Monday, June 29, 2009

Washington Social Diary

After the storm: a large tree blocks a Georgetown street.
By Carol Joynt

Not that this town doesn’t regularly feel nutty, but the past week it felt nuttier than usual. All the currents were racing, not the least of which was the current of the Potomac River, swollen from what seems to be a peculiar frequency of rainstorms. The Georgetown floodgates were raised. Friday night a wind, rain and hailstorm blew through that was so fierce it trampled the landscape, taking down many limbs and whole trees. A log-sized branch landed on a minivan, killing a woman and her 7 year old daughter. The storm left an awesome mess of debris in the streets. Was it a message? What next? Frogs?
A chainsaw will be needed to get this off the doorstep. One Georgetowner saws at a tree that fell on his sidewalk.
An important Washington rule: if a storm is forecast, don't park under a tree.
Gov. Mark Sanford belongs to South Carolina – and his heart to a woman in Argentina - but that doesn’t mean his remarkable disappearance, reappearance and entertaining explanation of same didn’t resonate here in the political capital. Before he cried in and about Argentina the GOP had him on their short list of possible future contenders for the White House. Poof. Gone. Just like that. Deader than Kelso’s nuts.

Which, if you don’t mind, brings us to that part of the male anatomy. While our esteemed elected officials spent much of the week debating and then approving landmark “cap and trade” tax legislation, which could help to curb global warming, the real scuttlebutt was, well, pols and their wieners. Because, face it, Houston, we have a problem in that department. Where the wiener wants to go the politician follows and no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary seems to knock any sense into their secondary organ, the brain. How many times this week did I hear someone say, “Don’t they pay any attention to the news? Don’t they know?” No. Apparently they don’t.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in Iraq in 2006.
Politicians are a breed apart. No matter how many Kennedys, Gary Hart’s, Bill Clinton’s or righteous Republicans make headlines with their sexual mistakes and humiliations, the next guy always seems to think “it won’t happen to me. I can handle it. I’m smarter than __________.” Fill in the blank with “the media,” “my staff,” or “my wife.” They’re not, of course, and its always one or the other that brings them down, regardless of being straight, gay, Republican or Democrat.

How far back should we go? Some of the most notorious deserve a moment’s revival. LBJ aide Walter Jenkins, caught canoodling with another man at the YMCA in 1964; Rep. Wilbur Mills, powerful democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, had a sweetie named Fanne Foxe, a DC stripper known as the “Argentine Firecracker.” One frisky, juiced-up night in 1974 their weaving car got pulled over by the Park Police and Fanne jumped into the Tidal Basin, thus outing their affair.

The Argentine Firecracker, Fanne Fox.
Elizabeth Ray.
Donna Rice and Gary Hart.
Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill on the cover of Time.
A couple years later, Capitol Hill secretary Elizabeth Ray casually told a Washington Post reporter she was on the payroll of powerful House Administration Committee chairman Wayne Hays. “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone.” But, she told the reporter, she could ably provide sexual benefits to the Ohio democrat.

In 1980, married conservative republican Congressman Bob Bauman was charged with seeking sexual favors from a teenaged male prostitute. Then, long before the more recent Mark Foley Page incident, there was the notorious Congressional Page Sex Scandal of 1983, which involved multiple elected officials having sex with multiple teenaged Congressional Pages. Two members, Republican Dan Crane of Illinois and Democrat Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, were censured by their House colleagues.

The Gary Hart sex scandal of 1988, involving a young woman named Donna Rice and a yacht called the “Monkey Business,” blew up the Colorado senator’s promising presidential candidacy and set a new (high or low) standard for media scrutiny of politicians and their private lives.

In a New York Times interview Hart dared the media to “follow me around,” and a reporter from the Miami Herald took the dare and hit the scandal jackpot. A year later, openly gay Congressman Barney Frank suffered the humiliation of a House reprimand when it was learned that a male “escort” of his acquaintance claimed to run an “escort” service out of Frank’s home.

