NPR’s Ari Shapiro will be a full-fledged foreign correspondent come January 2, when he moves to London after almost four years in Washington on the White House beat. He’s hoping the new assignment will bring to his life fewer reasons to wear a suit, less knowledge of British Prime Minister David Cameron than he has of President Barack Obama, and the chance to meet some idols he can address as “Dame” and “Sir.” Shapiro, who is 35, says he expects to miss Washington but plans to return often to see his husband, Michael Gottlieb, and friends. What he’ll become, he says, is a “transatlantic commuter.”
Though he’s never been based in London for work before, he lived there for a few months in 2000 while Gottlieb was fulfilling a Fulbright fellowship. They lived in a “damp, moldy flat” far from the center of town, and those three months “were the rainiest winter on record,” he says. With the new gig, he’s found an apartment in Spitalfields, which he describes as adjacent to the East End, which is “the 14th Street of London—fun and creative.”
On Tuesday, we talked with Shapiro about the old assignment, the new assignment, and what he’ll miss about Washington.
How are you spending Thanksgiving, that most American of annual holidays, before making the big move?
We have 15 people coming to our house for dinner, and after we invited all these people I was asked to fill in as host of All Things Considered. I’ve never hosted it before. I enthusiastically said yes and then started scratching my head and asked, “How will I get dinner for 15 people on the table, given that I will be on the air?”
Isn’t that why we have husbands?
Yes, and parents and in-laws. A bunch of people will be cooking at my house in my absence.
What will you miss about Washington?
Besides my husband, who may follow in time but is not initially going with me? I love that I have what feels like an urban village. Most of my friends live within walking or biking distance. I have neighborhood bars and restaurants where I know the people who work there. I have an urban life that feels like a very old-fashioned, small-town community.
What won’t you miss about Washington?
“Where do you work?”
What is the most important lesson you learned on the White House beat?
It’s only radio. [At the White House] we cover so many real crises of international importance, profound tragedies, issues of war and peace. It puts in perspective a crisis in my job or my life.
What are you passing on, in experiences and legacy, for your NPR replacement at the White House?
My replacement is Tamara Keith, who has been our Congressional correspondent. She shadowed me for a week at the White House, and I introduced her to everyone I can think of. In our dimly lit booth, when I first arrived, I brought some lamps. I plan to leave them there. I also purchased from the MOMA [Museum of Modern Art] store a print by Louise Bourgeois that says “Be calm.” I’m leaving that on the wall of our booth.
What is your advice to White House correspondents, present and future?
Find ways to get off the treadmill from time to time. It is so easy to be consumed by the daily churn of news. You need to find ways to explore the stories that are not on the front page every day.
Do you see yourself having a lifelong career in radio and news, and, if not, where do you think you are headed?
The great thing about NPR is the number of role models here who have had decades-long, fulfilling careers: Nina Totenberg, Robert Segal, Mara Liasson. I could see myself easily following in that path. That said, who knows?
You’ve been on a lot of lists—for example, Paper’s Most Beautiful and MSNBC’s Power List. Did one matter more than the others? Do lists matter in general?
Every time I am on a list I take it as a great compliment, but I try not to let it become more than a passing compliment.
In 2007 you claimed you had four suits. You are about to move to a city more formal than DC. Do you have more suits now?
I do have more suits now, but I plan to wear them less, because many of the stories I do in London will have nothing to do with people who wear suits. I will have the opportunity to report on artists and athletes and scientists, in addition to politicians and businesspeople.
Not as a competition, but as a comparison, how do you expect to match David Cameron with Barack Obama?
I was having drinks with my predecessor on the London beat, and I asked him to tell me everything I need to know about British politics. He said, “If you are doing a story about it more than once every few months you are doing it wrong.”
What I mean by this is, at this point I could probably write a biography of President Obama and I could probably sketch a rough profile of David Cameron. By the time I leave the London beat I hope I don’t know as much about David Cameron as I know about Barack Obama.
Do you have any idols you hope to meet over there?
Dame Helen Mirren. Sir Ian McKellen. I wouldn’t turn down a lunch date with Elton John. I love that I will get to refer to people as “Dame” and “Sir.”
