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They'll coincide with this year's festival for a couple of days, NPS says. By Kristen Doerer
Photograph by Flickr user William Neuheisel.

This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival overlaps briefly with the trees' peak bloom dates, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

Karen Cucurullo, acting superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks, stood in front of a pink screen at the Newseum and asked a colleague to bring this year’s cherry tree blooming prediction. He approached the stage and handed her a plate-size pink envelope. The crowd laughed, and Cucurullo began opening the envelope. The peak bloom date is April 11-14, she announced.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 20 to April 12. Peak bloom also happens to start the the same day as the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which begins on 10am on Constitution Ave on April 11 and travels between 7th and 17th streets.

Other notable events include the Pink Tie Party Fundraiser at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Thursday, March 19; the Opening Ceremony Saturday, March 21 at Warner Theatre; Cherry Blast Art & Music Dance Party at the Blind Whino SW Arts Club Friday, March 27; the Blossom Kite Festival at the Washington Monument Saturday, March 28; Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival from 1pm to 9pm Saturday, April 4; and Sakura Matsuri—the Japanese Street Festival on Saturday, April 11.

New events include the Anacostia River Festival presented by the 11th Street Bridge Park and the National Park Service which begins at noon on Sunday, April 12th and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Corridor Bike Ride which begins at the Arlington National Cemetery at 11:30am on Saturday, April 18th.

Just remember: Don't touch the trees.

Posted at 01:23 PM/ET, 03/03/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski is leaving her post in 2016. Perhaps, a career in astronomy is next? By Nancy Doyle Palmer
Photograph by Simon Bruty.

When Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland was little, her parents took her to a movie about chemist and physicist Marie Curie. Thus began her lifelong love of science. Later she got a chemistry set and imagined herself winning two Nobel Prizes. But she was clumsy in the lab, so she switched to debate and drama, then became a social worker.

Once elected to the House of Representatives, Mikulski says, "I figured if I wasn't going to develop the cure for cancer, discover a planet, or develop a tsunami warning system, I could be on the committees that support all of this."

Although Mikulski—elected to the Senate in 1986—is committed to medical research, her true love is space.

"I'd be a Trekkie in two hot seconds," she says. But she admits a more realistic job would be an astronomer.

"While I would love to go up to the distant planets and find new galaxies," she says, "I wouldn't want to be an astronaut. I don't quite see myself in the costume."

Nancy Doyle Palmer is a DC writer whose fantasy is to be a backup singer with Kool and the Gang.

This article appears in our October 2005 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:20 AM/ET, 03/03/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The conference's libertarian streak favors the District. By Kristen Doerer
Men dressed as superheroes at CPAC, which was probably a bad place to be high. Photograph by Ewa Beaujon.

Marijuana became legal in DC last week, despite threatening talk from the head of the House Oversight Committee and impediments thrown into place by other conservatives in Congress. But at CPAC, the annual gathering of conservatives at National Harbor that ended Saturday, views on pot were more attenuated.

I spoke on Thursday with a group of students from the University of North Florida who had no qualms about marijuana legalization. When I told them that DC had legalized marijuana that day, one of them began clapping while the other two nodded in approval.

It was in this group of students that I found a self-proclaimed libertarian. “I’m definitely for state power, and DC isn’t necessarily a state, but it should have the power to enforce its own laws,” said UNF student Dylan Lowe, who is from Miami.

Among the students I spoke with, none thought states had no right to legalize marijuana. But a debate Thursday onstage in the Potomac ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center showed a divide among attendees on the issue.

“Having a debate on whether or not to legalize marijuana is like debating whether the sun is going to come up tomorrow. It’s going to come up,” Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, libertarian presidential candidate, and current CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc said.

Johnson's antics dominated the debate, called “The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?” His foil was Ann Marie Buerkle, a former nurse and Republican member of Congress. She spoke about the dangers of legalizing marijuana, saying not only can pot lead to depression and long-term memory loss, but that its stronger strains can also be blamed for a quarter of psychotic illnesses.

Both raised their voices; neither quite shouted. After Johnson made a point about the immense cost of enforcing marijuana laws and the prison costs, Buerkle responded that not that many people actually go to jail for marijuana. “The percent of people going to jail for smoking a joint is 1 in 1,200,” she said.

“Anybody do the math?” Johnson quickly retorted. “That’s 1.8 million people!”

At another point in the debate, Johnson feigned a heart attack and fell to the floor.

“This humor is disingenuous. It’s really reprehensible!” said a clearly offended Beurkle.