In the decade between the Gary Hart scandal and President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, it seemed there was at least one rocking political sex bomb after another – each one a great feast for the media. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused of “sexual harassment” by colleague Anita Hill.

The sensational day-time hearings were covered “live” by the networks. Sen. Chuck Robb of Virginia denied claims he had an affair with Miss Virginia, admitting only to sharing a bottle of wine and a nude massage in a room at the Pierre. Newt Gingrich admitted to an extra-marital affair with Calista Bisek, but then divorced wife Marianne Ginther to marry Bisek. Interestingly, Gingrich’s affair was in full boil while he went after Clinton for the Lewinsky liaison.

Then we have the bad boys of recent vintage: Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, John Ensign, Kwame Kilpatrick, David Vitter and various other alleged clients of the “DC Madam,” the late Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

This is why I argue there is no connection between many a male politician’s crotch and his brain, or conscience, or public moral code. And note, the scandals I listed are merely a skimming of modern history, barely a fraction of what’s actually been discovered and confirmed among this randy bunch. We can only imagine the numbers of affairs that go undetected. Yes, women politicians have been charged with or admitted to inappropriate sex romps, but the instances are so few and far between as to be irrelevant. That doesn’t mean Hillary Clinton’s haters haven’t tried to link her to everything, particularly women and the devil.

Is this a condemnation of sexual liaisons? Goodness no. Viva l’amour. If anything, it’s a condemnation of the sleazy ways politicians tend to try to cover them up, fumble through lame excuses when they are revealed, and don't fully confess until the jig is entirely and irretrievably up.

Ironically, Washington really isn’t all that prudish. Affairs go on here. There’s plenty of dish about who’s doing whom and where and when. Lovers are spotted when they least expect it, marriages bust up, unfaithful husbands get kicked to the curb, marry their mistresses, and so forth – but they are private citizens, private sector, not elected, not on the public payroll. And that makes a difference.

In an age of real time candid camera, TMZ, voracious social media networks, and increasing ethical accountability, the answer is so simple: if a man has a wiener problem, or even the potential for one, don’t run for public office. Or keep it where it belongs and have a happy life being duplicitous with legislation. Americans don’t seem to get nearly as frothed up about that kind of scandal.
U.N. official Alain Le Roy listens as he is introduced by French Ambassador Pierre Vimont.

There are many dozens of things to like about the French, but here are an important three of them: even at a serious lecture a Parisian woman shows up in a pair of killer stilettos, summer means holiday, and there’s always at least one waiter at Ambassador Pierre Vimont’s dinners who is hot enough to oust Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Vimont hosted the last of the season’s Kalorama Lectures a week ago. The guest and speaker was Alain Le Roy, Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations to the United Nations. Le Roy talked about the “frantic surge” of U.N. peacekeepers “all over the world” in the last eight years and the “thin line they walk between peacekeeping and robust enforcement.” He predicted the global financial crisis will exacerbate the need for peacekeeping in Iraq and Afghanistan as “major powers will be overstretched.” He cited Haiti as a strife-torn country where peacekeeping measures have brought some stability.
Alain Le Roy, Under Secretary General for U.N. Peacekeeping Operations.
Ambassador Vimont listens attentively to his guest talk about the challenges that face U.N peacekeeping forces in the global financial crisis. Embassy political counselor Aurelian Lechevallier takes notes during the Le Roy talk.
Le Roy tells the guests the Barack Administration has give positive signals to the U.N. - "America is back."
The group of about 25 guests listened to the lecture in the Ambassador’s beautiful rose silk drawing room, asked Le Roy questions for 20 minutes, before everyone moved to the dining room for a delicious dinner of Soupe Froide de Celeri-Rave et Granny-Smith and Homard Poche, Filet de Canard roti with Gratin d’Aubergines et Tomates, and an irresistible dessert of Croustillant au Chocolat, Glace au Yaourt. The wines were a Saint-Veran 2006, a La Sirene de Giscours 2004 and Mumm Cordon Rouge champagne. It was a lovely evening without rain. The windows were open.

