Among the many revelations about bungled White House security laid out in recent days by the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, few are as jarring as the tidbit about the Secret Service’s initial assessment of the November 2011 incident in which a gunman fired a semiautomatic rifle at the presidential residence:
“By the end of that Friday night, the agency had confirmed a shooting had occurred but wrongly insisted the gunfire was never aimed at the White House. Instead, Secret Service supervisors theorized, gang members in separate cars got in a gunfight near the White House’s front lawn — an unlikely scenario in a relatively quiet, touristy part of the nation’s capital.”
During a week when the Secret Service has been flayed by public officials and the media, it's worth adding this to the bill of complaints: This theory betrays a baffling ignorance of the city where the agents work. To note this isn't to make another one of those poor-pitiful-me hometown gripes about how federal types ignore the locals. If you're in charge of protecting a guy who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue and periodically moves around the city, being an ignoramus about the environs represents a professional breach.
A gunfight near the front lawn would be where, exactly? The steps outside of DAR Constitution Hall? Not impossible, but highly implausible. As Leonnig notes in the same story, the Secret Service can’t depend on the Metropolitan Police Department’s ShotSpotter technology—the nearest gunshot monitor is about a mile away—but of the parts of the District that are observed for weapons fire, the four plots closest to the White House complex each recorded one incident between 2009 and 2013.
The area immediately surrounding the White House—historic hotels, museums, other heavily fortified government buildings—is one of the lowest-crime parts of the city. The area would, on paper, get even safer if the response to last month’s White House invasion by a man who climbed over the fence and managed to dash deep into the building before being stopped, is to fatten up the security bubble. Ironically, the security bubble itself may be part of the problem when it comes to agents being able to ignore their surroundings. Alas, the Secret Service's first reaction to the latest revelations would make that worse.
Every instance of the White House restricting more turf from the public only exacerbates the nettlesome relationship between the presidential bubble and the city that surrounds it. Pennsylvania Avenue was closed off in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing; E Street, Northwest, followed after 9/11. The Secret Service actually staged a public forum in July 2013 raising the possibility of re-opening the two blocks of E Street south of the White House to bicycle traffic, but the matter hasn’t been touched since.
The biggest lesson the Secret Service struggles to latch onto in the District is that federal government police agencies need to be more cognizant of the fact they operate inside a city with 645,000 non-term-limited people. While veteran MPD officers tell Washingtonian that DC cops and officers working for the Secret Service or US Park Police share lots of information, there’s a fundamental difference in the types of police work they perform. Local cops patrol street corners and walk beats, federal cops—especially Secret Service officers on presidential detail—secure perimeters. Delroy Burton, the head of the union representing MPD’s rank-and-file officers, says expanding the buffer around the White House would be the wrong response.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton amplified Burton’s caution in her testimony Tuesday at a House Oversight hearing on the September 19 incident in which suspected intruder Omar Gonzalez made his way over the fence and into the White House. “Particularly troubling in light of such unanswered questions would be a rush to quick fixes such as suppression of public access to the area around the White House without a thorough investigation,” she said.
Yet the White House’s misunderstanding of its neighborhood runs deeper than just the past few years. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush gave a now-infamous press conference in which he amped up the “War on Drugs” by holding up a bag of crack cocaine purchased by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Lafayette Park. But even at the height of DC’s crack epidemic, Lafayette Park was no drug market, and it took some manipulation to get a dealer there. When the DEA called the dealer it would eventually nab for Bush’s prop, the suspect’s response was “Where the [expletive] is the White House?” the Post reported at the time. The police union scolded the White House and the DEA for mixing politics with law enforcement.
Burton is hardly insensitive to the White House’s concerns, though. District police are responsible for all presidential movements within city limits. The Secret Service works closely with MPD, but the partnership is tighter in the special operations division than it is with officers on street patrols.
The Secret Service clearly has issues to work out, as shown in Leonnig’s reporting this week, but its exposed faults seem more the results of human error. Responding by suddenly expanding the security bubble again—whether it’s more fences and Jersey barriers or bag checks on 15th Street—will only make the White House more alienated from the rest of Washington.
“They key is to educate the public,” says Burton. “When people understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing, it’s easier for them to accept some difficulty. But when they don’t know what you’re doing, it creates anxiety.”
The National Museum of American History's acquisition of a large haul of gay-rights memorabilia—a gay US ambassador's passport, scripts from NBC's 1998-2006 series Will & Grace, among other objects—was announced in August as if it were the start of something new.
In fact, the museum and Washington's gay community have a long relationship, and like most relationships, it's complicated.
