- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

The question seemed almost nostalgic.

District Mayor Anthony Williams yesterday brought to The Washington Times his desperate campaign to gain city council approval for the lease for the future home of the Washington Nationals.

“You have said in the past that you support the Washington Baseball Club to own the Washington Nationals. Is that still the case?” the mayor was asked.

Williams paused to recall exactly why he threw his support behind the WBC, the Malek-Zients group, because it seemed such a distant memory.

He cited a number of reasons: the community involvement of members like Fred Malek, Joe Robert and Jim Kimsey, the political contacts with both political parties of investors like Vernon Jordan and Colin Powell.

“And they were also very instrumental in working with us to get baseball here,” Williams said. “I believe they are worthy of our support.”

That support doesn’t seem quite as important anymore.

In fact, the idea of District politicians trying to toss their weight around and influence baseball about who will own the Nats seems pathetically naive these days. That especially is so in the case of a mayor who is fighting the political battle of his life to deliver the deal he promised baseball.

What could they be thinking at baseball headquarters on Park Avenue when, for the second straight December, the deal faces the possibility of collapse?

How little political clout must they think Williams has when baseball’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, is forced at this late date to fax a letter to Council Chairman Linda Cropp to stop the notion of putting the ballpark someplace other than the agreed-upon site.

Anyone who watched the council hearing on the lease Tuesday could easily imagine what White Sox owner and MLB lease negotiator Jerry Reinsdorf must have thought after being locked in a room with that gang not long ago.

And baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig should be expected to take seriously the endorsements of these politicians for a bidder for the Nationals?

The entire ridiculous debate about local ownership fell by the wayside after the emergence of a more pressing issue: whether the team up for sale will have a place to play. All political energy available is being directed toward saving the ballpark plan and getting the lease approved by the council.

If local ownership actually means anything, now is the time to show it in the form of influence with the three or so council members considered swing votes for the lease.

If the Washington Baseball Club or the Lerners want to prove the value of local ownership, they should flex their political muscle to make sure this deal gets done.

Ironically, it may be the dreaded “outsider,” Jeffrey Smulyan, who might be able to do that.

The group of local minority investors he has assembled — TV One chairman Alfred Liggins; financier Dwight Bush; business executives Ernie and William Jarvis, and attorney Eric Holder — certainly have the local political connections to play the cards needed to get council support.

I suspect Williams, who is not running for re-election, will be able to deliver the necessary votes for lease approval when it comes before the council on Tuesday and move on with plans for the new ballpark.

“I think I still have some leverage,” he said.

I also suspect word on a new owner for the Nationals to follow very quickly after that approval — maybe before the week is out.

If it is not one of the so-called favored sons of the District, I doubt there will be much outrage. Everyone will still be basking in the relief that there will be a new ballpark for the Washington Nationals.

Then, it will be Christmas.

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