Washington is one of the more comfortable cities in which to be gay in the US, possibly in the world. What do you expect from London?
London is such a sophisticated global city, and the world is such a different place today than it was even ten years ago. I don’t expect much difference.
You are from Portland, Oregon. What do you think London will have in common with Portland, other than climate?
A great bike culture. Portland has more bicycles per capita than just about any city in America. London—and most of Europe—has a bike culture much more similar to Portland than DC. I ride my bike everywhere.
You sing with the Portland-based group Pink Martini. What will happen with your appearances with them? More of the Euro circuit?
I think so. The band performs a lot in Europe. I have done a few European tours with them, but I expect that will increase now. I still hope to do major East Coast shows, but shows in second-tier American cities and out West might become more infrequent.
You sing in five languages. Do you speak all of them, too?
Not at all. I kind of speak two languages other than English—French and Hebrew. When I have to sing in languages I don’t speak, I learn what the words mean and find a native speaker to teach me the correct pronunciation.
Do you have a favorite language for speaking or singing?
I love the sound of Italian. It’s such a musical language. Although it is fun to sing in Hindi, the syllables do not intuitively follow each other in a way the ear would expect.
You depart for London on January 2. How do you plan to send yourself off?
I don’t know. I love Komi. Maybe dinner at Komi. We have been going for years and years and years. It’s the kind of relationship with a restaurant that I would be lucky to find in London.
Most municipal transportation directors don't have groupies. But Gabe Klein has legions of rabid fans in two cites where he turned policies from "cars only" to bikes, pedestrians, and streetcars. Klein ran the District Department of Transportation from 2008 to 2010 under former Mayor Adrian Fenty, laying the groundwork for Capital Bikeshare, DC Streetcar, and other innovations that have changed the way Washington gets around and made him an idol of transit and smart-growth advocates.
When Fenty lost his reelection bid, Klein was quickly snapped up by Mayor (and former White House Chief of Staff) Rahm Emanuel to do the same job in the Windy City. After two and a half years transforming how Chicago moves (and winning another legion of fans), Klein, 42, announced last week that he was stepping down to move back to DC full-time to be with his family and figure out his next venture. Klein tells Washingtonian he's not interested in running for office, as some have urged him to do in the past—but whatever he’s planning, it’ll probably excite his fans.
In the time in you spent running transportation in Chicago, can you compare that experience to your stint running DDOT?
Both my mayors—Mayor Fenty and Mayor Emanuel—were awesome bosses. Very driven, focused on innovation, and very open to new ideas and implementing new strategies. This is why the innovation in government is happening at the city level. When I came into DDOT I didn’t have any sense of how government worked. I didn’t even know what some of the acronyms meant. I always say my ignorance was very helpful to me because I tried to get things done at a private-sector pace.
This year Kojo Nnamdi marks a milestone—15 years of hosting his daily radio broadcast on WAMU-FM—and he says what those 15 years mean to him is that “the listening public latched onto something most mainstream media today are not interested in, and that’s a long-form interview.” It is his specialty, even though he’ll tell you he takes great pleasure in changing gears from subject to subject, a sign of his own restless mind and vast assortment of interests and curiosities.
Nnamdi is as Washington as it gets, in part because, like so many other people who put down roots here, he’s from someplace else. He was born Rex Orville Montague Paul in Guyana in January 1945. He left Guyana to go to college at McGill University in Montreal, moved from there to Brooklyn, and arrived in Washington in 1969. He became the host of The Kojo Nnamdi Show in 1998, replacing Derek McGinty.
Nnamdi celebrated the anniversary of his show with a party at the Carnegie Library and by doing something that’s becoming a trend among Washingtonians: announcing on his show on Thursday that owner Dan Snyder should change the name of his football team. “I, like a lot of fans, have evolved from something we didn’t think about a lot to ‘no,’” he said.
We connected with Nnamdi for a wide-ranging conversation in which we got to turn the tables on him and do all the asking.
The promotional material for your show says it’s about news, politics, and cultural issues. Is one more of a favorite subject than another?
