Monday, August 4, 2008

Washington Social Diary

John and Cindy McCain, with fans after dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington (with McCain acolyte, Sen. Lindsey Graham, right, looking on in the background.)
Washington Slows Down, Sort Of
By Carol Joynt

The lead to this story was essentially written – that all the elected officials have fled town for August. Then John McCain comes along and makes it just plain wrong.

Saturday night the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee was very much in town. We had a chance encounter with him outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. He stepped out of the front door with his wife, Cindy McCain, and was suddenly pounced upon by adoring fans. The muscle stood back to let the McCain supporters get their pictures. The candidate’s smile was subdued, but Cindy beamed throughout.

I wondered if this sort of thing gets tedious - the fans, the photos, and the smiles on demand? They can’t let it, because candidates know it comes with trying to win the White House. The word at the hotel was the McCains had dinner together, like so many couples on a Saturday night. We also spotted South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. Maybe he was chaperone.
McCain thanks a supporter outside the Mandarin in Washington; and poses with a fan.
However, with the McCains and Graham on Saturday night notwithstanding -- with the exception of some House Republicans who staged a protest on the House floor for a few hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi literally turned out the lights -- Congress raced out of town Friday.

Officially, they adjourned for their summer recess. All will reconvene at their respective conventions and then return to Capitol Hill the second week of September. And then only for a couple of weeks, because this is an election year and there are dollars to raise and votes to hustle.

The full House is up for re-election, but only those in a hotly contested race (about 1 in 4) have anything to sweat. In the Senate, 35 seats are up -- 23 Republican, 12 Democrats. Ten Senate seats are being watched closely for a possible party switch, most of them benefiting the Democrats. Five senators are retiring, including Idaho’s foot-tapping Republican, Larry Craig. George Bush, in his last summer as President, was in Kennebunkport over the weekend for a family wedding, and then is off on an Asian trip, plus a stop at the Olympics.

Central Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, almost equal distance between the White House and Capitol Hill.
These are the doldrums in Washington, a warm and slow month of quiet streets and manageable traffic, much loved by full-time residents. Just before “school” let out, though, it was anything but doldrums at Central Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, where full-time Democrat, Kennedy crony and quintessential lawyer-lobbyist Thomas Quinn hosted a lively dinner.

He’s is a well-known smiling face in the power ranks of Washington; the kind of guy who has a good word and a little inside information for everyone he meets. But you have to move fast to catch him. No one can cover as much territory, be it in a room or the city; nor can anyone talk to as many people, as “Tommy” Quinn can manage in a single evening. When he’s not in Washington, or traveling to the world capitals where his lobbying work takes him, he’s in Newport, hanging at Bailey’s Beach, or his charming Bellevue Avenue Victorian.

At Central, Quinn was in his element -- a good table in a hot restaurant packed with players, elected or not, enjoying dish of the verbal variety as well as chef Michel Richard’s cuisine: Gougere, Charcuterie, Soft Shelled Crabs, Grilled Salmon, Tuna Burgers, French Fries, Sea Bass and plentiful Pinot Grigio.
Brian Zipin, Central's general manager, who gave up a Broadway acting career for food and wine, and the Screen Actor Guild's man in Washington, Erik Huey. Lisa Ryan, Tom Quinn, and Lynly Boor at Central.
Clockwise from top left: The open kitchen at chef Michel Richard's Central; A basket of French Fries; Tower of meat, AKA charcuterie; Michel Richard's ceviche; Loup de Mere (Sea Bass) with mushrooms and arugula.
Deep fried Soft Shelled Crab. Lovely, tender asparagus, drenched in vinaigrette.
Quinn’s table was a mix: California Congressman Jim Costa, who has a “safe” seat and is off to the Azores on an official trip; Tom McMillen, former Maryland congressman, NBA player (Knicks, Hawks, Bullets), and, in his time, the tallest member of Congress at 6’ 11.” Also the USO’s Lynly Boor, who dates Tom in addition to looking out for the interests of the troops, and who celebrated her birthday; Erik Huey, an entertainment lawyer (he is SAG’s man in Washington), who is also a rocker in the post-Notre Dame Law School “cowpoke” band, The Surreal McCoys.

He was joined by the woman he will marry next May, Lisa Ryan, an owner of Fontana’s Bar in New York’s East Village, where the two met.
Tom McMillen and Lynly Boor. House member Jim Costa with former member Tom McMillen.
Central at 9 p.m. - prime time. (Can you spot the lobbyists and legislators?) Tom McMillen, Lynly Boor (with her birthday pudding and one candle), and Erik Huey.
Nearby were several freshman House members -- Albio Sires of New Jersey, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Melissa Bean of Illinois -- having a raucous dinner while Rome burns.

Maybe they were simply happy to be getting out of Dodge for a while. It’s been a troubled year for politicians in Washington.
Central at close to midnight, when those on the government payroll have headed home for bed.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.