Monday, September 13, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Viewed from Arlington National Cemetery: the Pentagon, nine years to the hour after it was hit by a commercial jet hijacked by terrorists.
by Carol Joynt

It’s an important day in Washington tomorrow and it has nothing to do with the national government, though what happens will be a national political story. It’s the city’s democratic mayoral primary and if it goes the way the polls predict and 65-year-old city council chairman Vincent Gray wins, it will be a stunning upset on par with what the Redskins did to Dallas last night.

Because the capital is a majority “D” city, Gray would likely prevail in the general election and become Washington’s next mayor. On the other hand, if incumbent Adrian Fenty should win, it will be a learning moment for him. As in, maybe put Miss Manners on the city hall staff.
Interested DC residents listen to three of the mayoral candidates debate in Georgetown before tomorrow's primary.
By the measures conventionally applied to city management, Fenty should win in a walk. He’s a young mayor who won four years ago in a sweep, had Michael Bloomberg for a mentor, and who got attention on the national stage. He’s made Washington look modern. In terms of simply pulling the city out of its legendary lethargic and unproductive past, Fenty performed well. There have been some controversies, but he achieved reforms and improvements in the schools, the crime rate, public transportation, youth services and, significantly, staffing the city agencies with employees who answer the phones and follow up. Parking meters and parking enforcement are still a nightmare, but that’s an issue that may be Washington’s eternal plague.

Even with a winning report card, the polls put Fenty anywhere from 7 to 17 points behind Gray. That’s a serious divide. His failures, according to his critics, include what The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher called a “likeability gap.” He can be cold and his inner circle unresponsive. Fenty himself admits to this and apologizes at every chance.
DC Mayoral Candidates Vincent Gray, incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and Leo Alexander.
There’s also a nasty undercurrent of racial divide. In some of the public discourse, Fenty is called the candidate of “white” Washington and Gray the candidate of “black” Washington, which is not fair to either man – or the city.

Vincent Gray is tall, attractive, quiet, unassuming, well liked and, since his ascent in the polls, the center of public and media attention. His major campaign theme is “restoring the public trust.” I moderated what may have been the last mayoral debate, hosted Friday by The Georgetowner newspaper, and while both candidates had fans in the room, Gray had the most vocal, particularly the mother of former mayor Anthony Williams. When Fenty said he had Williams' endorsement, Virginia Williams repeatedly shouted at him that he did not. (Fact: Williams did endorse Fenty in an interview with The Washington Post.)
On the right, DC Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray.
Like Fenty, Gray is a DC native – born, raised and educated here. He is a widower and has been on the D.C. Council for almost six years and chairman for the last four. His critics imply he will take the city back to the era of notorious former mayor, Marion Barry, who endorsed Gray. The Post, in an editorial endorsing Fenty, said Gray’s “style of honorable intentions, deference to entrenched interests and modest ambition could set the city back at a moment when it could be taking huge strides forward.” Interestingly, a local newspaper chain that endorsed Gray, The Current, made their endorsement more a slap at Fenty than a clap for Gray.

Fenty and Gray actually get along and while their management styles are opposite they are not far apart on the issues.

Its not a stretch to say most Washingtonians – and probably Fenty himself - didn’t see this coming. Many assumed the mayor would prevail, despite failing in the department of touchy and feely. Technically, he’s up against a rigid primary system that does not canvas all voters, only democrats. Independent and republican voters – many likely to support Fenty - are locked out of the polls tomorrow.
The mayoral candidates and the moderator.
There’s been some speculation that if Fenty loses he would run in the general as the republican candidate, but when I asked him about that at Friday’s debate he replied with an emphatic, “No!”

Fenty’s never pretended to be anybody other than who he is, an activist community leader who’s also a steely triathlete. That’s how he’s gone about doing the job: determined, focused, no room for fat or squalor, with his eye always on the finish line.

In the case of his four years in office that finish line chiefly has been reforming the city school system with the person he hired to do the job: school’s chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Her role is as much on the ballot as the mayor. There’s been quite a lot of grief aimed at Rhee for going up against the union and trying to rid the system of ineffective teachers. Gray says he’s for more delicate reform and won’t commit to whether he’d keep or fire her.
DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, in happier times. DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
Arguably, for Fenty and Rhee, the job is half done.

The lively and gritty Washington City Paper, in its endorsement of Fenty, faulted him for not being a glad hander but said, “Michelle Rhee's assault on the D.C. Public Schools status quo will go down as a rare attempt to raise local institutions above the low standards Washingtonians once accepted.

