New Generation Inaugural Day
Insiders say Washington is not expecting seismic-quality change, but some say the city is looking forward to a president who walks its streets and meets its people
WASHINGTON — "Beltway, inside the: Washington, D.C. A perjorative usually aimed at congressional incumbents and their supporters in Washington.
"Beltway, outside the: Mental regions with a prevalence of logic and reason, real or imagined. See also: common sense." @BODYTEXT =
- `The Power of Babble:
The Politician's Dictionary of Buzzwards and Double-Talk for Every Occasion'N the topography of national thought, the summit of ego rises abruptly just inside the freeway beltway that cinches together the White House, Congress, foreign embassies, policy think tanks, trade associations, lobbyists, and the press corps.
The most extensive changing of the guard in a generation - the first Democratic White House in 12 years, and one-quarter of congressional seats turning over - will be less a seismic event for that topography than a sort of seasonal change of style on the local landscape, say knowing beltway insiders, who won't answer to that moniker but have worked hard to be beltway insiders.
"One reason I voted for Clinton is this town was getting so dull...," jokes Sam Smith, a local political analyst who is the author of a history of the District of Columbia.
Indeed, the national capital area is more than just a collection of evening news backdrops and national landmarks, it's also where the nation's leadership has a life.
Local lifestyles - everything from the tone of a neighborhood to clothing, food, and music - can be "dramatically" affected by a new administration, observes Howard McCurdy, a professor of public affairs at American University.
The current power shift - involving several thousand posts in the White House and congressional staffs - is expected to bring a more youthful and fun-loving crowd to the area.
Professor McCurdy says there is precedent for "dramatic" changes on the local landscape.
Before President Kennedy took office, for example, most men wore hats - "even at their desks," he says of the Washington bureaucracy. But almost overnight, American men - even beyond the capital - went hatless like their leader.
Similarly, Georgetown was a "slum" when then-Senator Kennedy lived there in the 1950s, says McCurdy. But upon Kennedy's election to the presidency, the area became a fashionable district.
But the Republican domination of most of the 1970s and all of the 1980s, brought a "shift in emphasis to the fur coat and country-club style of the McLean (Va.) and Potomac (Md.) monster mansions," he says.
The most important change in the all-important party and fund-raising circuit here was perhaps between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, recalls Allison LaLand, a Georgetown Realtor and hostess who lectures on White House entertaining.
"You can walk into a ballroom and tell the difference between a Republican and Democratic fund-raising dinner right away," says Ms. LaLand. "Republicans are more sedate. Democrats are more gregarious. "
The Carters' frugal country style was symbolized, for Ms. LaLand, by Rosalynn's homemade inaugural gown and the use of jug wine at state dinners. She describes social pandemonium as Washington women scrambled to find $100, above-the-elbow opera gloves suddenly de rigueur under Nancy Reagan.
Many feel that Clinton's style will enfranchise more than just the areas' yuppies.
He's walked the streets of Washington more as president-elect than Bush did in his 12 years as vice president and president. His penchant for fast food (bemoaned by one Capitol Hill restaurateur as a "bad example" he hopes will fall by the way as a campaign stunt) has taken him to McDonald's. And his recent walk up the Georgia Avenue black business district was an important presidential walk in that drug battle-zone.
"He's clearly indicated he'll be a part of the local landscape. And given some time, the local landscape will begin to reflect the mood and ambience of the presidency moving from the right to center," says Bill Johnson, a local black leader who spent 30 years in as a city administrator.
Mr. Johnson says local leaders are expecting him to get out into the city frequently as a backdrop for a hoped-for national urban initiative.
Johnson, a jazz fan, likes to think the glint of the president's saxophone will be a beacon for a jazz renaissance for Washington, which once was a haunt of the likes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Others are more interested in change for the sake of change.
"When I see an administration change, I see a direct benefit to me," says Monica Boyd, who is sales manager for the real estate firm the Mayhood Company.
Ms. Boyd has shown the likes of former Secretary of State James Baker III and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California through a luxury Pennsylvania Avenue condominium complex. And she has handled the rental of residential space for top Clinton transition team members in an Arlington high-rise.
Mr. Smith recalls meeting one 30-something Clinton politician who had just hit town and didn't know where he wanted to live or work. Just happy to have a sliver of the beltway pie, he told Smith: "I don't really care, I just want to be a special assistant to someone."