This type of stark disagreement isn’t all that surprising considering Pew’s recent findings that 38 percent of Republican Baby Boomers favored legalizing pot, compared with 63 percent of Republican Millennials.

Every year CPAC holds a straw poll of attendees, and last year’s roughly reflected that generational difference: 41 percent of attendees voted for the full legalization of marijuana; 21 percent for the legalization of marijuana only for medicinal purposes; and only 31 percent voted for it to remain illegal in all cases.

The poll also points to the influence of libertarian ideology among Millennials. US Senator Rand Paul won the straw poll last year with 31 percent of the vote. And while Paul is not officially for the legalization of marijuana, he is for its decriminalization.

On the third day of CPAC, Howard ‘Cowboy’ Wooldridge stood out in a sea of suits and dresses in a cowboy hat, jeans, and a shirt that read, “COPS SAY LEGALIZE POT: ASK ME WHY.”

“My profession is flying around in a helicopter, spending millions of dollars looking for a green plant,” the Frederick resident and former police detective said, calling enforcement of pot laws “a horrific misallocation of resources.”

DC's ballot initiative, which passed with support from 70 percent of voters, “wasn’t even close,” he said. “This is the will of the people, the vast majority of the people." Those in Congress who attempted to derail the legislation are "nosy busybodies" who should "mind their own goddamn business," he said.

“It’s so inconsistent here at CPAC that everybody screams about Obamacare, one size fits all for 50 states, when one person says five minutes later, ‘but for marijuana we need a federal 50-state solution,’" he said. "Helloooo? Do you see any inconsistencies here?”

Back on the Potomac ballroom stage, Kellyanne Conway of the Polling Company came out on stage to announce the results of this year's straw poll. Cheers broke out in the ballroom when she showed a slide presented the voting results on marijuana. Another plurality, 41 percent of the voters, had voted for legalizing marijuana, and 26 percent had voted for legalizing it for medical uses.

Rand Paul won the straw poll again. A chant began: “President Paul! President Paul!”

Posted at 10:09 AM/ET, 03/02/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
DC's public-transit system has many faults, but the decision not to raise fares and cut service has at least one passenger swooning. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
Photograph by Flickr user JJ Jackson.

Most Metro riders are familiar with the ups and downs of its service. I’m not naïve: Metro is a fickle mate, but it’s been there for me—sometimes.

There was the time I walked to Union Station in a downpour, debating Uber the entire walk. Metro never surges its prices in the rain. There was the time I stayed out too late because I bought a panini from IHOP and upon entering the Columbia Heights station, was greeted by the metallic clink of fencing and a “Sorry, honey,” from the station manager. Despite the disappointment, we both knew I’d be coming back.

On Thursday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced that it will spare riders from fare hikes and “substantial” cuts to train or bus schedules it had proposed last month, at least for the current fiscal year. I had been waiting for this positive news since I first heard of the draft budget through the grapevine, just as one might be informed of a philandering two-timer. It’s good to know the trains won’t keep me waiting any longer than they already do. Still, I’m left to imagine what “substantial” could mean for our future. WMATA’s final budget vote won’t be until spring.

Since moving to DC from California’s freeway-slashed Inland Empire, the lulling ding of train doors and the cozy plastic chairs have been a balm to my sun-deprived soul. Metro made me comfortable in a new city, ferrying me from place to place with relative ease. We spend a lot of time together: we all know how long the Red Line takes on the weekend (or many weekdays). But I wouldn’t want to go to the zoo with anyone else.

Sure, the relationship can be a bit disconcerting. It perturbs me when people try to jump through the doors as they were already sliding shut. (“Doors closing, stand back” isn’t a joke, people.) And yes, watching my SmarTrip dollars tick down, only to be auto-loaded behind my back is always a bit creepy. Then, the announcement of potential fare hikes and diminished service. A couple weeks later at Dupont Circle, the crush of people from an unloaded train left me reeling. And since January 12, when the smoke that filled a broken-down train left one passenger dead, the acrid, burned-plastic smell that marks certain stations is now suspect. I didn’t know where Metrorail and I would go from there, and honestly, my trust was greatly diminished. And fares hikes weren’t supposed to be on the table until next year.

So, good timing on the announcement, Metro. My transit budget was starting to stray. Even though using Uber makes me feel awful, that fare-splitting is tantalizing—and a little snow wouldn’t keep me away from Capital Bikeshare. But I’ll keep riding. Because I don’t have a car. And also, I love you, Metro, I really do.

