D.C. leaders react to Washington Post sale

August 6, 2013

Barry, shown in 1995, to this day credits The Post’s 1978 endorsement with propelling him to his first mayoral term. (Juana Arias/The Washington Post)

The elected leaders of the District of Columbia were among those who reacted to the news Monday that The Washington Post would be sold to Amazon founder and Seattle resident Jeff Bezos, ending hometown ownership of the city’s dominant daily newspaper.

Local sentiments have fallen along two lines: Fond appreciation for the Graham family, who owned the paper for 80 years and occupied a unique place in the District’s civic and philanthropic life, and some apprehension about Bezos and his commitment to local newsgathering and the long-distance nature of his ownership.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in a statement he is “honored to have worked with Don Graham and the Graham family,” calling them “committed stewards of one of our city’s most important institutions.”

Gray, who has made the technology industry a major focus of his economic development efforts, welcomed Bezos as the paper’s new owner as a “pioneer and a visionary.”

“His investment in the District is significant and meaningful, and we look forward to working with him – especially as technology takes on a more important role in the District’s economy,” he said.

Two longtime city politicians said the sale marked the passing of an era in the city and recalled the Graham family’s active role in civic affairs, particularly education.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he understood the financial imperatives behind the sale but called it “terribly sad to see yet another Washington institution pass from local hands to outside hands.”

“I’ve seen Garfinckel’s go. I’ve seen Woodies go,” he said, referring to the bygone downtown retailers. “Riggs Bank, People’s Drug Store — one institution after another.”

Evans recalled Don Graham, then publisher of The Post, dropping by his District Building office shortly after he was first elected to the council in 1991.

“Much to the shock of all of us, he comes in, sits down and chats for half an hour,” he recalled. “It was stunning to me for an individual of national prominence to come and see the new Ward 2 council member.”

Marion Barry, who credits a 1978 Post endorsement with propelling him to the first of his four terms as the District’s mayor, noted the Graham family’s longtime support of educational causes in the city, including the D.C. College Access Program and D.C. College Success Foundation. Barry said he hoped Bezos would leave a similar philanthropic footprint in the city.

“He has to become editorially, and in other ways, part of the community,” said Barry, who now represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council. “You don’t have to live here, but you have to have policies that are supportive of the community.”

Barry, who has been critical of plenty of Post editorial positions over the years, also called on Bezos to make sure the newspaper continued to report on issues important to all neighborhoods of the city. “If he does not reflect the values of the community, we won’t support it,” he said.

“Washington is a unique city; it’s not like Seattle or any other city,” Barry added. “I’m anxious to meet with him, so he can get the flavor.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | August 6, 2013