Tempest in a water bottle
By Al Kamen,
Looks as if the outrage of Washington officials over the apparent decision to serve water from bottles, not city taps, at the presidential inauguration is, well, water under the bridge.
The waves first started when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies, announced that the January events would serve bottled water from Saratoga Spring, a company in Schumer’s home state. D.C. officials protested, asking Schumer to consider serving D.C.’s finest instead — it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly, they argued.
Today, George Hawkins, general manager of D.C. Water, tells the Loop that the waters are now calm — Schumer just wrote to him explaining that attendees of the event next year will be offered tap water in addition to the bottled water. The bottled water served at the Capitol luncheon and other events will be sparkling, Hawkins said, so it represents a different beverage choice — just like any other soda or juice.
Schumer portrayed the arrangement not as a shift in plans so much as a clearing of previously muddied waters.
“We’re glad for the change, or if it wasn’t, in fact, a change, then we’re glad for the clarification,” Hawkins told us. “We were very pleased to get the letter.”
In the letter, Schumer went out of his way to note that Washington’s tap water goes into the teas and coffees and water fountains that keep Capitol Hill hydrated on a daily basis.
Still unsettled in the inauguration flap, though, is how the D.C. water will be served. Hawkins says Schumer didn’t mention his previous offer to provide reusable water bottles to inauguration attendees. “We’d be delighted,” Hawkins said.
And now the question “Sparkling or still?” is taking on some political implications.
Call them doobie-ous
When the U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce this week endorsed President Obama for reelection, folks in the media were surprised that an industry that hadn’t been too thrilled with the administration was rallying behind it.
Even more surprised by the development? Mainstream marijuana activists, many of whom have never heard of the organization or its founder, Tom Leto. The major lobbying and advocacy groups have so far held off on endorsing a presidential candidate — they say Obama hasn’t lived up to a vow to back off raids.
“Our whole community was asking, ‘Who is this clown?’ ” said Aaron Houston, executive director of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy. And conspiracy theories, unsurprisingly, bloomed.
The U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce’s news release endorsing Obama claimed it has 10,000 members in chapters across the country, and the group’s Web site lists its address as a post office box on a prime stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The group does not appear to be incorporated, nor is it listed in nonprofit records or in Dun & Bradstreet. A lone press clip from a 2010 event in New Jersey is the only mention to be found.
We reached Leto, who said the fact that no one had heard of him means he has more work to do. As for the lack of a paper trail, he says it’s in the works. “I’ve got attorneys working on all that,” he said. “It’s a process, you know? We will be . . . I don’t know how to say it, but lock, stock, and barrel in about two weeks.”
Leto says he’s not naming his members to protect them. “People aren’t ready to be out there,” he said. “but I’m out there and I’m in it to win it.”
Leto, a California-based promoter of hydroponic equipment, explained the genesis of the company, a story that only adds a bit of mystery: He was working with the New York PR firm Todd Shapiro Associates to help market his hydroponics business when the concept snowballed into a nationwide organization advocating federal legalization of medical marijuana.
Shapiro referred our questions to his office, but the person we spoke to there said she wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
Still, pro-pot advocates are wary. Paranoid even. But then again . . .
D.C. looking even bluer
You may have heard (from Republicans) that the GOP is all about boosting business. And certainly the hotels and restaurants — and possibly the strip clubs, if you believe the hype — of Tampa might agree about the party’s stimulative effect.
But in a few corners of Washington, commerce is suffering from the mass migration of Republicans to their presidential convention.
Ask how traffic is at the Republican-only Capitol Hill Club, and you’ll hear it’s a bit of a ghost town this week. “Everyone’s down in Tampa — everyone,” said one staffer there. It’s become a gathering place, though, for the few souls still in town, akin to a home-away-from-home sports bar where you know your team’s game will be on.
At Bobby Van’s Steakhouse downtown, the lunchtime crowd Wednesday was lighter than usual. Bobby Van’s isn’t exclusively the province of the GOP, but one can reliably find Republican diners there enjoying steaks and cabernets. Not this week.
“A lot of our regulars aren’t here,” said general manager John Simkins.
Happy-hour crowds have dropped off, too, reports a bartender, and he was surprised Tuesday night that no one requested that the TVs be flipped from ESPN to convention coverage — everyone who cared enough was gone.
With Emily Heil