Posted at 01:22 PM/ET, 02/27/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Legalized marijuana has stirred an international incident. By Benjamin Freed
Amsterdam features robust bike infrastructure, charming canals, and absolutely no sense of humor. Photograph via Shutterstock.

On Tuesday, with the District on the cusp of legalizing the possession and home cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, Mayor Muriel Bowser's office published leaflets offering guidance to residents about the city's new drug reform. A sheet containing several frequently asked questions attempted to spell out all the details of Initiative 71, from the amount of pot people are allowed to carry (not more than two ounces), to the number of plants residents are allowed to grow (six, only three of which can be mature), to where it can be consumed (private residences only, not in public, and definitely not on federally controlled land).

But then there's this line: "Is DC going to become like Amsterdam?"

Comparing any jurisdiction that relaxes its marijuana laws to the Dutch capital is kneejerk and inevitable, but you know who doesn't like it? The Dutch!

In a fact sheet of its own, the Embassy of the Netherlands is rebutting the Bowser administration's dismissal of Amsterdam as a city swaddled by an unyielding fog of marijuana smoke.

"Mayor Muriel Bowser said this week that the District will not become 'like Amsterdam,' as though being 'like Amsterdam' would be a bad thing," reads a press release from the Dutch Embassy.

The Dutch are also keen to point out that their marijuana laws—which are nationwide, not just restricted to the capital city—are more stringent than DC's in some aspects and looser in others. While the Netherlands licenses cafés to sell weed along with coffees and pastries, there are strict limits on how much green a customer can buy and how much a store can have in stock. Alcohol is prohibited, as are minors, other drugs, and, per the press release any "nuisance." Also banned from buying weed: foreigners, although local jurisdictions, like Amsterdam, are allowed to make this a low-priority enforcement issue. (In 2013, the Netherlands, responding to burdensome drug tourism along the Belgian and German borders, restricted marijuana purchases to Dutch residents only.) DC's legalized-marijuana regime has no framework for a retail market, but it does allow possession of much larger amounts (five grams for the Dutch, compared to two ounces in DC).

But the Dutch aren't ragging on Washington just over differences in weed policy. They're also taking potshots at DC's relative deficits of museums, bike lanes, canals, and—this one stings—streetcars.

DC vs Amsterdam

Posted at 03:41 PM/ET, 02/26/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Don't be a weather wimp. By Benjamin Freed
Photographs by Benjamin Freed.

The photo above was taken from Washingtonian's office. In the lower right-hand corner, you can see an individual walking down the sidewalk using an umbrella for protection. From what, exactly? Possibly the light snowfall that is currently dusting the city with, at most, three inches of fresh powder. As you can see, this umbrella-toting person is not alone. Peek through the trees and you'll see two pedestrians on the corner of 19th and L streets, Northwest, underneath half-domes of water-resistant cloth.

Every time Washington gets even the tracest amount of snow, there are some people around here who grab their umbrellas at the first gentle flake. This is ridiculous. And while it's not a manuever specific to DC—New York suffers from the same phenomenon—it is an ugly image that reinforces the notion that Washingtonians panic at the slightest hint of winter. Here are two more offenders making their way down shoveled sidewalks hugging a freshly plowed roadway.

Clearly, it is time for an intervention. Repeat this sentence: Umbrellas are not for the snow.

An umbrella is a device used to protect the user from either rain or direct sunlight. While umbrellas have no single point of origin, they are seen in history as far back to the fifth century BC in Greece and the first century AD in China. But they are not for the snow. Umbrellas are useful during rain because rain water can penetrate layers of clothing. Their bulkiness is tolerated because of their utility. Raincoats are designed the same way. Snowflakes can be brushed off most fabrics, and do not even cling to snow-specific apparel like parkas and ski jackets. None of the umbrella-carrying jokers seen here appear to be wearing raincoats. Some of them might even have hats or hoods on their heads!

Perhaps Washington is just overrun with office-dwellers who are more willing to admit their seasonal weakness than suffer a few hours of hat hair. But they're only hurting the cause. As long as even a few people walk down these lightly sprinkled streets with umbrellas over their heads, Washington will continue to be seen as a town that panics in the snow.

Just to be clear, it is acceptable to use an umbrella if:

  • It's raining
  • The sunlight at the beach is too intense
  • You're starring in a mid-20th century musical about blending into high society
  • You're a magical British nanny and you need to make a quick getaway

It is not acceptable to use an umbrella when:

  • It's snowing

You know who else used an umbrella in the snow?