Rhee shares Fenty's abrasive traits, but in her case, it's easy to be more charitable: When it comes to reforming a failed school system, you either go monomaniacal or go home.”

In its candid style, WCP concluded: “Vote Adrian Fenty. He's a jerk. But he's your jerk."
At the mayoral debate, a table of Vincent Gray supporters. Former Mayor Anthony Williams mother, Virginia, is to the left in lavender.

In 2001, two days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, I drove to Arlington National Cemetery, parked the car on a hilltop and looked down at the Pentagon. Smoke rose from the charred black hole where American Airlines flight 77 had crashed and exploded, killing 184 individuals on the plane and in the building. With graves in the foreground, the view was both profound and eerie.

Each year I try to return to that spot, as I did Saturday at approximately the same time terrorists drove the Boeing 767 into the building. Some of the Pentagon victims are buried on that hillside, in section 64.

There is another section of the cemetery – section 60 – that has gained hundreds of graves since the terrorist attacks. It is known as “the saddest acre in America.” Why? Because it is an area of the cemetery created for the fallen of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, a community that continues to grow.
The Pentagon, looking toward the side that was hit.
Fields of the dead. Arlington National Cemetery, which has grown in size with American military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Arlington National Cemetery on September 11, 2010.
TV crews stake out the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2010.
Special to WSD:
by Amy Bondurant and David Dunn

On September 9, in Paris at the Elysee Palace, iconic home of President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, Olivia de Havilland, herself an icon of Hollywood’s greatest epoch was awarded France’s esteemed Legion d’Honneur. The L d’H is rarely awarded by the President himself. The elegant Elysee Palace was buzzing with excitement on the occasion, where tapestry covered walls and candle lit tables gave a warm glow to the elegant surroundings among a crowd of ‘tres elegant’.

Miss de Havilland, whose career spans more than seven decades with multiple Best Actress awards and Oscar nominations, has resided in France since she married a Frenchman, head of Paris Match, more than fifty years ago. Notwithstanding her long affair with Paris, de Havilland remains a stalwart supporter of America’s Parisian institutions, the American Cathedral, American Library and American University of Paris.

President Sarkozy presents the award to Miss de Havilland.
Among the regal Miss O de H’s invited guests were the Heads of the American institutions in Paris she champions, her daughter Gisele Galante Broida, former child actor David Ladd, Merchant Ivory’s President Gil Donaldson, Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osbourne, and her Georgetown to Paris dual resident fans - Journalism professor and former International Herald Tribune Publisher Lee Huebner, his Alzheimer activist wife Berna Huebner, former Paris OECD Ambassador Amy Bondurant and husband and international lawyer David Dunn, along with France’s own Washington veteran, former Amb. Jean-David Levitte, now back at the Elysee Palace as National Security adviser to the President.

President Sarkozy opened his tribute with a line from Miss O de H’s comically amusing 1962 best-seller, “Every Frenchman Has One”, that ensconced in family life in Paris as she was at age 56, people were surprised she was still alive. Sarko wryly observed that ‘apparently very much alive she still is some 40 years on, and still claimed among Paris’ great treasures’.

Remarkably de Havilland remains an active artist at 94, just concluding the narration of Huebner’s important documentary on the importance of art in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, still an active member of the “Academy” in Hollywood, from whom she received a lifetime achievement award in 2008, and even considering an occasional new film role. Sarko boyishly admitted being smitten by the Hollywood starlet in his own youth in her damsel in distress roles opposite the pirate Errol Flynn, her academy award winning performances and of course in her most celebrated role as Melanie in “Gone With the Wind.” He spoke about her ground breaking role as the first woman President of the Jury of the Cannes Film Festival in 1965.

Following the ceremonies, the ubiquitous paparazzi were pleading for Miss O de H’s attentions as the elegant swirl in the East salon of the Elysee sipped champagne and turned to earnest posing, Parisian style. Miss de Havilland, in her classic large white pearls, white French twist and black chiffon sleeved dress, newly adorned with the signature red-ribboned Legion d’Honneur, held court with her many family, friends, and admirers.
Miss de Havilland with Lee and Berna Huebner
Miss de Havilland with David Dunn, Andy Chulack, Gislele Galante Broida, Amy Bondurant, and Huebners.
David McGovern, Chairman Emeritus of American Hospital in Paris, Madame Guerlain (the perfume heiress), and Amy Bondurant.
Charles Trueheart, Director of American Library in Paris. Dean of The American Cathedral in Paris Zack Fleetwood, with wife Donna.
Robert Osborne, David Ladd, and Amy Bondurant attended the ceremony and reception following the award at the Elysee Palace.
Jacqueline Bisset and admirers.
Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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