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Obama says he supports statehood, a claim his actions haven’t always backed up. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Ted Eytan.

President Obama pleased many District residents today by publicly stating his support for statehood for the nation’s capital.

“I’m in DC, so I’m for it,” Obama, an Illinois resident who’s worked in Washington for the past decade, said Monday during an event at the Walker-Jones Education Campus in Northwest. “Folks in DC pay taxes like everybody else. They contribute to the overall well-being of the country like everybody else. There has been a long movement to get DC statehood, and I’ve been for it for quite some time.”

That’s an encouraging statement, but Obama’s record as President isn’t exactly one that shows longtime support for the District’s goal of self-determination. Obama has been rather squishy on the topic over the years, famously trading away DC in 2011 to get a budget deal with House Speaker John Boehner, who insisted on banning the city from funding abortions for low-income women. The president’s concession—“John, I will give you DC abortion.”—is a sore memory for many District residents.

Obama has made many statements since then in support of DC’s goals of budget autonomy and voting seats in Congress, including last week when he threatened to veto a House-passed appropriations bill that contains an amendment aimed at canceling the city’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law. The White House also slapped District-issued “Taxation Without Representation” license plates on the presidential limousines last year. But some statehood activists still feel Obama has fallen short.

“Those are both parts of statehood but not the whole thing,” says Josh Burch, who runs a group called Neighbors United for DC Statehood. “Statehood is the only thing that protects us from our enemies and our friends. Barack Obama is our friend, but he’s willing to sell us out.”

In fairness to the President, Burch says there are plenty of members of Congress who voice support for DC statehood but still vote for measures that limit the city’s autonomy, such as Democratic Representatives Jared Polis and Timothy Walz, who cosponsored a statehood bill but also voted last week for an amendment that seeks to overturn local gun laws.

“This problem is not unique to Barack Obama,” Burch says. “It’s something our entire national leadership is willing to be a party to.” Still, Burch says he’s happy to hear the President’s newly vocal support statehood, even if his record is lacking.

One possible reason Obama’s affinity for DC is growing: He might stick around town for a few years after his second term ends so his younger daughter, Sasha, can finish up high school here, as he told ABC News last fall.

“It’ll personalize him to the city,” Burch says. “We’re not just a city with good sandwich joints. Talk is sweet, action is better, and thus far his actions haven’t been that supportive of us.”

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Posted at 04:35 PM/ET, 07/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library recently agreed to house a host of photographs, letters, and other memorabilia commemorating the career of John Ficklin, the longest-serving head of the White House domestic staff.
Ficklin, seated, with his staff. Eugene Allen, the inspiration for the recent movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler, is second from right. Photographs courtesy of Ficklin family.

John Ficklin met his first President in 1939, shortly after his brother Charles got the 20-year-old John a job as a part-time pantry boy at the White House—an elevator opened and there was Franklin Roosevelt. The son of a former slave from Rappahannock County, John Ficklin would go on to serve eight more Presidents and rise to be maître d’, as the top White House butler is officially known—often the first person the President or First Lady sees in the morning and the last person he or she sees at night. Ficklin’s personal effects from the time, says Duke Blackwood, director of the Reagan library, “offer a rare insight into the social and cultural history of a national institution.” Ficklin retired in 1983 and died the next year. Here’s a remembrance by Alan DeValerio, one of his former servers.

This article appears in the July 2014 of Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 06/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
President Obama checked out robots, life-saving devices for developing nations, and lasers. By Benjamin Freed
Russell, the robotic giraffe, was a star at today's Maker Faire. Photograph via the White House.

President Obama tickled a 17-foot tall electric giraffe on Wednesday. Silly as that sounds, it was just one of many exhibits at the White House’s “Maker Faire,” a summit celebrating the rise of the “maker movement.”

Maker culture—non-industrial types noodling around to find do-it-yourself fixes to life’s problems—isn’t new, but the past few years have turned hobbyist pursuits into a mainstream phenomenon, and some of their creations—even 2,200-pound giraffes have gone from one-off prototypes to items solving serious problems. Among the other “makers” at todays event were the creators of the Embrace, a portable blanket distributed in developing nations that serves as a low-cost incubator for prematurely born children. Embrace was developed at TechShop, a San Francisco-based chain of workshops that cater to would-be inventors.

TechShop’s newest location opened in April in Arlington, where on Tuesday its employees prepared many of the materials used at today’s White House event, including special badges made by a laser cutting through acrylic sheets.

