- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams yesterday reiterated his support of one of the local groups bidding for ownership of the Washington Nationals, throwing his weight behind the one led by businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients.

Williams met yesterday with Malek, Zients and other partners, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and prominent investor George Haywood. The group is one of eight vying for ownership of the Nationals, who are expected to be sold by Major League Baseball for at least $450 million.

“While all of the individuals bidding for the Washington Nationals are qualified and represent an improvement over the current ownerless situation, I truly believe that the Malek-Zients group would run the team in the best interests of the District of Columbia, the team and the league,” Williams said.

The Malek-Zients team has garnered the most support because the two men have strong local ties and were instrumental in bringing baseball to the District. But other bids have gained notice locally.

Last week D.C. Councilman Kwame Brown, At-Large Democrat, expressed support for a bid by Indianapolis communications executive Jeff Smulyan, citing his numerous local and minority partners. Other local bidders have been trying to gain support in the city, including developer Franklin Haney, who said last month he would pay for any cost overruns for the ballpark, and businessman Jonathan Ledecky, who this summer donated money to form a trust fund for upgrades to recreation areas in the city.

A group led by the Lerner family, which runs a large Bethesda real estate company, also has gained some support but has been silent publicly.

It is unclear when a new owner will be chosen. Earlier this month, Williams said an owner could be announced by Thanksgiving, but that is seen as unlikely because MLB commissioner Bud Selig has not interviewed all of the bidding groups. In addition, MLB has insisted it must complete a lease agreement with the city. Those tense talks have been ongoing since the summer but could wrap up by the end of the month, baseball officials said last week.

Meanwhile, the mayor insisted the city will not exceed the $535million budget set aside for a new ballpark in Southeast despite several published reports indicating that costs for the project are rising and that infrastructure costs might be paid for by the federal government or private investors.

D.C. Council member David Catania, At-Large Independent, told the Associated Press that Williams’ claim amounted to “intellectual dishonesty,” because the ballpark agreement clearly states that infrastructure costs must be paid for by the city.

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