Monday, October 27, 2008

Washington Social Diary

The ballroom of venerable Wardman Park Hotel as dinner begins at the annual gala awards dinner of the DC Chamber of Commerce.
By Carol Joynt

No doubt you recall the first two lines of lyrics from Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” That’s a useful way to describe Washington with just days and hours until the hundred years election comes to an end. At the root of it is a sense that something seismic could be about to happen, but when you talk to long-term Barack Obama loyalists, or many Big D democrats, the public posture is “don’t speak it or we might jinx it.” You know what they want? For it to be over and with a decisive win that leaves no room for vote count challenges, law suits, or a resolution that needs to come from the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, the city officials are girding for an election night that could spill out into the streets. They are preparing for three scenarios: one in which John McCain wins and, in a city tilted heavily democratic, there are angry demonstrations a la Rodney King; one in which Barack Obama wins and there are Super Bowl type street celebrations where the exuberance turns to looting and violence; and a third in which the vote upsets both sides due to no plurality or charges of voter fraud. The preparations are quiet, almost off the radar, but underway just the same.

What I wanted to find was a guy who’s not timid and will speak what others are merely thinking. That was democratic political veteran Jamie Sterling at the “Urban Cowboy” party for Autism Speaks. “We’re gonna own it,” he said confidently of election night. “It will be a landslide.” Filmmaker Angus Yates, standing beside him, said, “You think so? Just don’t say it, okay?” At that moment, McCain stalwart Juleanna Glover walked up, smiled gamely, posed for a picture, but said she had to head home early to tend to children.

The cowboy and cowgirl hoedown at the Verzion Center is an interesting illustration of this moment in Washington social life., because it’s so tough to have a party right now, especially a fundraiser. Who do you invite when it’s the cusp of a possible dynamic power shift? Who’s in town in the weeks before a general election? (Answer: only civilians). Add to that a traumatic economic crisis that has seriously shaken the notion that Washington is recession proof. That argument would fly if federal government workers didn’t have mortgages or investments or the need to buy gasoline. For everyone else, from school teachers and bus drivers to lawyers, lobbyists, bankers, builders and business owners, it’s a too-brutal early Halloween fright.
Do cowhands eat crudite? Maybe urban cowhands...
The Autism Speaks party cost from $250 per person up to $5,000 for a “Blue Ribbon Patron.” It raised “a couple hundred thousand” for those affected by autism, according to Joe Galli, one of the organizers, but, as one of the almost 300 guests pointed out, “these were tickets sold before the market meltdown. A lot of what’s happening was in the pipeline. As of now, people aren’t as generous as they were.” The party was entertaining, the southwestern food was filling, people were smiling, some wore spirited western drag, the very brave – or foolish - rode the mechanical bull, and many looked down from the private Acela Club to the vast Verizon Center main floor, where competition was underway in the annual Washington International Horse Show.

The audience seats, however, were mostly empty. “It’s so sad,” said a partygoer. Juliet Reid, one of the hosts, along with Shelly Galli and Reg Stettinius, was optimistic more people would show up in the audience later in the week.
Adam Mahr rides the bull - sockless and in loafers. Sam Reid shows how to ride mechanical bull.
The Washington International Horse Show .... carrying on despite a very spare audience turn out.
Joey Dillon shows off his skills with six shooters. Will Roberts shows off his skills with a lasso.
“I’m enjoying myself,” said one small business owner who rode the bull, “because it’s the last one of these I can afford.”