To make the blue and red badges distributed to today’s Maker Faire participants, Corey Robbins, one of TechShop’s “dream consultants,” transferred the design—an outline of the White House topped by a sprocket—from Adobe Illustrator to printer software that controls one of four laser cutters. Just as people click to print out their homework, Robbins ordered the laser cutter to start slicing.

“It has the potential to inspire young people to get excited about manufacturing and design,” Thomas Kalil, a deputy director in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told Washingtonian. “It’s democratizing the tools to make anything.”

The White House announced several new policy initiatives, including maker-recruitment programs at the Department of Homeland Security, grants from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, and 3-D printed biomedical files at the National Institutes of Health.

“It puts the tools of the Industrial Revolution into the hands of amateurs and pros who get to work on their own projects,” said Mark Hatch, TechShop’s chief executive. “People learn visually, auditorily, kinetically. The best way to get someone into phyiscs: have them build a trebuchet.” (For non-engineers, that’s a siege weapon from the Middle Ages.)

Hatch says TechShop fosters the creation of new products by offering far less expensive fabrication and testing processes than traditional industrial practices. TechShop also boasts among its achievements the prototype for Square, the credit card-reading device developed by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey that attaches to smart phones.

Washington’s recent tech scene is largely software-driven—think of the developers at startup hubs like 1776 in downtown DC or AOL’s Fishbowl Labs in Reston—but there’s a growing appetite for hardware made by people with fresh ideas, but who might not be engineers by training. Besides TechShop, General Electric has a 3-D printer lab on Connecticut Avenue, Northwest, and Navy Yard is about to get Ideaspace, another membership-based tech shop.

Even the DC Public Library is in the maker game; last summer, it opened its Digital Commons at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, featuring 3-D printing and do-it-yourself bookbinding.

“It started out with computer hackers, now it’s all different kinds of making,” said Gareth Branwyn, an Arlington-based writer who’s been fidgeting around with robotics since the 1980s. “It’s the same basic impulse, confluence of readily availible tools, and the collaborative power of the internet.”

Posted at 04:45 PM/ET, 06/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
It was pretty nice out on Wednesday morning. So the President took a walk along the Ellipse. By Benjamin Freed
It was pretty nice out. Why wouldn't you take a walk? Photograph by Pete Souza via the White House.

“Are you real?”

That’s what a young woman walking along the Ellipse said yesterday upon meeting President Obama when he took an unscheduled stroll among the public from the White House to the Interior Department. The President assured the startled woman that he is, indeed, very real.

“I’m not made out of wax,” Obama told the woman, who introduced herself as Anna.

Obama, trailed by a few dozen Secret Service agents, stopped to shake hands, take photos, and give out boxes of the White House’s special M&Ms to kids. And yet, he seemed to have trouble convincing some he wasn’t a wax idol come to life.

“Oh, my gosh, someone’s going to think you’re, like, wax,” a woman visiting with her family said when Obama offered to pose for a photograph.

Although Madame Tussauds could ask for no better endorsement, the woman was in fact meeting the real-life President—with the bonus of not having to shell out more than $20 for a museum ticket.

Posted at 05:02 PM/ET, 05/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Presidents have often invoked big-screen characters to create their own movie moments. By Tevi Troy

Barack Obama

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth

Obama has spoken longingly of “going Bulworth,” implying a sympathy with Warren Beatty’s Bulworth character, who tires of political politesse. “The rich is getting richer and richer and richer while the middle class is getting more poor,” Bulworth raps.

Richard Nixon

George C. Scott as General George Patton

Nixon watched Patton often and urged his staff to do so. In his 1977 interview with David Frost, he felt compelled to say that a viewing five days before ordering the invasion of Cambodia had “no effect whatever on my decisions.”

Ronald Reagan

Clint Eastwood

Facing a congressional threat to raise taxes, Reagan borrowed a line from Eastwood’s character in Sudden Impact: “Go ahead—make my day.”

Bill Clinton

Marshal Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper in High Noon

Clinton admitted watching High Noon some 20 times and once noted, “Any time you’re alone and you feel you’re not getting the support you need, Cooper’s Will Kane becomes the perfect metaphor.”

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 02/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
If it truly shows Lincoln in death, this image would be the only one of its kind. By Shane Mettlen

Image courtesy of Ernestine Glessner.

