After the collapse of the Washington DC Marathon, culminating last week when the race's organizer, H2O Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy, Mayor Anthony Williams will begin accepting proposals soon from other companies seeking to stage the race, according to spokesman Tony Bullock.

District officials want to keep a marathon in Washington, Bullock said.

"We're not going to rush into another bad relationship," Bullock said. "We're going to make sure that whoever we're dealing with this time has a proven track record and real experience in this kind of endeavor. We'd rather not do [a marathon] than roll the dice with another outfit that doesn't produce what it promises like the last one."

Williams is considering asking the U.S. Attorney to investigate why H2O canceled the March 23 event, which left 6,801 runners without a race and without entry fees between $65 and $95. The bankruptcy filing will make it more difficult for runners to recover their fees.

But some in the running community are concerned that this year's fiasco will damage future District marathons.

"All the bad publicity and the controversy surrounding the race is going to hurt its chances in the future," said Phil Fenty, owner of Fleet Feet Shoes, an Adams Morgan store that specializes in running shoes and was a sponsor of the Washington DC Marathon. "People are going to stay away."

The District struck an agreement with H2O three years ago, even though the company was inexperienced at staging marathons, because it was the only group to make a proposal.

The city was also unaware that H2O's president, John Stanley, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft in 1996. Stanley's former employer, Steptoe and Johnson, a Washington-based law firm, accused Stanley, who worked in the firm's accounting department, of using fraudulent cashier's checks to buy $41,200 worth of the company's travelers checks, court records show. Stanley, a former Washington Post employee, received a suspended sentence and a year's probation.

Stanley was unavailable to comment.

Since Arlington-based H2O filed for bankruptcy a week ago, runners, city officials and some race vendors, who are still owed money, have questioned whether the company's financial woes led to the cancellation.

H2O's financial problems apparently go as far back as 2002, the marathon's inaugural race, when H2O lost, according to the company, about $500,000.

On March 27, Hargrove Inc., a company specializing in trade shows, parties and other events, filed suit against H20 in Fairfax Circuit Court for non-payment of corporate debt. A Hargrove spokesman said H2O owed the company more than $36,000 for work it did for the 2002 race. After trying to collect from H2O for almost a year, Hargrove turned the bill over to an outside collection agency.

Other merchants said they also had difficulties getting paid by H20.

"That the marathon faced serious challenges, such as the sniper, a bad winter, and tough economic environment is not in dispute," said Ian O'Neil, president of Igor Communications, an advertising and marketing firm that is owed about $25,000 by H2O. "But the cancellation was convenient at best and demonstrative of the short-sightedness exhibited by the marathon's management."

Stanley and other company executives said last year that they hoped to double the 6,000 runners that registered for the 2002 race, which could bring in about $12 million. The race field barely grew.