a lobbyist, of packing the crowd with their supporters.
The event also drew paramedics who are angry with city leaders about the state of their equipment. Mary Parham Wolfe, president of the Ward 8 Democrats, said paramedics are also angry about a city investigation into how they cared for a New York Times editor recently killed in an upscale neighborhood of Northwest Washington. For years, Wolfe said, as people died east of the river, city leaders paid little attention.
"Now, all of a sudden there needs to be an independent investigation," she said. "One life should be just as important as another."