- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

An investment group led by the family of local real estate developer Ted Lerner will be named today as the new owner of the Washington Nationals, according to several sources familiar with the matter.

The announcement will end months of rumor and speculation about the future of the Nationals, and a four-year saga that began when Major League Baseball purchased the franchise, then known as the Montreal Expos, in 2002.

The Lerner group beat out a team led by local businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, as well as a group of local investors led by Indianapolis communications executive Jeff Smulyan. Former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten is also a member of the Lerner group, and is expected to serve as president of the Nationals.

The specific time and place of the announcement was unclear as of last night, but its believed that baseball commissioner Bud Selig will announce the decision via conference call, and the Lerner group will follow with a press conference.

News of the decision was being kept under tight wraps. Losing groups had not yet been told of the decision as of late last night, and members of the D.C. Council and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday they were not aware of any selection.

The D.C. Council yesterday shot down a measure that would have lent official support to the Malek/Zients and Smulyan groups.

By a vote of 10-3, the council rejected a resolution by council members Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, who sought to convince baseball to select either one of those two teams on the grounds that they had the strongest local and minority investors.

But most council members opposed the resolution yesterday, calling it a “joke” and “feel-good measure,” because it is non-binding.

Orange said he believed the council had a chance to influence Selig to have a last-second change of heart.

“Hopefully at the end of the day, [MLB] will have a different outlook,” Orange said. “Selig’s stated goal was to bring more minorities in the front office and the decision-making process. The Malek/Zients group and the Smulyan group present that.”

The Malek/Zients minority investors include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Fannie Mae Chairman Franklin Raines and prominent D.C. lawyer Vernon Jordan. Minority investors in the Smulyan group include former assistant attorney general Eric Holder, Radio One executive Alfred Liggins and local businessmen Ernie and William Jarvis.

The Lerner group was criticized last month for having a lack of diversity, but has added several high-profile minorities in recent weeks, including Rodney Slater, a local attorney and former secretary of transportation, and Doyle Mitchell, the president of the largest minority-owned bank in the city. They are also believed to be the only group to have a female investor, Faye Fields, owner of a prominent technology consulting firm in Falls Church. Other minority investors reportedly include Jarvis C. Stewart, managing director of the Stewart Partners Consulting firm, and Texas-based engineer Raul Romero.

The Lerner group also was criticized for being private. Mayor Williams and other city officials said they have never met anyone from the Lerner family, and the group made no statements to the media.

At a Monday press conference, Barry and Orange were critical of the Lerners for adding minorities only recently, with Barry referring to the group’s additions as “showdressing” for baseball executives. The amount of money invested by the group’s minority partners is unclear, but it is widely believed that the team’s power structure will center around Kasten, Ted Lerner and his son Mark and Ted Lerner’s sons-in-law, Robert Tanenbaum and Edward Cohen.

Yesterday, most council members defended the Lerner group, even if they preferred other bidders. Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat, said any minority investors were important, regardless of when they were added.

“At the end of the day, if it happens, it happens,” he said. “We are already making a historic step forward, no matter what ownership group gets chosen.”

David Catania, at-large independent, questioned why Orange and Barry emphasized the role of blacks in the bidding groups, while women, Latinos and homesexuals received no attention.

“It seems to me that 60 percent of the city would be looking at an owner that doesn’t represent them,” Catania said. “The last time I checked, we had a lot of women in this city. The last time I checked, we had a lot of asians and Latinos and gays in the city.”

Council member Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, cautioned the council against doing anything that would harm the city’s relationship with the team’s new owner, who will be expected to work with the city on constructing the team’s new ballpark in Southeast.

“If we were to pass this, what would we accomplish, other than create more divisiveness?” Gray said “At the end of the day, it’s absolutely meaningless. I think we need to move on.”

The team’s sale price is believed to be about $450 million. Fellow owners in baseball will vote to approve the selection of the Lerner group when they meet May 16 and 17 in New York. The group could then take control of the team as soon as June.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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