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MLB President Pays a Visit to the Lerner Family

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Major League Baseball President Robert DuPuy met in Washington yesterday with the family of Theodore Lerner and several of its investors as the league prepares to select the Lerners or another investment group to own the Nationals, according to sources familiar with the sale process.

Today, the Lerners' top competition to purchase the Nationals, Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, are flying to Milwaukee to introduce several of their new investors to Commissioner Bud Selig before Selig selects a new owner, which could be this week, baseball sources confirmed yesterday.

The Lerners, and Malek and Zients, could not be reached for comment.

The Lerner and the Malek-Zients groups are getting most of MLB's attention as the competition over who will buy the team from baseball for $450 million appears headed toward a resolution. There are eight groups seeking to buy the team, but top baseball sources have said it's mostly a contest between the Lerners and Malek-Zients, with a Washington group led by Indianapolis media executive Jeffrey Smulyan still having a shot.

"The commissioner is focused on naming an owner as rapidly as possible and we are trying to tie up whatever loose ends may remain," DuPuy said in an e-mail last night. "We are gratified that so many outstanding local people have come forward and expressed their economic and tactical support on behalf of all the candidates."

The purpose of yesterday's meeting, which was held at the Washington home of a Lerner family member, was to give DuPuy an opportunity to meet the minority investors who have joined the family's effort to win the Nationals, according to sources familiar with the event.

MLB and District officials have pressed the Lerners to take on more investors in order to better reflect the makeup of the District, which is building the Nationals a $611 million stadium project along the Anacostia waterfront in Southeast Washington.

The Lerners, who own a Bethesda-based development company that spans the Washington region, recently added several prominent African Americans to their investment team, including former U.S. secretary of transportation Rodney E. Slater; B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., chairman of the largest minority-owned bank in Washington; and BET executive Paxton Baker.

Other minority members of the Lerner group include Faye Fields, president and chief executive officer of Integrated Resource Technologies Inc., a Falls Church-based company that provides a wide range of support for federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and private companies, according to the company's Web site. Jarvis Stewart, founder and managing director of Stewart Partners, is another Lerner investor.

Stewart and Fields could not be reached for comment.

Former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten recently signed an agreement with the Lerners to accept an equity position and to serve as the team's president, which provides the Lerner bid with a seasoned baseball executive, which it previously lacked.

Kasten and several minority members of the Lerner group were expected to be joined at yesterday's meeting by Theodore Lerner, patriarch of the family; Mark Lerner, his son; and Ted's sons-in-law, Edward L. Cohen and Robert K. Tanenbaum.

Malek and Zients will be joined in Milwaukee today by several prominent Washington African Americans who recently joined their lengthy list of investors, including Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert, Verizon Washington D.C. President Anthony A. Lewis and business executive George Haywood.

MLB purchased the Nationals, then known as the Montreal Expos, from Jeffrey Loria for $120 million in February 2002.

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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