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The owner of the Washington Capitals and Wizards says he doesn't ask for much from the District of Columbia government, but that better traffic control and increased police presence around Verizon Center would be nice.
In an interview Tuesday with reporters and editors of The Associated Press, Ted Leonsis praised the District government and the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray, saying the city has never been friendlier to business. He said the revitalization of downtown has been good for the city and good for the fortunes of both teams.
But he's frustrated with the difficulty faced by fans from Maryland and Virginia who try to drive home after games. He said many other NHL and NBA cities put greater effort into making exits from their arenas smooth by synchronizing traffic lights and using police officers to clear rights-of-way.
"It takes 45 minutes to get from Verizon Center to the Kennedy Center on Constitution Avenue. It's a complaint that's made all the time,'' Leonsis said. "Fix that.''
Leonsis also said he's made the necessary investments in security at Verizon Center, and he'd like to see the Metropolitan Police Department do the same for the surrounding neighborhood.
"We're in a fragile state. If something bad were to happen outside of that building, that would be really bad for our community, and I would like to see more police presence,'' Leonsis said. "I believe that it's important for the city, but it's also important for the 2, 3 million people a year that we bring into the building and then go eat in the restaurants and go to the bars and go shopping in the mall, and they like to feel very safe.''
The billionaire former AOL executive said the recent scandals involving local politicians -- three council members have pleaded guilty to felonies and resigned in the past two years, and Gray's 2010 campaign is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation -- have not harmed the city's business climate.
"There's never been a better time for you to create a business in Washington,'' Leonsis said. "We work with the mayor's office very closely. I work with (D.C. Councilmember) Jack Evans very closely. I think they're doing a great job.''
Leonsis contributed money to Gray's predecessor, Adrian Fenty, in both 2006 and 2010. He did not donate to Gray. In July, Leonsis and his wife gave the maximum $2,000 apiece to Evans, a Democrat who represents downtown and is one of several candidates for mayor. Gray, also a Democrat, has not decided whether to seek a second term.
"I like and respect Jack Evans very, very much. I think he's a very smart guy and a good business leader,'' Leonsis said. "He asked, and I supported him. Certainly if the mayor announced that he was running for re-election, then I'd support the mayor too.''