Lerner Adds Two Investors to Group

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006

The family of Washington area developer Theodore Lerner has added two prominent African Americans to its bid to buy the Washington Nationals, according to several sources.

Rodney E. Slater, 51, a secretary of transportation under President Clinton and a partner with the law firm of Patton Boggs LLP, and B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., 44, president and chief executive of Industrial Bank NA, have joined several other minority partners in the Lerner effort, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Slater and Mitchell did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

Highly placed Major League Baseball sources said last week that the Lerners risked losing their chance to buy the Nationals because the family had not acted swiftly enough to add minorities to its investors. Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also criticized the Lerners for not having enough minority representation.

Williams, other District politicians and baseball officials have said it is important that the Nationals' ownership group has local members and reflects the Washington community. The District is building a $611 million stadium project for the Nationals along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

The league is believed to be nearing a decision on the Nationals' sale. MLB President Robert DuPuy told Congress on April 7 that he expected Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig to decide on the new owner within two weeks. However, Selig and DuPuy have now scheduled meetings next week with the Lerners and with another front-running group led by local businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, according to sources familiar with the sale process.

A group of Washington investors headed by Indianapolis media executive Jeffrey Smulyan also remains in contention to buy the club, according to those sources.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who has been a strong backer of the Malek-Zients group, called the addition of Slater and Mitchell to the Lerner group "a good thing."

"This improves their chances," Evans said. "I know Rodney and Doyle quite well, and I'm glad that the Lerners have added people who are local Washingtonians."

Atlanta sports executive Stan Kasten recently joined the Lerners, who run a Bethesda-based real estate business that spans the Washington region. Kasten would become the president of the Nationals and a part-owner of the team under the agreement he struck with the Lerners, according to sources. Slater and Mitchell previously were part of an independent bid to buy the Nationals that was led by Kasten.

In addition to Slater and Mitchell, the Lerners have several other minority partners, including Washington native and CBS Sports anchor James Brown and BET executive Paxton Baker. The Lerners could not be reached for comment.

The Malek-Zients group in recent months has added more minority partners to its long list of investors, including Anthony A. Lewis, president of Verizon Washington, D.C., and chair-elect of the D.C Chamber of Commerce; Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert; and Washington businessman George Haywood.

Slater specializes in transportation and infrastructure, public policy, lobbying and the defense and national security industries, according to the Patton Boggs Web site. Before becoming transportation secretary, Slater served as director of the Federal Highway Administration. He was special assistant for economic and community programs in Arkansas when Clinton was governor, served as Arkansas assistant attorney general and was secretary-treasurer of the Arkansas Bar Association.

Industrial Bank started in 1934 with six employees and assets totaling slightly less than $192,000, according to its Web site. Today, it employs approximately 160 people at its Washington branches, with assets of over $300 million, making Industrial one of the largest minority-owned banks in the United States.

A native Washingtonian, Mitchell was raised in the banking community that his grandfather helped to create. By age 16, Mitchell began working summers in the bookkeeping department of the bank, and after graduating from Rutgers University he continued working at Industrial in its accounting, loan, audit and operations departments, according to published news accounts. During this period, Mitchell also earned his retail banking diploma from the American Institute of Banking.

Lewis, 41, is on the board of trustees of Elizabeth City State University, a member of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's governing board and on the board of associates of Gallaudet University.

Forbes magazine today released its annual valuations for Major League Baseball franchises, and the Nationals ranked as the sixth most-valuable franchise among baseball's 30 teams at $440 million, which is $10 million less than the price MLB has set for the team.

The league bought the Nationals, then known as the Montreal Expos, from Jeffrey Loria for $120 million in February 2002. The team was moved to Washington for the 2005 season after losing money in Montreal, and the Nationals are expected to earn a pretax profit of around $30 million this year.

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