The Smithsonian has accepted artifacts of the LGBT struggle for years, but activists say the history museum hasn't given their cause the attention—or floor space—afforded other civil-rights movements. One consequence: Gay donors have been much likelier to place their collections elsewhere.
The perceived snub dates to 2006, when the museum's then director, Brent Glass, met with activist Frank Kameny, a former Defense Department astronomer whose sexual orientation had led to his dismissal in 1957. The bulk of Kameny's papers, some 70,000 items, had gone to the Library of Congress, but he gave a dozen picket signs used in protests at government buildings in the 1960s to the Museum of American History. "We were closed for renovation," Glass recalls, so the signs were added to a temporary Air and Space Museum exhibit, "Treasures of American History." But after the history museum reopened, the signs went into storage.
"It wasn't a decision not to display them," Glass says. "A lot of people expect their donation to be exhibited right away, but it doesn't always work like that."
That's not the way activists saw it.
In a 2010 Huffington Post editorial, Charles Francis—who heads the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, a gay-rights group—derided the Smithsonian for ignoring LGBT issues, claiming, "There is not a single gay or lesbian story told in the entire National Museum of American History." As evidence, Francis cited the picket signs: "Those brave pickets are stored in the dark of a Smithsonian vault."
Smithsonian curator Katherine Ott, who says the museum has "thousands" of donated items in its LGBT collection, takes issue with the idea that contributions are locked away. "We are not a vault," she says. "We are very porous." One of the picket signs, Ott points out, is displayed in an exhibit about the presidency. "The others are in storage, and we'll swap those out."
As it happens, just months after Francis's op-ed appeared, another Smithsonian outpost, the National Portrait Gallery, opened "Hide/Seek," an exhibit that explored "difference and desire," including a graphic video by artist David Wojnarowicz about AIDS. When some complained that it was anti-Christian, the museum pulled the piece. Says Francis: "The controversy may have ironically helped us. Glass and the curators were forced for the first time to openly address the problem."
Ott agrees that the Smithsonian's culture as evolved. "I could completely see an exhibition about LGBT history at some point," says Ott, who curated a 2011 show at the Museum of American History commemorating the 30th anniversary of the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But she says no comprehensive or permanent gay-related show is currently planned.
For now, the museum's call for gay artifacts is a first step toward rectifying an "earlier record of indifference," says Aubrey Sarvis, former executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a lobbying force in the repeal of the US military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The network gave some of its documents to the Smithsonian in 2012, but Sarvis is working with the Library of Congress to archive his own experiences, calling the library a "serious and substantive place."
Ott doesn't regard the library as competition. Gay contributions to any archive only break barriers for all of them. Her job, she says, "is getting easier all the time."
This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
We’ve seen lots of photos of Bill and Hillary Clinton holding the new “royal baby,” their granddaughter Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky, but her other grandparents have yet to get their photo op.
New father Marc Mezvinsky’s parents were once very public figures, too. Marjorie Margolies was a popular reporter for Channel 4 in Washington in the '70s and '80s. She made headlines herself as the first single woman to adopt two baby girls from Korea and Vietnam. She later married former Iowa congressman Ed Mezvinsky, and they had two sons together, Andrew and Marc. The Mezvinsky household eventually included 11 children—four from his first marriage, her two adopted daughters, their two sons, and three boys from Southeast Asia for whom they became legal guardians.
The clan moved back to Margolies’s home state of Pennsylvania, where she ran for and won a seat in Congress in 1992. A Democrat, Margolies won her election in a largely Republican district by 1,300 votes.
I shadowed her from the time she was elected through her first few months in Congress. Together we wrote “Freshman Rush” for the April 1993 issue of Washingtonian. “Triple M,” as she was known by her staff, hit the ground running and never stopped. Between jockeying for committee assignments and setting up her staff and office, Margolies-Mezvinsky worked on the schedule for her complicated household back in the Philadelphia suburbs. She munched granola and took frequent phone calls from Andrew and Marc.
She noted that “after a few days, some people were so wiped out that they started skipping events they’d have killed to be invited to just a week earlier.”
Not Marjorie. I had a hard time keeping up with her, and it was it was a great relief for me to see her take off her high heels and run down the marble hall in the Capitol in her stockinged feet to catch the elevator to cast her first vote as a member of Congress.
As new member of Congress, Margolies met new president Bill Clinton during freshman orientation. “He offered congratulations from Hillary, who had generously campaigned for me in the fall,” she recalled. Then he asked, “Do you really have 11 children?”