Screenshot from Batman Returns.

Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin. Don't be like the Penguin, people.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 02/26/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Despite threats from Congress of jail time, Mayor Muriel Bowser and other District leaders say Initiative 71 is going into effect tomorrow. By Benjamin Freed
It's Jason Chaffetz vs. these folks. Photograph by Benjamin Freed

DC Council member Jack Evans was asked, somewhat jokingly, if he would be willing to share a jail cell with Mayor Muriel Bowser if a high-ranking House Republican made good on his threat to lock up District officials who carry out the city's impending legalization of marijuana.

"I don't get arrested," Evans said before darting into a meeting with Metro officials instead of heading to a press conference Bowser and most of the Council staged Wednesday afternoon to defend Initiative 71, which takes effect tomorrow at 12:01 AM. He should have taken the question less seriously: the member of Congress doing the threatening, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, is actually Washington's most powerless wannabe drug cop. No city officials are going to see the inside of a jail cell over the legalization of small-time pot possession, now matter how much nasty correspondence Chaffetz sends their way.

"We are prepared to enforce and enact Initiative 71," Bowser said. "Our government is prepared to implement and enforce Initiative 71 in the District of Columbia."


Bowser's statement was a clear shot at Chaffetz, who as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is DC's de facto boss on Capitol Hill. Chaffetz, who tried to stall the District's medical marijuana program during his back-bencher days, sent Bowser a highly charged letter Tuesday night, warning the still-green mayor that if she or any other city employee could be charged with violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, a hoary federal statute that prohibits government agencies—and in DC's case, jurisdictions whose budgets are subjected to congressional review—from spending funds that have not been appropriated.

Chaffetz can send all the letters he want, but he's unlikely ever to get his pound of flesh. Besides the fact that since the law's 1884 passage, nobody has ever been prosecuted under the Anti-Deficiency Act, it would take a highly improbable sequence of events for Chaffetz to throw charges at Bowser. He'd have to convince the Justice Department to open an investigation into Bowser and the rest of the DC government. Besides the fact that there's no documented legal precedent, it seems just as implausable that Chaffetz would succeed in getting a Democratic attorney general to open an inquiry of a Democratic mayor carrying out a ballot referendum that passed with 69 percent support.

In recent weeks, Bowser and other top DC officials have been preparing city employees on how to carry out Initiative 71, especially rank-and-file police officers. Cops have been given reference cards reminding them of what is and is not legal under the legalization regime. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier said it should not be too much of a problem.

"This will be enacted and in law after 12:01," she said. "It's really small changes from decriminalization."

Marijuana decriminalization, which went into effect last summer, replaced criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less with $25 fines. Initiative 71 makes it legal for adults 21 years and older to possess up to two ounces of pot and grow six plants in their homes, but not exchange any of it for cash. A Republican-backed rider that will most likely be attached to a bill keeping the Department of Homeland Security funded prohibits the District from setting up weed retail markets similar to Colorado and Washington state.

Bowser said her administration will likely meet soon with US Attorney Ron Machen to discuss Chaffetz's Anti-Deficiency Act threat. But the DC government appears to be moving forward on legal pot without much hestiation at this point.

"Since I'm no longer being paid by the hour or by the word, I'll be brief," said DC Attorney General Karl Racine. "Initiative 71 is, in the attorney general's office's view, law."

Those statements, however, should not be taken as an endorsement to spark up in the middle of the street later tonight. Consumption is still banned in public, and Bowser has said she will seek to "extend" the definition of public by banning the creation of smoking clubs. But even with DC's marijuana-legalization regime being more conservative than those in Colorado, Washington, and Alaska, Bowser still took a few more shots at Chaffetz.

"I would hope he is focused on doing his job," Bowser said. "Bullying the District is not what his constituents expect."

And just in case Chaffetz can figure out a way how to haul Bowser off to jail for upholding her constituent's wishes, the mayor will not be doing time alone.

"A representative from half a continent away is threatening to lock up our mayor for the crime of implementing the will of District voters," said Council member Brianne Nadeau. "I support the will of the people and I reject the whims of overreaching congressmen. If they lock up the mayor, they better take me too."

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 03:52 PM/ET, 02/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Bridj uses census data and social media chatter to map out commuter van routes. By Benjamin Freed
Bridj has been running in Boston since April 2014. Photograph courtesy Bridj.

