- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp’s 11th-hour opposition to publicly financing a ballpark in Southeast is a well-timed political maneuver that is reinventing her as a populist at a time when voters are souring on incumbents, city activists and politicians say.

“Linda Cropp is one of the few people on the council who is reacting favorably to the political tremors that were unleashed on September 14,” said longtime political insider Lawrence T. Guyot, referring to the Democratic primary in which three incumbents on the D.C. Council were swept out of office.

It was no coincidence that the ousted incumbents all supported Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ plan to publicly finance the entire cost of a $435.2 million Major League Baseball stadium and their challengers all opposed the “sweetheart” deal, he said. For many residents, the ballpark deal has come to symbolize what they see as the city government’s willingness to coddle businesses at the expense of ordinary residents.

“There are two ways to deal with a train coming at you,” Mr. Guyot said. “One is to stand there and wait for it to hit you. The other is to get on. … Linda got on the train. … It is putting her in the right position, at the right time, on the right issue, for all the right reasons.”

Mrs. Cropp, at-large Democrat, had supported Mr. Williams’ stadium plan, but she began distancing herself from the mayor amid a groundswell of opposition to his financing scheme. Her move on Tuesday to delay a council vote on the plan and offer an alternative proposal to privately finance the project completed her realignment.

“She has made herself a very relevant player,” said Betsy Werronen, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee. “She has put herself in the middle of this to try and work it out. … If she can save the city money, it would be terrific and she would be a big hero.”

The very public confrontation that ensued between Mrs. Cropp and Mr. Williams was out of character for the typically low-key council chairman. Her headline-grabbing actions prompted some political observers to speculate that Mrs. Cropp is jockeying for a 2006 mayoral run or priming herself to take over the job should Mr. Williams be appointed to a post in President Bush’s next administration.

“Her name has been out there a little more than in the past, but I did not say she was more popular,” said council member Sandy Allen, the Ward 8 Democrat who lost her seat to Marion Barry in the primary. “Whatever the chairman decided, I just know she did what she thought was best for her.”

Yesterday, Mrs. Cropp and Mr. Williams found common ground on the issue, agreeing to move forward with the mayor’s plan while seeking private investors to reduce the city’s costs.

Mrs. Cropp, a former public-school teacher and guidance counselor, said she doesn’t know whether she will run for re-election, run for mayor or retire. She insisted that her turnabout was a reaction to constituents’ concerns.

She said private financing “would address concerns that had been raised by the citizens of the District of Columbia who had very clearly stated to me as I’ve gone throughout this city that they would rather have a stadium where the public is not paying for the financing.”

At the same time, Mrs. Cropp refused to let herself be cast as the politician who was willing to lose the baseball team.

“We will not do anything to kill the deal with Major League Baseball,” she said.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chief supporter of the mayor’s plan, said Mrs. Cropp has always been “very popular” and she remained so while opposing public financing.

“If she ran [for mayor], she would win,” he said.

D.C. Democratic State Committee member Philip E. Pannell said Mrs. Cropp had scored points with voters in Southeast, where many consider the stadium an “amenity for the affluent.”

“From where I am positioned here in Ward 8, most of the people I speak to are not in favor of the mayor’s plan,” Mr. Pannell said. “Anybody who speaks out against public financing and in favor of schools and libraries will be considered a hero in this area.”

However, he said Mrs. Cropp’s newfound opposition to the stadium deal could be a liability in other parts of the city.

Mrs. Cropp, who has led the council since 1997, might have alienated some baseball supporters in the business community. After she pulled the mayor’s proposal from the agenda on Tuesday, some business leaders vowed that they would not support any of her future political aims.

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