Margolies knew she was on shaky ground in her district, but it was her vote for Clinton’s 1993 budget that sealed her political fate. Triple M opposed the budget until a call from Clinton convinced her to cast the deciding vote in its favor. As she voted, Republicans in the House shouted “Goodbye, Marjorie.”
She lost her reelection race in 1994 and returned to Pennsylvania to run unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor in 1998.
Meanwhile, Ed Mezvinsky was engaging in a number of failed business deals, which would eventually lead to a conviction for bank, mail, and wire fraud. According to a federal prosecutor, Mezvinsky was conned by “just about every different kind of African-based scam we’ve ever seen.” In order to raise the funds needed to front the money for the fraudulent investment schemes he was being offered, Mezvinsky tapped his network of contacts and dropping the name of the Clinton family to convince people to give him money. Mezvinsky was indicted, pleaded guilty to many of the felony charges, and served time in federal prison.
Margolies dropped out of a Democratic primary for the Senate in 2000 because of her husband’s legal troubles and her own filing for bankruptcy. The Mezvinskys divorced in 2007, and Marjorie resumed her maiden name. She ran for political office again in 2014, but lost a primary for her old Congressional seat despite campaign help from the Clintons. Margolies’s campaign was hampered by claims in the Huffington Post that while she served as chief executive and chairman of the Women’s Campaign International, an overly large portion of the nonprofit's assets were allocated to Margolies’ salary and benefits.
This isn't the first time that Margolies and Mezvinsky have been left out of the picture—when Chelsea Clinton married Marc in 2010, the groom’s parents were not in any of the selected wedding pictures.
The Washington Nationals sold out tickets to the National League Division Series in 17 minutes last week, throwing hordes of fans to the secondary market. Tickets for the first game, on Friday, start at $73.90 on StubHub, but there are some offers that the prim-and-proper ticket vendor won't carry, like this one, which is currently available on Craigslist's Northern Virginia site:
I have two Diamond Club tickets for Fridays opening playoff game. The tickets include all you can drink beer & wine as well as all you can eat gourmet food. I am willing to part with these tickets to you and a friend in exchange for a threesome (two women only). I am not some old gross dude, actually 24 and athletic. I just cant go to the game and don't really need the extra money, and have always wanted to take place in a threesome. Please send 2-3 photos of you and your friend, so I can see what we're working with.
This is a no strings attached deal.
You read that right. Some dude is offering premium tickets in exchange for horny adolescent wish fulfillment, but, don't worry, he swears he's actually athletic and totally not gross. (Not that he backed up this claim with a photograph of himself in the ad.) Diamond Club seats, located behind home plate, were $225 each when playoff tickets went on sale. This guy must be of some means if he doesn't care about getting back his $450. He doesn't say why he's skipping the Nationals game, but we're guessing it's not to attend Yom Kippur services.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
Kevin Spacey made Frank Underwood proud on Tuesday night, illustrating that in Washington, as in the entertainment industry, the show must go on. The House of Cards star sang his heart out from the stage of the Harman Center, even though it was clear something just wasn’t right. Backed by an orchestra that filled the stage, he performed some of the greatest hits of the American songbook, but the occasional high note was more croak than croon. After only two songs he confessed to the audience that he had a frog in his throat, hinting at a cold.
During the speaking parts of the show, Spacey spoke quietly. Later, a guest who sat in the front row, said, “I could barely hear him. He was really pushing himself.” Another guest noted his voice was “a little raspy.”
A sore throat was not going to deter Spacey from this occasion, called Kevin Spacey in Concert, his second big bash in Washington to raise funds for his baby—the Kevin Spacey Foundation. Last year, the fundraiser consisted of a seated dinner at the Mandarin Hotel. This year, it was a sold-out lavish stage show and an after-party at Poste in the Hotel Monaco that, according to one organizer, raised more than $700,000. Both events featured Spacey singing his favorite songs, fondly remembering his mentor Jack Lemmon, and dropping the occasional reference to Underwood, the devious and (more-or-less) fictional character he portrays in the hit Netflix series, House of Cards.
“It’s been a helluva lot of fun portraying Frank Underwood through the past couple of years,” Spacey said, commending his character's abilities to get others to fall in line. “This man is passionate and dedicated, the supreme salesman.” He called the concept of the evening, raising money for arts education programs, and the show and party, “Frank Underwood’s guide to philanthropy.”
