Wednesday, December 15, 2004

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp received a torrent of e-mail and phone calls yesterday lambasting her for possibly killing the deal with Major League Baseball to relocate the Montreal Expos to the District.

Although many baseball fans were furious, political insiders said the at-large Democrat will survive — and might flourish politically.

The e-mail and phone calls included racist slurs and personal insults. She also has received at least two death threats, which are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department, Cropp spokesman Mark F. Johnson said.

The uproar came in response to an amendment that Mrs. Cropp tacked on to the stadium bill on Tuesday that requires private investors to pay at least half the cost of a $435.2 million ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast.

The provision violated the terms of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ contract with baseball officials that was officially announced Sept. 29.

“Once you make a commitment, you have to go through with it,” said Clarence Brace, owner of Brace’s Barbershop in the 2400 block of Minnesota Avenue SE. “Can you imagine how many people are [outraged] at Linda Cropp right now?”

Albert Feliciana, a hair stylist at the shop, said some of his customers have vowed never to vote for Mrs. Cropp if she runs for mayor.

“It is a shame that they are doing all this last-minute shucking and jiving,” Mr. Feliciana, 59, said. “If baseball says they are going to move the team again, [Mrs. Cropp] is going to look like the goat.”

Larry Johnson said Mrs. Cropp should have voiced opposition to publicly financing the stadium much earlier during the two-year negotiations to bring a ball club to the nation’s capitol.

“If it wasn’t any good, the council should have said so from the beginning,” said Mr. Johnson, 37, of Northwest. “Now we are going to lose out on baseball once again, maybe.”

“It makes the city look bad,” said Reggie Jackson, 54, a clothing salesman from Bowie.

However, one of the D.C. Council’s staunchest supporters of the mayor’s stadium plan said Mrs. Cropp scored a political win.

“There will be a large segment of the city that says she stood up to baseball, and she did the right thing,” said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and the mayor’s point man for the baseball legislation. “In some areas of the electorate, she will be applauded.”

If the team moves elsewhere, baseball supporters probably will blame Mr. Williams for bringing a bad deal to the City Council, and Mrs. Cropp will continue look like a “hero,” he said.

Still, Mr. Evans remained confident that the city will strike a deal that satisfies baseball officials before a Dec. 31 deadline to finalize plans for a new stadium or lose the team.

Lawrence T. Guyot, a longtime D.C. political insider, said Mrs. Cropp had recognized new political currents and positioned herself as a populist leader at a time when the electorate is souring on incumbents.

“Linda Cropp understood the impact and the ramifications of September 14,” said Mr. Guyot, referring to the Democratic primary in which three incumbents on the D.C. Council who supported the stadium deal were voted out of office. “She has moved in such a way as to be the front-runner in the mayor’s race.”

He said the chairman’s opposition to the mayor’s “sweetheart” stadium deal for baseball owners “reflects majority opinion in this city.” 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.

Mr. Guyot said he and several other political heavyweights in the city were pressuring Mrs. Cropp to run for mayor in 2006. However, Mrs. Cropp has kept any further political ambitions to herself.

Mrs. Cropp also received kudos from D.C. Democratic State Committee member Philip E. Pannell.

“The people I speak with don’t see her as derailing the baseball deal as much as being a watchdog of the city’s purse,” he said. “She is seen as trying to get the best possible deal for city taxpayers.”

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