Ernestine Glessner of Martinsburg, West Virginia, was combing a flea market in Harpers Ferry a few years ago when she found what she believes is the only known deathbed portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Glessner is so convinced that after Laurie Verge, director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, wrote on the museum’s website in 2012, “This is no more a photo of Abe Lincoln than it is of me. Ignore her,” Glessner sued Verge and the Surratt House.

Glessner says forensic experts back her claim. “Nobody has ever been able to prove to me this is not a deathbed photo of Abraham Lincoln,” she says.

She’s hardly the first to stake much on a personal connection to the assassination. Laura Keene, who starred in the Ford’s Theatre production of Our American Cousin the night of the murder, purportedly forced her way into the President’s box and cradled Lincoln’s head in her lap. Preserving her blood-stained dress—even reenacting her role that night—was her obsession until her death in 1873.

“Over time it just sort of becomes your life,” historian Michael W. Kauffman says of his own Lincoln fascination.

Kauffman, who owns a replica cast of Lincoln’s face made months before his death—and who has had his own disputes with Verge—says, “Though an entire field of science is devoted to the measure and comparison of photographs, it ultimately comes down to one simple question: Does it look like the subject it is claimed to be? In this case, I think not.”

Verge’s lawyer, who declined to comment, has filed a motion to dismiss.

This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 09:41 AM/ET, 01/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Our recommendations for where he might pick up some gifts. By Carol Ross Joynt, Anna Spiegel, Benjamin Freed, Chris Campbell
Stachowski’s Market in Georgetown is a combination butcher shop, sandwich shop, and market. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The heavy push may be for holiday shopping on Black Friday, but a new addition to the frenzy, Small Business Saturday, is hoping to gain some ground this weekend. It was started by American Express in 2010 with the theme “shop small,” and for the past two years, President Barack Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, used the occasion to visit area bookstores. We hope he shops small and local again this year, and Washingtonian staffers have some suggestions for where he should go (in no particular order).

Union Market

The President could indulge his burger tooth with a Red Apron patty or a fantastic meatball sub, promote Chesapeake Bay health by tackling a platter of freshly shucked oysters at Rappahannock Oyster Company, snag fresh milk and veggies for Michelle and the girls from Trickling Springs and Eastern-Shore Organic, and pick up one of the American-made knives at DC Sharp for White House chef Sam Kass. And should he decide to jump into the ever-long food truck debate, those TaKorean “takos” are pretty delicious. 1309 Fifth St., NE.

Hill’s Kitchen

This independent cooking and home-goods store is just a quick jaunt from the White House. There the President will ifnd foodie gadgets, classic cookware, and Washington-centric gifts like District-shaped cutting boards and cookie cutters in the form of DC and every state—except, alas, Hawaii. 713 D St., SE.

Stachowski’s Market

Both President Obama and Vice President Biden are well-documented sandwich lovers. If they stop by Jamie Stachowski’s Georgetown shop, they might become addicts. The four-meat grinder could take on most Chicago Italian subs, and Obama could also pick up local steaks and chicken for a family dinner. Another perk: Can you imagine the reaction from the colorful Stachowski? 1425 28th St., NW.

Crooked Beat Records

Sure, it might be a little impractical for the Secret Service to scope out a cramped basement-level record shop, but as Washington’s largest vinyl store, Crooked Beat, has yards of used and new albums spanning every genre. There are also racks devoted to Dischord Records, perfect for any parent of two kids growing up in DC. 2116 18th St., NW.

A Mano

This 19-year-old homewares store is stocked up with clever holiday gifts, including ties with donkeys and elephants (for bipartisan Capitol Hill gift-giving) and Portuguese water dog cuff links—a nice gift from Bo and Sunny to the President. 1677 Wisconsin Ave., NW.

Wake Up Little Suzie

This store in Cleveland Park may be small, but it’s packed to the gills with jewelry, accessories, and unique items that can serve as stocking stuffers or Secret Santa gifts. The store has something for guys and gals of all ages, and thanks to the eclectic range and wit behind all the pieces, your gift will likely stand out from the pack. 3409 Connecticut Ave., NW.

Smucker Farms

The Obamas can revel in the retail and culinary explosion that is 14th Street by checking out the goods at Smucker Farms. With the wonderfully curated selection of food and sundries from just up the highway in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you’d be hard-pressed to walk away without half a dozen items in your shopping bag as thoughtful gifts (and maybe another half dozen just for yourself). 2118 14th St., NW.

