- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Colin L. Powell, former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has joined the Washington Baseball Club, the investor group led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients seeking to buy the Washington Nationals.

Powell, 68 and chairman of the youth-oriented nonprofit group America’s Promise, joins an already forceful group that also includes American Online co-founder James Kimsey and Joe Robert, a prominent local philanthropist and real estate investment executive.

The four-star general, despite an often difficult tenure as secretary of state during President Bush’s first term, remains one of the most admired public figures in global opinion polls.

Malek and Powell have a connection dating to the early 1970s, when Malek was deputy director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Powell, then an Army lieutenant colonel, received a prestigious White House fellowship under President Richard Nixon. Powell then worked briefly as Malek’s executive assistant at OMB.

“General Powell and I are longtime friends who share a deep commitment to this community and everything it has given us,” Malek said.

Powell also marks one of several recent additions to the nine investor groups seeking the Nationals. Initial bids for the club, currently owned by Major League Baseball, are due Tuesday, and each bidder is seeking to make the best possible impression in what promises to be a competitive battle.

Last week, another investor group led by Northern Virginia businessman William Collins III added former Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. In addition to Powell, Malek’s group has added Dennis Bakke, co-founder and former president of global energy giant AES Corp., and David Donnini, principal of GTCR Golder Rauner LLC, a Chicago investment firm specializing in private equity funds.

The Nationals are expected to sell for at least $300 million in a sales process MLB commissioner Bud Selig wants to complete this summer. The Malek-Zients group is widely seen as the prohibitive favorite but will face competition not only from Collins but from other groups led by District entrepreneur and philanthropist Jonathan Ledecky, the family of prominent local developer Ted Lerner and former Atlanta sports executive Stan Kasten.

Also in the hunt are former Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan, California grocery magnate Ron Burkle, Tennessee developer Franklin Haney Sr. and New York real estate executive David Walentas. Each of the bid groups has supplied a partially refundable $100,000 deposit to MLB to enter the chase.

Powell spoke to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Mich., last night and was unavailable for comment. But in a statement, he said, “In Washington, we have the opportunity to reinvigorate this city and bring baseball back to a generation of youth who have lost their connection to our nation’s pastime. I’m encouraged by baseball’s efforts to diversify its ranks and its reach, and the Washington Baseball Club shares that commitment to making this team accessible to every Washingtonian.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams endorsed the addition of Powell to the Malek-Zients group, saying, “This is another reminder of how the WBC has worked for the last six years, side-by-side with the city, to make the dream of baseball in D.C. a reality.”

The District has a memorandum of understanding with the Washington Baseball Club to bring baseball to the District and jointly develop it as a community asset.

The Malek-Zients group also includes former Washington Redskin Darrell Green; Dennis Hightower, former Walt Disney Television executive; former Fannie Mae chief executive Franklin Raines; investment executive Russ Ramsey; David Bradley, chairman of Atlantic Media Co.; Vernon Jordan, local power broker and senior managing director of Lazard Freres & Co.; and local attorneys Stephen Porter and Paul Wolff.

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