Politics would be number one. Even though I enjoy discussing all the other issues that we do, where my natural instincts are, for my own reading and listening pleasure, is politics. Living in Washington it’s difficult to avoid politics. It’s part of the air we breathe.
What about sports? When we first met, at a dinner party, your job was to watch a football game and report back to the chefs making the meal.
I love sports. I love going to sporting events generally—it’s one of the most relaxing things you can do. Basketball is my favorite. I am really passionate about it. I have season tickets to [American University] games. I watch football. I watch some baseball, when it gets closer to the World Series. I go to see cricket in the Caribbean, because I played the sport. I usually go to Antigua in February. I also grew up playing soccer. This past year I got season tickets to DC United, and it was their worst year ever.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was hospitalized in July after suffering a seizure, has given a revealing interview in which she talks about her “miraculous” recovery but notes pointedly that the process has cost her time with her husband, Secretary of State John Kerry. Does she see him? “Of course not,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, because she can’t travel with him on his frequent and “exhausting” trips. Heinz Kerry said, “I know he’s good at this job, but it’s not a life, and some days are hard. But I believe in what he is doing—even when I disagree with him, which I sometimes do.” She willingly lets her husband travel the globe. “I keep thinking I’m doing it for the world,” she said.
Some other nuggets from the exclusive interview, which took place in the Heinz Endowments offices in downtown Pittsburgh:
• In her story, reporter Mackenzie Carpenter described the 75-year-old heiress as looking “a little more tired, perhaps, but with the signature tousled hair.” In an e-mail exchange with Washingtonian, Carpenter added, “I was struck by how focused THK seemed, and her sense of humor was completely intact.”
• Heinz Kerry said the seizure was caused by the after-effects of “a bad concussion that was not properly treated at all [. . .] from a very bad fall.” She indicated the fall happened four years ago. “There were a lot of signs of impacts over the four years.”
Rob Sarvis has little money, no paid staff, and, by his own estimation, few fellow Libertarians among the Virginia electorate. Yet the irrepressible unpopularity of the leading candidates in the November 5 gubernatorial election—Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli—has allowed Sarvis, a 37-year-old Annandale attorney and software developer, to poll as high as the double digits. (The last Libertarian Virginian to run, Bill Redpath, didn’t clear 1 percent in the 2001 campaign.) We caught up with Sarvis to find out what makes him run.
At one point a Politico poll had you at 12 percent. For a third-party candidate to be in double digits says a lot about this election.
It shows the two parties have gotten so far from trying to serve the public. And these two candidates really exemplify exactly what’s going on in their parties.
What are your impressions of your opponents?
You can’t really tell much about a person from talking to them a little. They’re practiced politicians who say the scripted things you’re supposed to say, but the numbers don’t add up. It’s frustrating for voters to see such dumbed-down rhetoric.
What sparked you to run for office?
I grew up in a moderately fiscally conservative household. My mom is Chinese. My dad was white. He died when I was almost ten, and my mom raised us. I never heard anyone talk about social issues. I never really thought I would be in politics because I was really shy and introverted. But I’ve always been interested in public policy. In 2008, when the recession started, is when I got really fed up. I didn’t like that we had bailed out the big banks. It seemed there was a lot of cronyism.
Two years ago, you ran for Virginia’s state senate as a Republican.
I ran as a libertarian Republican. I just didn’t know how socially extreme the Virginia GOP is. There’s basically no libertarian influence—not like other states, where they’re kind of having a civil war.
Why did you quit the party?
I live in a fairly liberal district, and if I run again as a Republican, it’s just an albatross around my neck. It’s the easiest thing for them to say, “Hey, look—a Republican.” And that’s the end of the argument.
Where are you on the libertarian scale now?
I’m tempered by the fact of what’s politically feasible. Most Virginians aren’t libertarians. I accept that fact. I just start with the universe of politically feasible policy options and choose the best one.
If Virginians aren’t libertarians, why are you running?
Because they want something better, and moderate libertarian is far superior to Republicans and Democrats in their current incarnation. Take the marijuana issue. People see the ravages of the drug war and how ridiculous it is that we criminalize possession of marijuana. I think 70-plus percent [of Virginians] are totally fine with medical marijuana and a bare majority is okay with full legalization. Yet the parties aren’t talking about it, and the media generally won’t bring it up.