Good Wood

Dan and Anna Kahoe’s home furnishing shop has been operating on U Street since 1994, and the rotating selection of antiques, rehabbed vintage items, and decorative accents still deserves attention. The President could pick out a new leather chair, some vintage jewelry for the First Lady, or a standing wooden desk for one of the girls. 1428 U St., NW.

The Hour

The White House could show its hipper side with a trip to this cocktail lover’s mecca in Alexandria. The small shop is filled with vintage glassware and shakers, retro serving trays, antique barware, ice buckets, and more, with items in every price range. It’s too bad the collection wasn’t around in the Nixon years. 1015 King St., Alexandria.

Fleurir Chocolates

Husband-and-wife team Robert Ludlow and Ashley Hubbard are a small-business success story. The duo started selling their gourmet chocolates at local farmers markets, and now own two small boutiques—the original in Georgetown, and another in Alexandria. We love flavors like lavender-Shiraz, ginger, and almond amaretto, all artfully painted. Candy bars themed after regions of the United States, such as the bacon-studded South Bar, would make a fitting presidential purchase. 3235 P St., NW; 724 Jefferson St., Alexandria.

Got a suggestion for where President Obama should go? Let us know in the comments!

Posted at 09:51 AM/ET, 11/27/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A look at the film, plus other Kennedy portrayals worth watching. By Carol Ross Joynt
Rob Lowe and Jack Noseworthy as John and Robert Kennedy. Photograph courtesy of the National Geographic Channel.

It would be nearly impossible to consume every book, movie, and TV show appearing over the next few weeks to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One of the first out of the chute (along with the October 4 theatrical release Parkland) is National Geographic Channel’s Killing Kennedy, which debuts Sunday night. 

Read More

Posted at 01:31 PM/ET, 11/07/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Walter Scheib explains chefs' “food security clearance.” By Carol Ross Joynt

Photograph courtesy of Walter Scheib.

The issue of whether President Obama uses an official “food taster” tiptoed into a pool of controversy this week after a report that he had to refuse lobster salad at a lunch in the Capitol because his taster was not available. Whether that was in fact the case has not been resolved, but a former White House executive chef, Walter Scheib, has stepped forward to try to clear the air. The orginal report was on the Daily Caller, quoting Republican senator Susan Collins, who was at the lunch.

“There is no presidential food taster,” says Scheib, who ran the White House kitchen for 11 years for presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He claims the distinction of bringing “American contemporary cuisine” to White House menus after he was hired by First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1994. It caused quite a stir at the time, he recalls, after years of White House menus abiding to a code of mostly “continental” cuisine. 

Scheib says that while there is no “taster” there is still a lot of protection and security involved in what the President eats. “Nothing gets to the President that hasn’t fallen under somebody’s jurisdiction," he says. “If the President is just grabbing a pretzel randomly at the table, it’s been screened.” 

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Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 03/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Details from Wednesday night’s dinner, including the guest list, menu, and more. By Carol Ross Joynt
The Parlor Boardroom at the Jefferson, where President Obama dined with 12 Republican senators on Wednesday night. Photograph courtesy of the Jefferson Hotel.

It’s been widely reported that President Obama hosted a dinner at the Jefferson Hotel on Wednesday night for a group of 12 Republican senators. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes details we’ve learned about the dinner from a few good sources, showing that much was involved in putting the evening together.

• It lasted about two hours, from approximately 6:30 to 8:30.

• A few of the senators grabbed a glass of wine in the hotel’s bar before dinner. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina picked up the tab for the drinks.

• All food and drink was prepared under the watchful eyes of Secret Service agents.

• All staff who interacted with the President were pre-screened and cleared by security.

• The group dined in the Parlor Boardroom at one long table. The room can seat as many as 28, has its own wi-fi and a hook-up for a table phone, if needed. There was a computer set up in the room during dinner. The room also has special glass windows that can be “fogged” at the push of a button. In addition to the fog-effect windows, the room was screened off with draping.

• The senators entered and exited through the hotel’s front door on 16th Street, while the President used a private back entrance that led directly to the private dining room.

• Though the meal was served in one of the hotel’s private dining rooms, it was prepared by chef Chris Jakubiec and his staff at Plume, the Jefferson’s highly regarded signature restaurant.

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Posted at 02:25 PM/ET, 03/07/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()