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Washington—Though Mayor Anthony Williams has yet to win approval for his plan to build a publicly financed baseball park along the Anacostia River, the scramble to win stadium-related legal work has already begun. Four Washington-area offices have received requests for proposals from D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi to serve as bond counsel for the $500 million debt issue Williams has proposed to finance the new stadium. In recent days, the public finance arms of Holland & Knight; Hunton & Williams of Richmond, Va.; Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll of Philadelphia; and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey have been tapped for bids on the project, which could generate fees in the low- to mid-six figures, according to several public-finance lawyers with knowledge of the project. The requests for proposals come as the fate of the ballpark, which would house the Major League Baseball team currently known as the Montreal Expos, remains up in the air. As a condition of the city being awarded the team, Williams pledged to baseball officials that Washington would build a new ballpark in the city’s southeast section. The team would play in a refurbished Robert F. Kennedy Stadium until the new ballpark is ready. Lots of bond business Williams’ plan must be approved by the D.C. Council. Last week, Chairwoman Linda Cropp postponed a vote on the package, saying she wanted to pursue other financing schemes. Williams’ proposal calls for the sale of $500 million in municipal bonds backed by a general revenues tax on medium and large businesses, lease payments from the group that will ultimately own the Expos and a tax on concessions sold in the ballpark. To that end, the mayor’s office is soliciting bids for municipal bond counsel- advisers who specialize in helping local governments structure debt issues in accordance with local statutes and Internal Revenue Service tax-exemption rules. According to Marvin Morris, an attorney in Gandhi’s office, the four firms were selected because they currently hold contracts with the city for bond and finance work. (Hawkins Delafield & Wood is currently under contract as the city’s disclosure counsel.) A fifth firm, Nixon Peabody, which served as the city’s bond counsel for the new $850 million Washington Convention Center, is hoping to be contacted about stadium-related work, said Justine Wilcox, managing partner in Nixon Peabody’s D.C. office. All five firms have strong public finance and real estate practices, as well as the kind of political connections that are considered vital in securing city business. For example, Holland & Knight public finance partner Douglas Patton was D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development during Williams’ first term. Pauline Schneider, Hunton & Williams’ top D.C. bond specialist, has close ties to both Williams and former Mayor Marion Barry Jr. Schneider served as D.C.’s top lobbyist to Congress from 1983 to 1985 under Barry, and was on Williams’ transition team in 1998. Squire Sanders’ Roger Clark joined that firm after working as a top aide in the mayor’s office and as a lawyer in the D.C. CFO’s office. And in September, Nixon Peabody plucked ElChino Martin from his post as chief of staff in the Office of Planning and Economic Development. The firms have made political contributions as well. According to the Washington Office of Campaign Finance, Holland’s 23-attorney “D.C. Practice” group, which handles mainly local government and real estate work, has given $21,010 over the past five years to city candidates. In its own name, the firm itself has donated $11,808 over the same period. The other firms competing for the stadium work have given substantially less. Larry Bodine, a Glen Ellyn, Ill., legal consultant, said existing relationships are critical in landing municipal bond work. “When all things are equal, the law firm with the relationship is going to get the work. The key thing is you’ve got to know the person making the decisions.”

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