Face of the Nats' First Family
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The passion comes early in the morning, popping up on the computer screen of AOL executive and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. It's 6 a.m., and Mark Lerner is talking sports. The minority owner of Leonsis's hockey team already is instant messaging with a flurry of thoughts.
Maybe he has a story he read in the morning paper or an article from a magazine he wants Leonsis to see. Sometimes he just wants to talk about a game from the night before. Leonsis knows something is coming.
After all, this happens almost every day.
"Of all my partners, he has the most real-time connection to what's going on in sports," Leonsis said. "And he devours the information."
As the son of Theodore N. Lerner, the real estate giant who fronted the Lerner family's bid to buy the Washington Nationals, Mark Lerner is being thrown to the front of his biggest venture yet. Though Mark Lerner and the team's president, Stan Kasten, say the franchise will be run equally by Theodore Lerner, Mark Lerner and Mark's two brothers-in-law, Edward L. Cohen and Robert K. Tanenbaum, many in sports believe Mark will run the team along with Kasten.
"I think Mark will be the owner," Leonsis said. Or as Tony Tavares, the former president of the Nationals who has dealt extensively with Kasten and Lerner the last few weeks, said, "My guess is that at all the owners' meetings it will be Stan and Mark" representing the team.
When asked about this, Lerner smiled and said: "Stan is going to be the face of the franchise. That's really the quote."
At the very least, he will be the most visible of the Lerners. He already has season tickets at RFK Stadium, has been to the Nationals' spring training and owns a piece of the Capitals, which allows him to maintain a box at the team's games.
"He's a huge fan. I think that's really important for an owner -- to be a huge fan," said Potomac businessman Bruce Levenson, a family friend who is part of the group that owns the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and NHL's Atlanta Thrashers. "I just know that for years and years he's been very passionate about owning a baseball team."
Now he finally has one.
Mark Lerner, 52, has been a top executive in the family business for more than 30 years, yet until he walked into the auditorium beneath the Fairmont hotel on the day Major League Baseball awarded the Nationals to the Lerners, he had never been in a news conference. Nor had he been interviewed for television. Most of his work as a member of one of the area's most significant real estate development companies has been done in relative anonymity.
This will change now.