- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Welcome news: Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell makes a pitch for D.C. baseball. So what about his promise?

Now in private life, Mr. Powell announced this week his intentions to become a player in the Washington Baseball Club’s pitch to win ownership of the Washington Nationals.

Surely the world-class negotiator’s household name will up the ante for the Washington Baseball Club, often unofficially referred to as the “Malek Group” after Frederick Malek, who was briefly Mr. Powell’s boss at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in the ‘70s.

If — and that’s a big “if” — Major League Baseball finally gets around to choosing an owner for its fledgling franchise, at the mere cost of at least $300 million, it will be hard-pressed not to select the power punch packed by the Washington Baseball Club with Mr. Powell on the roster.

Still, the larger questions that loom concern whether Mr. Powell’s panache, name recognition and mission will garner support where it matters most — with D.C. voters and residents.

Will Mr. Powell’s standing turn the tide for those opposed to Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ one-eyed obsession to build a stadium with tax dollars?

“His name doesn’t help. It decides, and in terms of impact, a better choice couldn’t have been made,” said Northwest community activist Lawrence Guyot.

“[Mr. Powell’s name] has impact on the investment and on the leadership in the highest levels of the city … with the exception of the city council, [where] it doesn’t translate to votes.

“But those people fundamentally opposed to baseball [spending] aren’t going anywhere,” Mr. Guyot said. “For those deciding to go or not to go to a game, at that level, I don’t think Mr. Powell makes a difference.”

However, Mr. Powell’s promises could.

The 68-year-old Mr. Powell, who founded the nonprofit group America’s Promise: The Alliance for Youth, wants to “make the team accessible to every Washingtonian.”

And the stellar statesman welcomes the “opportunity to reinvigorate this city and bring baseball back to a generation of youths who have lost their connection to America’s pastime.”

America’s Promise seeks to mobilize people from every section of American life to “strengthen the character and competence of America’s youth.”

The organization’s five promises include making sure each child has caring adults, safe places, a healthy start and future, effective education and opportunities to help others.

It aims to “change public policies affecting children and youth and to change the scope and scale of resources devoted to helping young people achieve their full potential.”

In case Mr. Powell hasn’t ventured to the far corners of the District lately during his worldwide travels, this city is in desperate need of seeing some of his promises realized.

For example, it’s not clear whether Mr. Powell’s promises will help Mark Hall, who is spearheading a six-week petition and protest drive for the Capital Area Minority Contractors and Business Associates.

Mr. Hall argues that the Williams administration has left minority D.C. contractors, businesses and tradesmen out of the major redevelopment projects, including the Washington Convention Center and the Anacostia Waterfront development.

Earlier this month, Mr. Hall led a group of city youths — desperate for jobs beyond minimum-wage vending jobs at RFK Stadium — in a loud protest outside a school board meeting.

Young men asked sympathizers to honk their horns and chanted, “Mayor Williams, bring back vocational education to D.C. public schools,” and “D.C. public schools discriminate against black contractors.”

Southeast community activist Cardell Shelton said: “We need to teach kids how to work. They need survival skills … because with no money and no skills, they throw a brick and go back to jail.”

Perhaps Mr. Powell could promise to make sure his Malek Group members, should they be selected, will insist that city youths are guaranteed an apprenticeship program to teach them how to build with those bricks.

After all, Mr. Malek is quoted in this paper as saying, “General Powell and I are longtime friends who share a deep commitment to this community and everything it has given to us.”

At issue is the mayor’s willingness — in a right-to-work city — to allow in building the new stadium union-only shops and project labor agreements, which Mr. Hall said are “historically exclusive” to minority construction workers and tradesmen.

Most of the workers who are being hired live as far away as North Carolina and West Virginia.

Therein lies the sticking point for city residents, many of them minorities in working-class neighborhoods who couldn’t care less about baseball and are opposed to spending city dollars on a stadium rather than educational and economic needs.

If billionaires are to benefit when MLB reviews the bids of 10 prospective owners beginning next week, the winners should be D.C.-based billionaires such as the Washington Baseball Club, which includes several heavy hitters like financier Franklin Raines, lawyer Vernon Jordan and ex-Redskin Darryl Green.

The Washington Baseball Club already has spent at least $1.5 million lobbying for a team and awarding them the franchise is their just deserts.

Says Washington Times sportswriter Eric Fisher, “Nobody has come out publicly with as much of a charitable platform” as the Washington Baseball Club, which is at least talking about conducting youth outreach programs.

If Mr. Powell does make his “America’s Promise” a D.C. promise, then his placement atop the Washington Baseball Club’s roster could be a welcome addition to an otherwise prickly, local situation.

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