This season, the Washington Nationals tapped a played-out utility guy (Dan Uggla) and a plain old jerk (Jonathan Papelbon). But the team’s strangest association wasn’t on the roster at all: former US representative Mark Foley.
Run off Capitol Hill in 2006 after sending sexually explicit messages to congressional pages, Foley has been engaged for the past two years as a lobbyist for the Nats, working to secure a spring-training facility for the team in his old West Palm Beach congressional district. “This has been a labor of love,” says Foley by telephone from the Sunshine State. “I think it will restore people’s faith in me, or at least get them to see me in a different light.”
The connection began in 2013, when Foley ran into a friend at the West End Ritz-Carlton. The friend, he says, knew an assistant to Nats co-owner Mark Lerner and mentioned that the team was looking for a new spring-training spot. Foley knew of a parcel, so he says he cold-called Lerner to sell him on West Palm.
At the time, the Lerners were focused on Kissimmee, a city near Orlando. But later in the year, Foley saw news that the Kissimmee plan had fallen through. “My fortune’s just changed,” he recalls thinking.
He again dialed Lerner, who spends Thanksgiving in West Palm Beach. While Lerner was in town for the holiday, Foley says, they toured some undeveloped acreage.
By January 2014, Foley—who has been in local politics since he was 23 and says he knows “every city and county commissioner”—was joining Lerner and Lerner Enterprises’ head of development as they met with local officials. The deal passed final government approval in August. Construction on the new stadium, which the Nats will share with the Houston Astros, is expected to start this spring.
Asked if he’d run for Congress again, Foley says, “Never say never.” But however helpful he’s been to the hometown team, he remains pretty far out of Washington’s good graces. How far? Though they didn’t dispute Foley’s facts, Mark Lerner and the Nats preferred not to comment for this story.
This article appears in our November 2015 issue of Washingtonian.