Powell Joins Group Bidding on Nationals

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell has joined a group headed by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients that is bidding to buy the Washington Nationals.
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell has joined a group headed by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients that is bidding to buy the Washington Nationals. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell has joined a group of Washington-based investors led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients that is trying to buy the Washington Nationals.

"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," Powell said in a statement yesterday. "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."

The Malek-Zients group, known for the last six years as Washington Baseball Club, also announced two other additions yesterday: Dennis W. Bakke, co-founder and CEO emeritus of Arlington-based AES Corporation, a leading energy supplier; and David A. Donnini, principal at GTCR Golder Rauner, a Chicago-based investment firm that manages private equity funds.

Powell joined the group as Major League Baseball prepares to receive the initial bids on the Nationals from the nine groups or individuals that have placed $100,000 deposits with the league. The first bids are due Tuesday, although the sale process is expected to take at least a few months. Baseball, which hopes the Nationals will fetch up to $400 million, has said it wants to sell the team this summer.

In preparation for the auction of the Nationals, bidding groups have been adding new members to bolster their financial strength as well as burnish their image with Major League Baseball. Last week, a group of Northern Virginia businessmen led by William Collins added former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) to its investment team.

Because the Nationals are located in the nation's capital, officials close to Commissioner Bud Selig have said one important factor in determining who will be awarded the team will be its ability to have a figure who can command respect on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington. Baseball's reasoning, these officials say, is that it anticipates the Nationals owners will often be looked at as spokesmen for the sport because of the team's location.

The Malek-Zients group already has several other political and financial heavyweights, including Vernon E. Jordan Jr., senior managing director of Lazard Freres & Co., Franklin D. Raines, former chief executive officer of Fannie Mae, and James V. Kimsey, founding CEO and chairman emeritus of America Online.

Powell, 68, was secretary of state under President Bush from 2001 until his retirement in January. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He also served as national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan and in the first Bush administration.

Powell became a wealthy man after he retired from the Army in 1993 after 35 years of service. His 1995 autobiography, for which he received a $6 million advance, was an international best seller. He also commanded a high price on the speakers circuit and served on the board of America Online during its heyday. Since leaving the State Department, Powell has returned to the speakers circuit -- he now draws $100,000 an appearance -- but has stayed silent about other plans.

Powell is the founding chairman of America's Promise, a not-for-profit organization that helps young Americans.

Mayor Anthony Williams endorsed the addition of Powell to the Malek-Zients group, saying "this is another reminder of how the [Washington Baseball Club] 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 others who are known to have put down deposits to bid on the Nationals are Collins; Yusef Jackson, an attorney and the son of Jesse L. Jackson, who has teamed with billionaire California investor Ronald Burkle; Stan Kasten, an Atlanta businessman and attorney with experience running pro teams in baseball, the NHL and the NBA; Franklin Haney Sr., a developer and financier; Washington businessman Jonathan Ledecky, a former part-owner of the Washington Capitals and MCI Center; Jeffrey H. Smulyan, 57, who heads a worldwide communications company and is the former owner of the Seattle Mariners; New York developers David and Jed Walentas; and the Lerner family, which owns a Bethesda-based real estate empire.

Powell is a close friend of Jordan and an old friend and former colleague of Malek, who helped select Powell, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Army, as a White House fellow during the Nixon administration. Powell was in the Office of Management and Budget when Malek, who was OMB deputy director, recruited Powell to be his assistant.

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