Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Well, just when Queen Linda and Mini-Mayor made a deal to save the ballpark financing legislation that likely will lead to its approval at tonight’s city council meeting, I saw the light shone so brightly by ballpark opponents. I, too, now believe the priorities are out of whack.

How can we be talking about spending tax dollars to build a ballpark when there are men in space in danger of starving?

Yes, apparently, the food supply is running out for the two men floating high above in the International Space Station — which, by the way, is believed to be one of the alternative locations Major League Baseball has considered for the Washington Nationals.

How did Ralph Nader miss this argument? Schools, hospitals and now spacemen, all suffering because Washington wants to build a baseball stadium.

A bit of a stretch? Hey, it’s in the same ballpark as the other arguments stadium opponents have made, shamelessly using poor people and school children to push their own agendas, whether they were Aunt Bea activists, porn dealers or politicians.

D.C. City Council members David Catania and Adrian Fenty should have their feet held to the fire over the District’s school system and health care since they have crowned themselves champions of the poor in this debate. If those institutions are not any better the next time council members are up for a vote, District residents know who to hold accountable. If they can’t do any more than talk the talk, let them take a walk.

Queen Linda won’t be walking, though, except to the mayor’s office as the city’s next boss. Linda W. Cropp, the council chairman, used this ballpark financing plan to place herself squarely as the favorite to become the next mayor of Washington, though she has been noncommittal about those prospects. She has come off as the one politician protecting the District taxpayers, stopping Mayor Anthony A. Williams — whose political stature has been shrinking rapidly the past two weeks — from sending the District into supposed economic ruin with his plan for the city to build a ballpark for the relocated Montreal Expos.

And if last night’s late agreement between Queen Linda and Mini-Mayor results in a successful city council vote tonight, she will get out of the Sharon Pratt Kelly wing of the District’s sports hall of fame. If the legislation is approved as expected, she will not have a legacy as the politician who killed baseball after 33 years of hard work trying to bring it back since the Senators moved to Arlington, Texas.

Don’t be pinning any medals on Queen Linda, though. The only interests she was intent on protecting in her move to block the proposed ballpark deal were her own.

The concerns about a 100 percent publicly financed ballpark could have been raised any number of times by Queen Linda, who was at a meeting in New York between baseball bosses and city officials in January 2003 when Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made it clear baseball was looking for a totally public-financed ballpark.

She raised the issue of private financing only when it served her political purposes. Or does she really think the racially charged debate that has divided the region has been a good thing? Does she believe working throughout this two-year process to change the proposal — and it is difficult to believe the head of the city council would allow herself to be shut out of that process, unless she either was inept or wanted to make sure the mayor did not get credit for bringing baseball back to Washington — would not have accomplished her supposedly lofty goals?

All of this, though, will be background noise if the Washington Nationals take the field on April14 at RFK Stadium for the home opener. You likely will see Queen Linda there, perhaps Catania and Fenty as well, maybe carrying placards that say “No books, no bandages, no baseball” while wondering where their seats are.

And, of course, I will be there, carrying a sign to voice my own opposition to this injustice: “$500million for a ballpark, yet no money for Tang.”

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