Fittingly, the evening’s co-chairs were bipartisan—House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.* Other co-chairs included Hunter and Kathleen Biden, Jill and Nathan Daschle, Lyndon Boozer, Melissa Maxfield, Ted Sarandos of Netflix, Charles Segars of Ovation, and British Ambassador Peter Westmacott and his wife, Susie. Adrienne Arsht served as the event chair. The Spacey Foundation, founded in 2010 in England, where Spacey was artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre, provides young artists with scholarships, grants, and other learning experiences.
Spacey made it to the after-party, was reportedly in every way the good sport, and stayed until the end, past midnight, though the same guest who had watched him from the front row of the concert observed, “he was clearly not feeling good.”
There’s this for anyone who had face time with Spacey on Monday night: If you end up with a cold, you can say you got it from an Academy Award-winning actor, the President of the United States, or both. In true political tradition, his spokesperson would not confirm or deny a cold.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.
Another day, another person opining about the Redskins’ name. As the controversy grows, people with no connection to local politics or pro football have decided the world needs to hear their opinion, too. Here’s a roster of likely and not-so-likely recent commentators who say the name is offensive.
Click on the chart to view a larger version.
This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Playoff baseball is thrilling, but it also runs later than regular games, raising the possibility that Nationals fans might need a ride home after Metro’s usual weeknight closing at midnight. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will keep the trains running late for a cost, and just as they did in 2012, the Nationals have wiggled their way out of paying up.
The Nationals’ playoff schedule isn’t set yet, but Metro announced Monday that if any of the upcoming games run late, American University will put up the cash to keep the system open. Metro asks for a $29,500 deposit for each additional hour of service, with a two-hour maximum. The Capitals have fronted the money when their games run late, and even Dan Snyder pays up when his football team plays a night game, but the Nats are stingy about it. In 2012, the team held out until LivingSocial offered to make the deposit.
“AU is known for helping people in Washington ‘get to where they want to go’—and now supports Nats fans in post-season play,” the university’s president, Neil Kerwin, says in a press release. The school is also one of the team’s major sponsors, an arrangement that includes stadium signage and in-game promotions.
American University is a more financially stable benefactor than LivingSocial, but its willingness to cover Metro’s possible expenses is being met with skepticism and hostility from a few alumni.
So this is where my tuition went? MT Nats fans will get late Metro service during playoffs, thx 2 American University http://t.co/fqutRH4dFi— Diego Sánchez (@DiegoM_Sanchez) September 29, 2014
But the thing that AU grads can take to heart—and what makes the Nationals’ reluctance to put up the money in the first place so irritating—is that their alma mater is very likely to not lose a cent in making sure Nationals Park visitors get home. When someone puts up the late-train deposit, Metro credits them back $5.36 (double the average fare) for each passenger boarding up to $29,500 per hour. (Metro keeps any balance.) That’s about 5,500 customers, or 11,000 if Metro stays open for two hours.
If a Nationals playoff game runs past 10:30 PM on Sunday through Thursday, the Navy Yard-Ballpark station will accept customers until at least 12:20 AM, and 5,500 riders boarding per hour isn’t much of a stretch for a Nationals game. The Navy Yard station records 9,229 passenger boardings on an average weekday, but that figure goes up by 9,400 when the Nationals play, according to Metro statistics.
Of course, this is all predicated on the Nationals actually playing on weeknights. With the Nationals securing home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series, the only games that could run late are the fifth game of the Division Series, the second and seventh game of the NLCS, and the fifth game of the World Series. The only late-night game the Nationals played in 2012 was on a Friday (don’t ask what happened), when Metro was already running past midnight. LivingSocial never had to open its wallet.
For more than a year, one name has trumped all others in Virginia politics: Hillary.
“Hillary Clinton’s first test,” was how Politico characterized Governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign last summer, suggesting it was merely a dry run for the consultants, pollsters, bundlers, and other moving parts of Hillary’s 50-state 2016 vehicle. Or as another website asked: Is McAuliffe “nothing more than Hillary’s stalking horse?”
Now comes the congressional race in Virginia’s 10th District, in which the Republican candidate, Barbara Comstock, a flame-throwing conservative Republican state delegate, embellished her primary win by bashing the Clintons and vowing to “get to the bottom of the truth in Benghazi.” Meanwhile, Comstock’s opponent, Fairfax County supervisor John Foust, is getting help from ’90s-era Bill Clinton aide Paul Begala, who’s been issuing poison tweets about Comstock.
Virginia’s politics isn’t being stalked; it’s been kidnapped.
The increasingly national flavor of the Commonwealth’s local elections is partly a function of its DC suburbs. McAuliffe, Comstock, and Begala—as well as GOP strategist Ed Gillespie, running for the US Senate against Mark Warner, and Newt Gingrich, a longtime supporter of Comstock—call Northern Virginia home.