Most of the talk at dinner was politics, diplomacy, and the beginning of summer and, I noticed, just about every woman in the room kept an eye on one particular waiter, whose name can’t be revealed, but I did manage to snap his picture to share with all. Next up for the French Ambassador is the Embassy’s annual July 14th “Fete Nationale,” where the guest list covers Washington’s French community as well as the city’s many friends of France. The engaging Kalorama Lectures resume in the fall, with or without women in stilettos or hunky waiters.
The feet of a Parisian woman, shod for a lecture the French way. Guests make the short walk from the ambassador's drawing room to the dining room.
The seating arrangement for table "2."
Some brief chat before sitting to dinner. Inset: The view at dinner at the French Ambassador's.
Cold soup of Celeri-Rave with Granny-Smith apple and poached lobster.
Alain Barluet of Le Figaro, visiting from Paris, talks to Embassy communications chief Emmanuel Lenain. Whitney Stewart argues a point at dinner as Michael Evans listens in the background.
The quite incredible dessert of hard dark chocolate, marinated strawberries and frozen yogurt.

NBC and The Creative Coaltion hosted the world premiere of “The Philanthropist” in Washington last Thursday evening. Why here? Because, according to Ben Silverman, the network’s co-chairman of entertainment, the show’s theme is “at the epicenter of what’s going on in Washington.”

If he’s referring to bailouts, I’m not sure the White House or Congress would be flattered, but you’ve got to give a network executive props for trying.
James Purefoy onscreen as Teddy Rist, "The Philanthropist."
In "The Philanthropist," character Teddy Rist is never far from a cause in need or a beautiful woman.
Gazzilionaire Teddy Rist has an epiphany in Nigeria: he's going to do well by doing good.
"Philanthropist" Teddy Rist offers a barmaid a check for $1,000 just to listen to him talk. Isn't that always how it is with rich guys?
The premise of the show skirts both sides of the market crash, in that its about the kind of guy who makes the Forbes list of the world’s richest, even if only 99th out of 100, but then has his moral compass re-centered and decides to write fat checks to barmaids and help get needed vaccine to desperate Third World outposts.

Executive Producer Peter Horton’s direction is exciting, and the star, James Purefoy, at least in person, is thoughtful, friendly and a pleasure for the eyes. His character, Teddy Rist, is based on the adventures of a real life rich boy “philanthropist,” Bobby Sager.
Coco Sala - location of "The Philanthropist" premiere after party.
Here’s how NBC describes Sager, “His is a life of extremes. On any given day you might find Bobby living in a tent in Karachi, sharing a toilet with 40 monks in the Himalayas, working alongside President Kagame in Rwanda, or discussing science education with the Dalai Lama in India.” Seriously, this program is every Richard Branson wannabe’s dream come true.
Three views of eye candy with a serious mind. James Purefoy engages reporters before the screening of his new TV show, "The Philanthropist."
Silverman, Purefoy, Horton, Sager and a team of other NBC and production brass appeared at the screening and the after party at Coco Sala, which all on its own is an outpost for Washington’s chocoholics, of which I am one.

They included Emmy Award-winning writer/executive producer Tom Fontana, co-creator and executive producer Charlie Corwin, executive producer Gareth Neame, and executive producer Teri Weinberg. The group were scheduled to be at the White House the next morning for a tour hosted by Social Secretary Desiree Rogers.
The candy at Coco Sala isn't only behind the counter. This is general manager Souheil Moussadik, who attracts as many customers as the restaurant's chocolate theme. Charles Fishman takes a glass of wine upon arriving at the after party.
Bobby Sager, prototype for "The Philanthropist," and NBC-Universial entertainment vice-chairman Ben Silverman. "Philanthropist" executive producer and director Peter Horton.
Jeff Dufour, who writes Washington's popular "Yeas and Nays" column in the Examiner. Brothers Estebe Salgado and Steuart Martens of Tradewinds Imports, who provided all the wine for the NBC-Creative Coalition party at Coco Sala.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.