Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Who Will Rock This Town?
Enough talk about Iraq, health care, and immigration – what we really want to know is which candidate will bring “the real party” back to Washington
T his is not news to anyone here, but we are having an exceptional political moment. Come fall, it appears voters will choose a black man, a woman, or the oldest candidate ever to be the next president of the United States. The new administration will be historic, a turning point, and – presumably – good for America. But will the next president be good for Washington? The question is not a reference to D.C. statehood, though God knows it’s time for Congress to free District residents from their plight as vote-neutered tax-paying citizens. There are illegal immigrants with more rights. By “good for Washington” I mean a White House occupant who is good for us at ground level, who sets a standard for the social matrix that is upward, outward, involving, inclusive, and fun. I’m told this town can be a kick, but seven years of searching has produced bupkas. Granted, we’ve coped with September 11th and a war, and neither is the foundation for joie de vivre, but matters weren’t helped by a First Family who’ve been reticent to know us or exploit the after-work opportunities that could ameliorate rampant partisan ill will. For decades, what was not resolved across a conference table often got settled over cocktails and dinner in a private setting that was certifiably off the record. In other words: a private dinner party. I sit at the knee of my husband, and others of a certain age, and listen intently as they tell stories of a “golden era” a few decades back when it was an esteemed secretary of state, and not Jim Kimsey, Chip Dent or Joe Robert, who was the most notorious man about town. As a bachelor in the Nixon and then Ford administrations, Henry Kissinger was famous for squiring inappropriately young blonds and actresses with racy reputations. Also in the ’70s, a striking character named Steve Martindale hosted intimate but glam dinner parties at his Garfield Street home that mixed the elected, the titled, the rich, and provocative, and guests didn’t have to make a donation to get invited. In Georgetown at the same time, another colorful host, Peter Malatesta, ran the Pisces Club with a knack for sneaking in young hotties to mix it up with the fogeyish, dues-paying members, which served up loads of morning-after TMZ worthy gossip. Dish was spawned there even on slow nights, but exploded when Liz Taylor, Halston, Liza Minelli, Andy Warhol, and Bianca Jagger tripped down the stairs to be among the shark tanks and flowing Dom Perignon. Liz and Liza were regulars, too, at the Iranian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. In the last gasp of decadence before the Shah fell, Iran’s ambassador, Ardeshir Zahedi, hosted Bacchanalian frolics where guests freely depleted the Caspian Sea’s supply of Beluga Malassol caviar. My storytellers claim Washington was fun then because Jerry and Betty Ford were lively people, and the city was exuberant after Watergate and at the end of the Vietnam War. They say the Carter crowd were up for a good time but unskilled in social graces, such as when Hamilton Jordan verbally swooned over the breasts of the Egyptian ambassador’s wife. “I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids,” he’s said to have remarked. (Rude, but kinda fun, too.) The Reagans were all about social graces but not as social here as they were in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Nancy was visible, and that was appreciated, especially her frequent cozy lunches with George Will at The Jockey Club. Then came the dynasties – the Bushes and the Clintons. George and Barbara Bush got out, put some restaurants on the map, and invited local friends over for dinner. The preferred party hub of the Clinton era was Adams Morgan over Georgetown, but that crowd keyed their social focus to the Lincoln Bedroom. As for George and Laura Bush, well, apart from the earlier nighttime antics of their daughters, it’s as if they don’t live here. So, when you vote, please first consider the candidates in terms of fixing the war, the economy, health care and the deficit, but also ask yourself this: who will rock this town, both politically and socially? Who will make it fun again? Readers wishing to get in touch with Michael can email her at: mstrange@washingtonlife.com


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