When they run for office, they end up squaring off against old federal-level foes. As an aide to Representative Frank Wolf in the early 1990s, Comstock made her name investigating the Clintons. She triggered the minor scandal known as Travelgate and had a hand in Filegate and Monicagate. “It’s as if these old Beltway grudge matches are being rehashed where so many of these players now live,” says David Wasserman, with the Cook Political Report.
Another reason national politics has intruded is that Virginia increasingly looks like the nation. Once “solid South,” the state has become a bellwether. “There’s no better laboratory,” says a Democratic Party operative.
The 10th District is Virginia in microcosm. Spanning the urban-oriented enclaves of Fairfax and the apple orchards around Winchester, it leans left on its eastern end and squats solidly Republican in the west. The area in between, around Dulles and the exurbs of Leesburg, bulges with Asian and Hispanic newcomers. “If you want to take the temperature of the country,” says Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, “this might be a good district to pick.”
Those demographics mean the fight for the district’s seat will produce more partisan heat than its constituents bargained for. The Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees have set aside more than $2 million each to contest this small scrap of battleground.
But the 10th’s political diversity may guarantee residents the local election they deserve. Already, Comstock has ditched her anti-Clinton rhetoric to appeal to moderate suburbanites. “I’m a doer and not interested in continuing these fights,” she told Washingtonian.
Foust is still trying to stick Comstock with the GOP’s entire ’90s tally—“She spent four years and over $80 million to investigate the Clintons and found basically nothing,” he says—but to win in November, he’ll also need to address jobs, health care, and traffic.
Not that he’d refuse if Hillary showed up to campaign for him. Says Foust: “I definitely would welcome that.”
The top half of the front page of today’s Washington Post is devoted to the dazzling no-hitter Jordan Zimmermann threw Sunday to close out the Nationals’ regular season. There’s a large photo of Zimmermann’s teammates crowding him, another shot of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr. making that improbable diving catch to end the game, and an appreciative essay by Nationals head cheerleader Thomas Boswell, who can die happy now that he’s witnessed a no-hitter, the first for the Nationals since they moved here in 2005 and only the third ever recorded by a DC baseball team.
Chalk up the Post’s giddyness to playoff excitement and an 81-year drought since the last time a Washington pitcher hurled a no-no, but these kinds of feats didn’t always earn coverage splashed across the front page. Senators lefty Bobby Burke’s August 8, 1931, no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox made it above the fold on the front of the following day’s Post, but only briefly. The Post marveled at Burke’s achievement, but the more astonishing statistic might be that only 3,000 people were inside Griffith Stadium to witness it. (Yesterday’s Nationals-Marlins game had a reported attendance of 35,085.)
That’s still better press than what Walter Johnson’s July 1, 1920, no-hitter got. Johnson, the greatest pitcher ever to play for a Washington baseball team, blanked the Red Sox at Fenway Park, allowing his only base runner to reach on a fielding error. Just like Zimmermann yesterday, the "Big Train" only faced one batter over the minimum of 27. The Post gushed over Johnson’s game, but the coverage was buried on page 10 of 16.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
True to the toxicity of the Washington NFL team's name, even a Daily Show segment about the controversy over the franchise's name and logo was controversial days before it aired, with fans who participated in the sketch griping to the Washington Post that the Comedy Central series was "disingenuous" and left them feeling "defamed." On Thursday night, it finally aired.
Jon Stewart prefaced the clip by reminding viewers that The Daily Show won't air something if its subjects are deceived. "If we find out that someone in a piece was intentionally misled, or if there comments were intentionally misrepresented, we do not air that piece," he said. "We would not air that piece. So that being said, I hope you enjoy the following piece."
But that doesn't mean the burgundy-and-gold diehards featured in correspondent Jason Jones's sketch come off well—they mostly seem like boors spouting off Dan Snyder's talking points. The flipside of the segment is eight Native American activists—including Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the case that led to the US Patent and Trademark Office's invalidation of the football team's trademarks—giving the usual reminders about why the team's name is offensive.
The segment's filming turned pear-shaped when Jones brought in the activists to confront the fans—an instance that led one of the fans to call the police after feeling threatened by the encounter, according to the Post. The Daily Show only wound up showing a few handshakes between the groups and none of the audio. Still, at least two of the fans interviewed come away saying they'd still unquestionably support Washington's football team even if it gets a new name. (Perhaps they should check out these fan-generated redesigns.)
Compared to the other thing that happened to Washington's football team last night, The Daily Show wasn't really that bad.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.