|A Capitol Party for “John Adams”
By Carol Joynt
What we treasure here in the Nation's Capitol are the opportunities to experience, in a relaxed and intimate way, some of the nation's most historic sites.
It’s a perk to be invited to these buildings and these rooms for a reception, a cocktail party, a luncheon or dinner. Few of us take the privilege for granted. Yes, as taxpayers they are technically ours to enjoy, but the post 9/11 reality security has changed everything about access here. There are no more public White House tours except under very special circumstances. The Capitol, less restricted because so many work there, is still forbidding, with massive security gates at all vehicle entries and layers of armed muscle standing watch everywhere. It’s not like the old days, when a dinner date might end with a hike up the towering front steps to sit and look back at a glimmering view of the Mall, the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial under a full moon.
All three were at the party. That’s a hat trick of star power, but still a tough match for the room where the party was held: the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall. You know the room. It’s on television at some of the nation’s most important moments. It’s where the luncheon is held immediately after the inauguration for the newly sworn-in President and Vice President, their families, and assorted dignitaries. When the State of the Union address occurs each January, the members of the Senate walk over, en masse, and two by two, from their side of the Capitol, through the Rotunda, into Statuary Hall and then into the House Chamber, which is just off the Hall. The President, too, enters the Chamber from Statuary Hall.
It is architectural glory of varying marbles and sandstone and a poignant location to focus on President John Adams, because the room has family history. It was the Capitol’s first House chamber. It’s where Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, was elected president by Congress in an electoral dispute and inaugurated in 1824. It’s worth noting that after the White House, John Quincy Adams served as a member of Congress in that room and, according to Capitol history, after 17 years, had a stroke at his desk and died there. Well, not in that exact room but nearby.
|Clockwise from top left: At the foot of the stairs coming down from Statuary Hall sits a solitary bust of Lincoln; The view from Statuary Hall down the hall to the door that leads directly to the House floor. It's where the President enters for the State of the Union address; Louisiana political legend, Huey Pierce Long, with Sam Houston of Texas in the background.|
|Some of the others' in attendance at the "John Adams" preview party: Jefferson Davis, a one-time senator, better known as President of the Confederacy; William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska - a three time democratic nominee for president; Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, 19th century Congressman, Senator, Governor and Vice President.|
|Presidents Madison, Jackson, Monroe and Fillmore were inaugurated there, too. It was the House chamber for half a century until, frustrated with bad acoustics, the members moved in 1857 to a newer and bigger room that has been their chamber of deliberation ever since.
In modern times Statuary Hall serves a ceremonial role, where each state in the union is permitted to contribute two statues. Only about 40 fit, so the spillover are displayed in adjacent rooms and corridors; a place where statues and ghosts vie for space.
There are so many places in Washington where history walked before us, and which doesn’t dim the pause that happens to you when, in the middle of cocktails and canapés, you notice a simple brass plaque on the black and white marble floor that says: “Andrew Jackson’s Desk was Here.”
|Well, John Adams was there once, too, and he comes to life again through Giamatti, who in person at the party appeared shy and humble in the Capitol surrounding.
The pre-screening party was lively and crowded with members of Congress and their staff. Tom Hanks’ arrival was a showstopper with the HBO brass following in his wake. He warmly greeted Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Ted Kennedy, author McCullough and others, but was largely at ease. While talk of the presidential campaigns was at a low murmur among the insiders in the room, Hanks would have none of it. He told columnists Patrick Gavin and Jeff DuFour that while he is a Barack Obama fan, he’s bored with the endless primary contests. Well, Tom, you better stock up on No-Doze.
|Senator Kennedy stayed only briefly. He wanted to get to the House floor to watch his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, “manage” a piece of legislation, the “Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity” bill, which was passed. California democrat Jane Harman, a member of the Homeland Security Committee (and chair of the Terrorism Risk subcommittee) spent more time on her cell phone than nibbling at the buffet or chatting, and that’s probably because there was a brief scare about an unidentified plane in restricted airspace over Washington. It turned out to be a false alarm, but you get the drift of how it can be at a party in the Capitol.
The printed guest list indicated almost every member of Congress was invited, and before the guests walked over to the Cannon Building for the screening, some of the notables I spotted in Statuary Hall were: Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, Rep. Michael McNulty of New York, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, and his wife, Joan; Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theatre, “Manhunt” author James Swanson, Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont and Marcelle Leahy, the House Chaplain, Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, C-Span’s Steve Scully; a whole posse of HBO executives, including Richard Plepler, Amy McKenzie, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hooper, Eric Kessler, Nancy Lesser, Bill Nelson, Jay Roewe, Kary Antholis; and, also down from New York, Peggy Siegal.
|After everyone departed for the screening, and only the Design Cuisine caterers remained to clean up, we wandered the few steps over to the Capitol Rotunda. The workday was done and it was empty, except for the history. I stood alone in the middle of the cavernous room, in the spot where so many fallen leaders have Lain In State, including Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Taft, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Johnson, Reagan and Ford, but, significantly, not Nixon.|
|I took a picture of the dome’s beguilling ceiling, with Constantino Brumidi’s fresco, The Apotheosis of George Washington, at the center. And then, back out and into the maelstrom.
The HBO miniseries, “John Adams,” begins Sunday, March 16.
|A Dinner to End “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”
By Carol Joynt
This is unusual because I’m about to report on a dinner at which I also played a part. It was the annual fundraiser Saturday night for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. In non-Washington speak, the SLDN is the non-profit organization trying to overturn the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” law that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly and honestly in the U.S. military. According to SLDN, “the Pentagon fires two gay people every day.”
My dear friend and neighbor, Aubrey Sarvis, was recently named head of the group, and as he organized the dinner he asked me to emcee. For Aubrey, I step up; and that’s how I got to participate in the event I was also covering. But my role was minor compared to the larger goal of raising awareness and money. To that end, the reported 900 people who attended put more -- between ticket sales and pledges -- than $850,000 in SLDN’s bank account.
|They also heard speeches from special guest Tipper Gore, former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, Nevada democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, Judy Shepherd, executive director of the Matthew Shepherd Foundation; board members Bitsey Folger and Riley Temple, and special honoree, decorated Iraq war veteran, Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, who “came out” recently to Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, and who is an activist in the campaign to have the law overturned.
There were a lot of uniforms and medals in the room, and from all branches of the service, emphasizing what’s often reported – that for a lot of military commanders, trying to fight two wars, it is impractical to have willing soldiers sidelined from the front. CBS News, when they featured Manzella, said that discharges of gay soldiers has dropped dramatically from over 1200 in 2001 to about half that.
|Sarvis, a long-time Washington player with senior positions on Capitol Hill – he was staff director and chief counsel for Sen. Howard Cannon and later Sen. Fritz Hollings - as well as executive vice president of Verizon, says he has only one goal: to overturn the law. Rep. Berkley, in her remarks, said, “I can’t say no to Aubrey Sarvis.” If he can get the full Congress to feel the same way, that goal may be a score.
That said, I will let Tony Powell’s pictures tell the story of the dinner. From where I stood on the stage at the soaring National Building Museum it looked like everyone was having a good time.
|Photographs by Carol Joynt (Adams) & Tony Powell (SLDN). Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.|