Among the urban cowboys and cowgirls were Amy and Warren Bischoff, Wendy and Chuck Block, Keli Colby, Penny Donohoe, Kathy and John Campanella, Karen and Chris Donatelli, Susie Buch, Adam Bernstein, Marc Duber, Cleo and Michael Gewirz, Ann Gibbons, Tracy Hackett, Gwen Holiday, William Kaye, Shawnie Keenan, Jeff Keffer, William and Lou Kennedy, Jane Korthonen, Ed MacMahon, Jr., Nicholas Pappas, Adam Mahr, Rita Rowland, Nancy Taylor Bubes, Abby Blunt, David Deckelbaum, Jeff Pfeiffle, John and Lynn Sachs, Susan and Dan Pereles, Juliet and Samuel Reid, Shelly and Joe Galli, Douglas Ricks, Margaret and Tom Rietano, Jim Rowland, Martha and David Webb, Suzanne and Glenn Youngkin, Philip Wellde, Robert Trone, Andrew Travers, Reg and Joe Stettinius, Carrington and Jake Tarr, Chip and Hallie Smith, Victor and Julia Tolkan.
Clockwise from top left: The band; The tables overlooking the horse show, The show on the jumbotron.
Ray Ritchey with his wife, Keli Colby Will Roberts and Sam Reid
Juliet Reid and Susan Pereles Ashley Whitner and Suzanne Lemons
Joe Galli and Juliet Reid Lesley Shear and Amy Lifson of Circle of Hope
Reg Stettinius, Juliet Reid, and Shelly Galli show of their Autism Speaks belt buckles Joe Davies and Joe Stettinius
Lindsay Barker, Mike Gugerty, and Shawnie Keenan Marlene McConnell
Rachel Wilder and Phil Lerman Anne Polson, Christine Pecorella, and Sally McKinney
Leigh Weed and Gail Dell at their ring side table Barbara Werther and David Deckelbaum
The party photographer, Kyle Samperton Marjorie Robinson Jason Norris at the barbecue buffet
Angus Yates, Juleanna Glover, and Jamie Sterling Adam Mahr with Jeff Pfeifle
Richard Kane, Chris Donatelli, and Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler Peter Anthony, Michelle Pablo, and David Deckelbaum
The themes of politics and money carried over to the weekend to the annual gala awards dinner of the DC Chamber of Commerce at the venerable Wardman Park Hotel, now owned by Marriott. From the podium, CareFirst President and CEO, Chet Burrell invoked the recent “lessons from Wall Street.”

He acknowledged what the local business and political leaders in the room were thinking, that the economic turmoil “affects us all.”

Emcee, and local NBC News anchor star Jim Vance, commented that the hundreds in the audience seemed subdued. He said it was the first time in his history as the dinner’s Master of Ceremonies that the audience was quiet when he talked. He was stunned. I was, too, and wondered if the economic undertow could be the reason. Could bad economic times bring good manners back to banquet events?

Still, there was enough spirit in the room to get people up and dancing before dessert was served. The band was “Superflydisco,” keeping with the 70’s theme that showed up in the bell-bottoms, peace symbols, Go-Go boots and Afro’s on some of the guests.

A wonderful note of Washington irony upon arriving at the gala: a sign announcing that the cocktail reception was sponsored by Fannie Mae. Clearly something that was agreed to before the fall.
Clockwise from top left: The "old" promenade of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel; The "old" lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel; The "new" lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel; "Check in" desk for the dinner; Greeted by a "70s" Elton John (in wax).
A Washington party can have a sign like this with no hint of irony.
Doug Shackelford, Gregory McCarthy, and Mary Jo Shackelford Brother and sister act: Eugene and Leigh Adams
Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce Eric Richardson, head of the DC Office of Cable Television Chauncey D. Manson III of The Maslow Media Group
The Comcast crew, Don Fiester and Rolf Johansson The hors d'oeuvres
The band, "Superfly Disco."
DC City Councilman Jack Evns and Paul Cohn PNC Bank regional president Michael Harreld and People magazine's Arnesa Howell
Keeping it real for the theme of "70s Style," are Linda Ross, Dwaine Ross, Leslee Lowstuter, and Cathi Ferguson Proudly sporting those 70s threads
Bill Dean, President and CEO of M.C. Dean, Inc. Former DC City Council chair, Linda Cropp, with Current Newspapers publisher Davis Kennedy
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.