Kaid Benfield Archive


Mr. President, Michelle, Malia, Sasha: Welcome to our city

Kaid Benfield

Posted January 21, 2009 at 1:29PM

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This is an exciting time to be a DC resident.  In this historic and wonderful week, the Obamas are moving not only to a new job but also to a new home.  I've written here before how the real city of Washington differs from the metaphoric one of the seat of government. 

And, while the president has spent much of four years here already as a member of the US Senate, he didn't really move in until now: Obama the Senator went home to Chicago for the weekends.  The family didn't come along to DC, either, for the most part; Malia and Sasha continued to attend Chicago schools.  All that has changed now, and I would like to be among those who extend a welcome.

a moment of basketball during the campaign (by: Barack Obama, creative commons license)As is so much with the prospect of Mr. Obama's presidency, the signs are good:  I've been heartened by reports in the press that the soon-to-be president has been spotted in such DC community institutions as Ben's Chili Bowl, on U Street, and the Marie Reed basketball court, in Adams Morgan.  May the mingling with the locals continue, as much as possible.

He has certainly made a good first impression.  Paul Schwartzman wrote in The Washington Post's Metro section:

"The story about the Hoopster-in-Chief ricocheted around the Marie Reed Recreation Center in Adams Morgan, the idea of it so seemingly fantastic that it had become legend by the next day.

"Barack Obama? Here? On our court?

"Yes, he was. When the rec center was closed last Sunday, as the story went, the custodian had let the next leader of the free world into the neighborhood's basketball Taj Mahal, with its holes in the tiled ceiling, green rubber floor, pale cinder block walls and grimy wooden backboards.

"Obama and his pals played ball for 45 minutes or so . . ."

Ben's Chili Bowl (by: Bryan Fenstermacher, creative commons license)Later in the story, Schwartzman describes the lunch-counter experience:

"At Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, the historical heart of black Washington, the staff replayed Obama's visit a full five days after he walked in and asked, 'What's a chili half-smoke?'

"Behind the counter, Jermaine Jefferson . . . said he took extra care to cook Obama's half-smoke, slathering on the mustard, onions and cheese just so . . ."

Great stuff.  Ten years ago, Kevin Morrison and Ellen Leander also moved here from Chicago.  In The Washington Post's "Close to Home" section last week, they offered some advice:

"[The Obamas] will discover these treasures exist not just on the Mall but also in such neighborhood institutions as the Jelleff Boys and Girls Club, the Rock Creek Nature Center, Eastern Market, the National Arboretum and so many more.

"Now, Washington is not Chicago. The pizza's not as good. The neighborhoods are not as ethnically and culturally diverse. And local politics are not nearly as bare-knuckled. But the people of Washington are genuinely friendly, courteous and diplomatic. Refreshingly, they don't look at every issue through the prism of race, as happens all too often in Chicago. And in places such as Ben's Chili Bowl and the Waffle Shop, the Obamas may even find the character -- and characters -- they relished at Valois Cafeteria and other spots in their Hyde Park neighborhood."

Personally, I'm hoping the new First Family will come to Verizon Center and watch the Hoyas play.  Last week, John McCain came in and sat courtside just in front of the section where DC Kids 4 DC Vote (by: IntangibleArts/Hawkins, creative commons license)NRDC colleague Lisa Catapano and I sit.  Nancy Pelosi's been, too.  And so has Craig Robinson, noted basketball coach and brother-in-law-in chief.  So come on down.

But, if the new president really, really wants to endear himself to the locals, there's something important he can do:  help us get representation in Congress.  That's right; amazingly, citizens of DC, some six hundred thousand of us, do not have a Senator.  We do not have a voting member of the House of Representatives.  When someone urges the American public to make their voices heard and "write your Senators and Representative," we can't respond.

Wyoming, the state that gave us Dick Cheney, has fewer people but two Senators and a Congressman.  What's up with that?  It's a national disgrace, an accident of long-ago history that has to be rectified.  Lend us a hand, Mr. President, and I'll see that you get access to our neighborhood's basketball court anytime you want.