Waiting for the second, third, or even fourth Metrobus on 14th or 16th streets, Northwest, because they're overstuffed is a frequent, groan-inducing sight familiar to many Washington commuters. So are dangerously crowded Metrorail platforms when the Red Line is broken down.

Bridj, based in Boston, believes it has a formula to releive some of that congestion by running data-driven shuttle bus routes, which it plans to introduce in DC later this year, the firm announced Wednesday morning. Bridj launched last April in the Boston area after scouring data sources ranging from Census Bureau reports to social-media grumblings about roads and public transit. From there, it plots out commuter paths in need of additional capacity and deploys its shuttles during rush hours. It currently runs four routes around Boston. Fares—paid via smartphone app, naturally—run higher than public transit, but less than a taxi. (Trips start at $3 in Boston.)

DC has been a likely second market for Bridj, and not just because of its similar size to Boston. In September, Bridj hired former District Department of Transportation chief Gabe Klein as its chief operating officer. In a blog post, the company says it was attracted to DC because, as in Boston, more than one-third of households do not own cars, less than 40 percent of jobs in the metropolitan area are reachable via public transit in less than 90 minutes, and because biking, walking, and public-transit use all become less popular when the weather is lousy. (It's cold and icy here, but rumor has it that DC can probably defer to Boston on the rough winter business this year.)

Each green dot represents a DC-area commuter interested in using Bridj. Screenshot via Bridj.

Bridj does not have a date for when it will actually start running its 14-passenger vans around town, nor does it have specific routes mapped out yet. The company's data scientists, in addition to their usual sources, are also taking suggestions from prospective Washington-area customers through an interactive map that allows users to enter their typical commute. The company's founder, Matthew George, tells the Washington Post that he's interested in Capitol Hill, K Street, and Dupont Circle, but the data could wind up suggesting elsewhere. The map's data so far are mostly scattered throughout the District, with dots dashing from upper Northwest and east of the Anacostia River toward downtown DC, but there are several suburban routes popping up as well. Klein likely knows the turf a bit better than his colleagues, too.

Posted at 10:26 AM/ET, 02/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
After the conservative conference left the hotelier, the legal documents flew. By Luke Mullins
The Marriott Wardman Park. Photograph by Flickr user Justin Ennis.

Today, activists will flock to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor for this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. Those who make the annual pilgrimage will witness lively speeches by conservative firebrands like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Sean Hannity. But they won’t hear anything about the petty mudslinging--allegations of unpaid hotel bills, overflowing trash bins, and malfunctioning key cards--that took place after CPAC moved from a DC hotel to its current location.

Those details are contained in a three-year-old lawsuit, Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. vs. American Conservative Union, which was recently obtained by Washingtonian.

The roots of the kerfuffle stretch back to September of 2008, when the American Conservative Union (ACU), the group that organizes CPAC, signed a sales agreement in which it committed to hold the conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Woodley Park each February from 2010 to 2014, according to documents filed in DC Superior Court by Marriott’s attorneys. The agreement, according to Marriott’s lawyers, also included a cancellation provision: should the ACU change its mind and hold the event elsewhere during this five-year period, the ACU would pay Marriott a portion of the revenue that the hotel would have received had the event taken place at the Wardman Park.

The ACU held CPAC at the Marriott Wardman Park in 2010, 2011, and 2012. But in March of 2012, CPAC sent a letter to Marriott ending the arrangement, according to court documents. Instead, the ACU moved the conference to Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Marriott’s lawyers cried foul: “The termination of the Group Sales Agreement, and resulting cancellations of the 2013 and 2014 conferences by CPAC, was improper and constitutes a breach of the Group Sales Agreement,” Marriott’s lawyers said in court documents.

The agreement’s cancellation provision, Marriott’s lawyers insisted, required the ACU to pay Marriott $606,430 in lost revenue for the 2013 conference and $272,715 for the 2014 conference. In its letter to the Marriott terminating the agreement, CPAC insisted it wouldn’t pay these damages.

In addition, Marriott alleged that ACU hadn’t paid $685,565 in bills from the 2012 conference, which took place at the Marriott Wardman Park.

Marriott demanded that ACU fork over all of this money, which totaled nearly $1.6 million.

The records of Marriott’s complaint, which is dated April 5, 2012, are incomplete. DC Superior Court’s civil records division has on file only seven of the complaint’s eight pages; page five is missing.

In its legal filings, however, the ACU tells an entirely different version of the story. The organization insisted in a response that Marriott breached the contract by providing awful service during the 2012 convention, and that the harm ACU sustained during this event was greater than the $1.6 million that Marriott demanded.

