- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has not been the incompetent villain of the D.C. baseball fiasco.

He cut a deal with the baseball owners, with the support of the D.C. Council, starting with Linda W. Cropp.

Yet, in the 11th hour, Cropp put in overtime to distance herself from the original terms of the agreement, if only because it became politically shrewd to reshape her image as a woman of the people, with the mayoral race looming in two years.

She asked the city to believe that she was essentially out of the loop during the mayor’s tedious negotiations with the baseball owners. She also asked the city to believe that she somehow missed the news of the mayor’s plan of a publicly financed ballpark last spring.

She expressed no reservations then, perhaps because her aide neglected to pass along that particular news clip. She also expressed no reservations on the sweet day that baseball awarded the Expos to the city. In fact, she actually was part of the festivities and appeared to be behind the deal.

But in the end, Cropp, who has designs on being the next mayor of the city, could not let this wonderful political opportunity pass. So she began endeavoring to play the mayor as political dunce, while taking up the cause of the little people.

The gambit has worked. The deal is in the throes of being salvaged anew, and Cropp will have political cover, plus an increased profile, in the next mayoral race. She will not go down as the politician who killed baseball in the city. Instead, she will go down as the politician who attempted to provide a measure of fiscal sanity to the proposed ballpark.

It will be the lead item on her mayoral platform. She will be the person who stood up to Major League Baseball and placed a governor on a fiscally impudent mayor. She, of course, will be the perfect alternative to the number-crunching mayor whose idea of progress is gentrification and cutting deals that favor developers that drive out the little people.

Cropp is counting on the residents of the city to overlook or forget her self-serving role in the 11th-hour maneuverings in two years. She was willing to play with an arduously negotiated deal to serve her self-interests.

There is no way to hold the mayor accountable on that. He had every reason to expect the support of Cropp. He had every reason to accept her word.

Cropp always knew what baseball wanted from its municipal suitors, and she always knew that the city came with the additional baggage of Peter Angelos.

Even after Williams met the terms of baseball, the owners remained reluctant to sign off on this region because of the wrangling certain to follow with Angelos. Baseball eventually decided the region was too demographically fertile and the ballpark deal too sweet to pass up.

Cropp merely shrugged her shoulders and pretended not to know the elementary reality of the sport and the financing. Corporate welfare did not begin with the Expos and a mayor overly eager to add the return of baseball to his legacy.

Cropp, who should ascribe to a higher standard, behaved no better than the agenda-seeking groups waving placards outside the Wilson Building, with the implicit question: “What’s in this ballpark deal for us?”

We know the answer all too well with Cropp. She has a mayoral campaign to wage in 2006, with the benefit of name recognition now.

From Timbuktu to Montreal these last few weeks, baseball observers have been asking, “Who is this Linda Cropp, and how does this D.C. Council thing work?”

Cropp played an unseemly game, and the mayor had no choice but to swallow his pride and play along with her to save the team and a city that labored 33 years and spent untold dollars in pursuit of a franchise.

Cropp was prepared to let all the time, expense and jubilation be for naught.

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