Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp dropped a bomb last week when she announced that she was pulling her support from Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan to pay for a new baseball stadium and offering an alternative proposal of her own.

Until that moment, Cropp (D-At Large) had been one of the mayor's most stalwart allies on baseball. She was in the room for important meetings with baseball officials. She was in the mayor's office when baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he would move the Montreal Expos to D.C. And she was right up front during the administration's celebration at the City Museum, belting out "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with gusto.

It was also odd that Cropp decided to propose a new stadium plan without lobbying her colleagues. When Cropp unveiled her proposal last Friday, she acknowledged that she hadn't contacted any other council members to solicit their support.

Seventy-two hours later, key council members said Cropp still hadn't called. And at a Monday news conference the day before the council was scheduled to vote on the issue, Cropp conceded that she did not have the votes to win approval for her plan to locate the new ballpark on government-owned land near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium rather than on privately owned land on the Southeast waterfront, as Williams wants.

Then on Tuesday, Cropp abruptly withdrew the RFK proposal and laid out an entirely different plan by which private developers would pay for a stadium on the South Capitol Street site favored by Williams.

All of which raises the question: What is going on with Linda Cropp?

The council chairman is known as a straight shooter and a consummate compromiser. She is famous for holding private breakfast meetings so the council's 13 members can work out their differences behind closed doors before appearing in public session.

Not this time. Cropp conceded that the drama of the past week "is out of character for me." She blamed Williams for failing to take her concerns about the growing cost of the stadium package seriously. A stadium at RFK would cost about $410 million compared with as much as $530 million on the Anacostia waterfront site, according to the city's chief financial officer. And a privately financed stadium would cost the city only about $150 million, Cropp said.

But speculation is rampant that the baseball imbroglio marks Cropp's entry into the increasingly crowded 2006 campaign for mayor. Her maneuvering plays to the majority of city residents who oppose public financing.

Cropp herself declined to say.

"Whether I would run for mayor or for chair or retire is not the issue at all," she said Monday. "The issue is, do we have an opportunity to save hundreds of millions of dollars for our citizens?"

Still Marion

Amid the frantic back and forth over baseball, last week's general election was quickly forgotten around City Hall. But regular people have strong feelings about the fact that former mayor Marion Barry is officially coming back.

At a polling place near Tenleytown, screenwriter David Silberman, 28, called Barry's victory "pretty ridiculous."

"He smoked crack . . . and six months later, practically, he was mayor again. And he keeps coming back," Silberman said.

"It just makes the whole city look . . . bad," said Silberman's sister Rebecca, a 25-year-old waitress.

In Ward 8, some also were distressed about the prospect of having Barry as their council representative. Some privately wondered whether the 68-year-old former mayor, who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, has the stamina to sit through marathon public hearings and tedious legislative work sessions.

None of that mattered to Barry supporters.

"Marion Barry always did a lot of work, and he got things done. Whatever he does, I support," said Yvonne Christian, 27, who was casting her ballot for Barry at Ketcham Elementary. "I've heard people say he has this and that with his health, but that doesn't mean anything."

As for Barry, he said he accepts the criticism with the acclaim.

"You're not universally loved. Even Jesus Christ, even he wasn't universally loved," Barry said in an interview. "I have a large, deep loyalty over here [in Ward 8]. I've served this ward so much. But I'm going to do a lot more and a lot more faster this time around."

Freshman President?

Barry will be joined in January by two other freshman council members from east of the Anacostia River: Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), who lives in Hillcrest, and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7).

Barry clearly believes he will emerge as a sort of freshman class president, leading Brown and Gray to oppose a new ballpark, among other issues.

"I think the three of us are going to make people work harder and work smarter. This lackadaisical laissez-faire, citizens are sick of that," Barry said. "We need to get the focus back on social needs."

But Brown and Gray aren't quite ready to declare Barry their leader, on baseball or anything else.

"No, I won't go along with him on everything," Brown said in an interview. "I represent the whole city. I'm going to have a strong voice for the whole city.

"I think we can get baseball here and do it in a way everyone agrees upon. . . . I'm not with Marion Barry in blocking every single thing that comes through," Brown said. "You can't block everything. Kwame's my own man."

Added Gray: "There's no question we want to work together. We're all freshmen. We all have roots in the same area of the city, an area that has not received its fair share of resources.

"I think there's a considerable amount of common ground that defines us," he said, but "certainly there will be times when we don't agree."