Can you pull this off?
Obviously, it’s still an uphill climb and we’re realistic about the possibilities, but there’s certainly a path there.
This article appears in the November 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Hollywood and Washington got together for some laughs at the Kennedy Center Sunday night on behalf of Carol Burnett, one of the legends of American sketch comedy. The 80-year-old Burnett was awarded the 16th Mark Twain Prize, which has been given in the past to Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, and George Carlin, among others. Those who came to sing her praises included colleagues, friends, and a younger generation of women comedians, many of whom are graduates of Saturday Night Live and who consider her one of their pioneers. Tina Fey opened the show; Amy Poehler did a routine as her “assistant” with the help of half a dozen dogs; Rashida Jones and Maya Rudolph told anecdotes and introduced clips from Burnett’s enduring moments on television and in movies.
David Rubenstein, the chairman of the Kennedy Center board, was the warmup act, though he didn’t dare try to do comedy. Not in this company. He came onstage to thank the show’s underwriters and producers, and appeared later to introduce Burnett. The concert hall was nearly packed, with Burnett sitting prominently in a red-draped box adjacent to the stage with her husband, Brian Miller, and daughters Jody and Erin Hamilton. In the President’s Box were House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and DC Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. The room had the lights, cameras, and other trappings of a TV show, because it was being taped by WETA for broadcast on PBS on Sunday, November 24.
The DC Chamber of Commerce announced today that Barbara Lang, its president and chief executive for the past 11 years, will resign next year. News of Lang's decision comes just two days after she scored one of her biggest political victories—the defeat of a DC Council bill that would have forced Walmart to pay wages more than 50 percent above the District's minimum wage. In an interview with Washingtonian, Lang says that even though she beat back the Walmart bill, she's not entirely opposed to a minimum wage hike, but she doesn't know by how much it should be raised. And she won't be leaving on pleasant terms with many of DC's elected officials.
Two years ago, when Tiffany Bowen was in Dallas and six months pregnant with twins, and her husband, football player Stephen Bowen, was in New York on the verge of negotiating a switch from the Dallas Cowboys to the Washington Redskins, she went into premature labor. In emergency surgery, she delivered two boys, Skyler and Stephen, each weighing only a pound and a half. The next few weeks were spent in crisis, a period in which Stephen underwent open-heart surgery and Skyler struggled with an infection that ultimately claimed his life. The Bowens’ despair was intense, almost crippling for Tiffany, but it made her aware of the issue of how jurisdictions deal with premature babies who die—including some, she says, that treat the bodies as medical waste—and it moved Bowen and her husband to do something about it. They started a foundation, named Skyler’s Gift after their son, to provide help and support to others who find themselves in similar situations.
“Skyler’s Gift was started because while in the hospital I met people who also lost a baby, and some of them could not afford a funeral,” Bowen said during a Thursday luncheon at Cafe Milano. “Depending on what state you are in, if you have a baby that passes away in prematurity the baby is considered medical waste. You cannot pick up the baby and give the baby a proper funeral. Some places will do a mass cremation.” Bowen says when she learned of these policies she was perplexed. “How is this happening in this country? How can we have mothers walking away from the hospital with nothing?”
Having finalized their agreement with the General Services Administration to convert the Old Post Office into a high-end hotel, Donald Trump and his three oldest children showed off renderings of how a Trumpified Washington landmark will appear. The Trumps—The Donald himself, joined by daughter Ivanka and sons Donald Jr. and Eric—introduced the designs at a press conference today at the historic Pennsylvania Avenue building, promising in their superlative-heavy style that when the hotel opens in late 2015 or early 2016, it will be a super-luxe but historically sensitive renovation of a valued plot of downtown DC. "It will be magnificent at the highest level," Donald Trump said. The Old Post Office has been the subject of several attempted renovations going back to the 1980s—that's what resulted in the crumbling glass rear annex. But DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton credited the Trumps with finally concluding a project she said has consumed her entire career in Congress.