The Cropp Camp's Slowly Folding Tent

The mayor and the woman who would be mayor: Tony Williams and Fleetwood Mac couldn't quite do it for Linda Cropp.
The mayor and the woman who would be mayor: Tony Williams and Fleetwood Mac couldn't quite do it for Linda Cropp. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

In politics, it is never good form to lose one's optimism before it has been utterly pulverized under the heel of the cruel electorate. Maybe that's why candidates' election-night parties are always called victory parties, even though there can be only one victor in each contest. And maybe that's why at mayoral hopeful Linda Cropp's "victory" party at the Capital Hilton last night, everyone kept saying -- with varying degrees of enthusiasm -- that she could still squeak out a win.

"We're alive," Cropp's communications guy said around 9 p.m., somewhat unconvincingly.

"I don't want to talk right now as if it's a foregone conclusion that Ms. Cropp hasn't made it," Mayor Anthony Williams said just before 10.

As it turned out, Cropp was dead, dead, dead. Democratic primary opponent Adrian Fenty whomped her. She'd barely begun her concession speech when Fenty (rather rudely, we thought) cut in to give an acceptance speech at his victory party -- the real one.

"No matter what, we will all move forward together," Cropp was saying. (To a supporter, this sort of sentence has the same dread-inducing effect as the day you found out your parents were divorcing, when your dad said, "Your mother and I have something to tell you.") She continued: "We love this city, don't we?"

All around, people in red wore buttons saying "Linda Cropp!" and stickers saying "Viva Cropp!," those eager exclamation marks rendered somehow pathetic by the news.

We'd spent most of the evening listening to a band play that awful Fleetwood Mac song "Don't Stop" over and over, which is enough to make anyone lose hope. The mineral water at the cash bar cost $4.75. Supporters milled about, and everyone kept talking about how Cropp might still win, and we wondered: When will we see her? And when we see her, will she be the winner or the loser? Will she know before we do? (And will we be able to tell just by her posture that she knows? Or by some sort of instinct?)

"When I hugged her, I knew," said Kindra Cantrell, 18. "I just felt it."

The way Cropp's supporters painted it, this election was metaphor for new vs. old, for youth vs. experience, for lean flash vs. solidity. Fenty, 35, the triathlete with his manic door-knocking, vs. Cropp, 58, a grandmother and former schoolteacher who'd been in elected office for more than 26 years and who plays bridge and who's been so busy this year that her Christmas lights were still up in July. A recent Washington City Paper article contrasted Fenty's energetic persona with a reference to Cropp's portliness. ("How much does mayoral contender Linda Cropp weigh these days?" the story began.)

This is the sort of story that women whose husbands once left them for younger wives must know by heart. It's a familiar tale: the 98-pound weakling vs.the handsome bully. The tortoise vs. the hare. (Leave aside for a moment that this underdog depiction of Cropp doesn't really work -- she had strong support from business interests and much of the political establishment, including Mayor Williams.) If you believe in this interpretation, then, a Cropp win would have driven home something we've always wanted to believe, ever since our mothers said it: that beauty is on the inside. Fenty may be charisma and youthful good looks, but Cropp -- slower, more conciliatory, a little wonkish -- is someone you can put your trust in.

Or not. That was just the word inside the echo chamber, and boy, was it loud in there.

Outside the ballroom (is the band still playing that song?) a 9-year-old was sitting in a chair doing his math homework. A man was hanging around the doorway, and when asked who he was, he revealed he was at the hotel for a health care conference. He was eating free fruit, courtesy of the Linda Cropp victory party.

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