Thursday, December 16, 2004

Let me ask you a few basic questions: How long did it take you to get to work this morning in growing gridlock? Was the subway delayed because the aging tracks froze? How much did you spend for gas?

Do you have to move because of rising rent or escalating property tax bills in your gentrifying neighborhood? Is your loved one fighting in an unholy war? Can you check out a book in a D.C. library on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

Now, let me ask you: What does fielding a Major League Baseball team in the nation’s capital have to do with any of these quality-of-life issues? The unbiased answer is not a life-threatening or life-altering thing. So let’s get a grip and get some perspective.

Judging from the uncouth, charged and chauvinistic words grown men are hurling at one courageous Linda W. Cropp, the D.C. Council chairman, because she said “enough” to baseball moguls, you’d think that the possibility of watching baseball walk away was a cosmic catastrophe.

For a second, it appeared as if Osama bin Laden had flown a private plane into the John A. Wilson Building in the guise of a savvy public servant who committed the cardinal sin of performing due diligence on a ghastly government contract, which, as it stands, is still more beneficial to baseball than the city.

The question that begs to be asked is not whether the council’s vote — taken after the Cropp amendment that requires 50 percent private financing to construct a new stadium — jeopardized baseball; the more important issue is whether building a baseball stadium with a blank check and hefty penalty burdens was jeopardizing the city and its residents. The District still must provide basic services during the 284 days a year when the baseball field is dark.

Mrs. Cropp and a majority of her colleagues did exactly what they were legally bound to do given that they were presented with a shakedown deal so late in the negotiating game. Baseball knew the deal had to be vetted by the legislative process.

The majority of city residents from all corners, as Chris Weiss of the broad-based coalition No DC Taxes For Baseball points out, oppose a publicly financed stadium. Anywhere else this cautiousness would be considered good government that should have come from the chief executive’s office.

“Linda Cropp is standing up to Major League Baseball, and with her posturing, she is saying ‘enough is enough.’ We can’t keep giving this group special privileges all over the country,” said the ever-optimistic Mr. Weiss.

The District is not the only city balking at building sports stadiums and arenas with public dollars. Folks are getting hip to the hype. In New York, for example, taxpayers are upset about plans to allocate $600 million in public infrastructure for a $1 billion football stadium, which, by the way, the team is paying for, according to the New York Times.

Remember, Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin paid for the MCI Center. Blame baseball for being so greedy. Blame Mayor Anthony A. Williams for being so smug and stupid. Even blame Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos for holding everybody hostage. But don’t put all the blame on Mrs. Cropp if you never hear “batter up” at RFK Stadium or along the Anacostia waterfront.

Read the letter that baseball officials sent to Mrs. Cropp, ostensibly to allay some of her concerns about cost overruns and other uncalculated items. Instead, they sent her an insult.

Mr. Williams could learn a lot from this humongous loss. First, don’t count your hardballs before they’re thrown. Second, stop dismissing your opposition so snidely. Third, look at your constituents, listen to them and act on their desires just once.

As usual, the Bow Tie Bandit didn’t listen to frustrated voters, which is the direct and politically dangerous result of being so disconnected from them. While he was earning frequent-flier miles, Mrs. Cropp was earning community chits.

Who is really surprised by Mrs. Cropp’s caveat? She signaled two weeks ago that she was not on the “baseball at any cost” team. Early Tuesday, she warned that if there were no real private financing options in place, “I’m outta here.” Will baseball be “outta here,” too, because of what it calls “a wholly unacceptable” deal? We hope not. Baseball needs to offer a few concessions. If it doesn’t, it won’t matter, certainly not to Frazier O’Leary, the Cardozo High School English teacher who is also the baseball coach. He wants baseball, but he supports Mrs. Cropp’s position not to give away “the whole house, the back yard and everything.”

I wrote about Mr. O’Leary’s players being used as props during the big baseball announcement at the now-closed City Museum back in September. No one from the District or elsewhere has sent him a dime to defray the cost of a citywide baseball tournament, or to send his players to the Virgin Islands to represent the city at a high school tournament. Let me hear a ruckus about that pathetic situation.

Mrs. Cropp knew she would be “vilified.” But sportswriters and sports fans don’t have to pay for the sweetheart stadium; D.C. residents and businesses do.

The latter are more than pleased by Mrs. Cropp’s punch. “I believe as a good politician, Linda was seeking a balance between what the business community wants and the public’s overwhelming fear of the burden and the escalating cost [of the stadium],” D.C. real estate developer Michele Hagans said.

Longtime D.C. resident Lea Adams said, “Linda’s position, whether or not you agree with it, took courage and commitment to her job as a member of the council to go up against these monied interests.” As they say, “good lookin’ out [for me],” Linda.

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