The ACU’s lawyers enumerated what they said were the hotel's failures during the 2012 convention. The Marriott Wardman Park’s internet connectivity was “completely unavailable or substantially unavailable” during parts of the conference, which delayed registration and made it difficult to live-stream the event. Hotel staff set up the media room late and didn’t provide wiring for news cameras in the conference area. The Wardman Park’s power sources were shoddy and created “brown outs and tripped circuit breakers in several meeting rooms.”

The ACU’s lawyers insisted that the Marriott didn’t provide enough retail food options, argued that the food delivery was slow, and said hotel employees “continually fail[ed] to refresh beverage stations.” The staff also neglected to “provide adequate trash receptacles and/or empty trash receptacles in a timely manner, which resulted in trash overflowing in meeting rooms.”

Finally, the organization complained about poor security at the hotel. Marriott staff left “‘secure’ ACU staff rooms unlocked on multiple occasions and Marriott’s key card swipe system for secure areas requir[ed] multiple swipes of the key card provided,” the ACU’s lawyers alleged in court documents.

ACU claimed Marriott’s failings during CPAC 2012 damaged its relationships with supporters and donors and triggered negative media attention for the event. “[M]any donors, supporters, and media personnel will not return to ACU’s 2013 conference because of their negative experiences at the 2012 Conference,” ACU’s lawyers said in court documents.

The group initially demanded the disagreement be resolved during a jury trial, but within six months both sides agreed to settle the case.

The terms of the settlement aren’t public. "I understand this matter closed and was settled in 2013, and there are no further details," Marriott spokesperson Elizabeth F. McGlasson wrote in an email. An ACU spokesperson left me a voice message saying he would look into the matter, but I was unable to reach him again.

Despite the legal skirmish, CPAC hasn’t been able to escape Marriott’s reach. In October of 2012--ten days before the lawsuit was settled--Marriott bought the brand and management rights to a Washington-area resort: The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, where CPAC is currently held.


2012 Marriott suit against the American Conservative Union by Andrew Beaujon

ACU countercomplaint against Marriott

Posted at 07:30 AM/ET, 02/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
There's always next winter. By Benjamin Freed
Children sledding somewhere in DC in 1915. If they tried in on Capitol Hill today, they'd be chased off by the cops. Photograph via Library of Congress.

Once again, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is taking the fight to the US Capitol Police. But this time, DC's non-voting envoy to Congress isn't irate about the Capitol's security perimeter eating into more residential neighborhoods. Instead, she's standing up for District residents' right to sled on Capitol Hill.

Recent snowstorms prompted thrill-seeking tykes (and their parents) to trek through the frosty climes toward the West Front of the Capitol for a round of sledding, tobogganing, and other wintertime fun that can only be enjoyed on an incline. Fun was had by most, if not, all, until Capitol Police officers chased the sledders off the hill. According to Roll Call, the most recent sled outing last Saturday was canceled at the behest of the chairman of either the House or Senate Appropriations Committee, though Representative Hal Rogers and Senator Thad Cochran both deny sending out the fuzz.

Still, Norton's not waiting for Rogers or Cochran to come clean. In a letter today to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin, Norton is calling for an end to this "Scrooge-like ban" on what was long one of Washington's most popular cold-weather activities, and one that brings few environmental hazards.

"Because of high-residential density, there are few places to sled in the city, and the grounds of the US Capitol—the Hill—provide a perfect sledding venue," Norton writes. "The sledding ban appears to be arbitrary. There is so little snow here that there will not be frequent sledding and, therefore, no significant damage to Capitol Grounds."

Norton's understanding of landscape aesthetics is admirable, but sledding on Capitol Hill was not banned in out of some sudden concern for the shrubbery. Like most ridiculous prohibitions around Washington, the no-sledding rule was implemented more than 13 years ago as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. While there have been some achievements in the ensuing global war on terrorism, the restoration of the rights of small children to scoot down an iconic hillside on cheap hunks of plastic is not one of them.

Perhaps Washington's snow enthusiasts should applaud Norton for sticking up for Old Man Winter, but there's cause for hesitation in her letter, too. The letter, dated today, gives Larkin 30 days to respond to her demand. Thirty days from now, it'll be March 26, well into the first week of spring. Maybe Washington will get a late-season Arctic blast that extends sledding time, but the odds are against it. The historic temperature range in DC for March 26 is between 40 and 58 degrees. Looks like the no-fun Congress wins again.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 04:00 PM/ET, 02/24/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()