What Have We Here, Watergate-gate?
By Richard Leiby
The Washington Post
Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page D03
What Have We Here, Watergate-gate?
Is another scandal brewing at the Watergate? Powerhouse attorney Jack Olender, who lives in a Watergate apartment once owned by Nixon fundraiser Maurice Stans, says so. He's part of a last-ditch battle by some residents of the famed Foggy Bottom complex to stop the conversion of the Watergate Hotel there to co-op housing, saying ballots should not have been destroyed after an extremely narrow vote among residents last week.
"We wanted to get the ballots recounted. It's a second Watergate coverup," fumed Olender, who represents the Watergate East Committee Against Hotel Conversion to Co-op Apartments. In a petition to the city zoning commission, Olender's group requests a re-vote, but the commission meets tomorrow evening and is expected to preliminarily decide on the conversion.
"Sour grapes," retorts Michael Darby, a principal in Monument Realty, which is pushing the plan for high-end residential units. "They do not want to lose this and they will go to interesting lengths not to, and this is one of those ways." To him, destruction of ballots was simply procedure. Besides, he added: "The vote was counted by the auditors they've used many, many times before."
Other notables who oppose conversion include Placido Domingo, general director of the Washington National Opera. Like fellow resident Condoleezza Rice, he has been spotted eating in the hotel restaurant -- an amenity that would be lost after a conversion.
Some residents make the case that the hotel is the only way the masses can connect to the Watergate. "It's a special place," resident Rhonda Crane, a founder of the Committee to Preserve the Watergate Heritage, told us Friday. "It offers access to the history of the country, the scandal that brought down Nixon's presidency. Otherwise, it's all private."
The 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters occurred in an office building in the complex, and hotel guests often ask the concierge to direct them there. Attorney Gary Silversmith, whose office is in what he calls "the Watergate break-in suite," provides tourists a vintage DNC floor plan and handouts noting that two of the burglars were registered in connecting hotel rooms (312 and 314).
A history buff and investor who also happens to own the former presidential yacht Sequoia, Silversmith said he doesn't want to see the hotel close for another reason: "I like it because you can go down at night and have drinks and dinner."
Darrell Hammond's Lasting Impressions
• George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Al Sharpton, Howard Dean, Ted Koppel, Chris Matthews, Donald Trump and Sean Connery addressed a guffawing banquet room full of businesspeople at the blowout 50th anniversary celebration of the Public Affairs Council in Washington on Thursday night, but actually there was only one man at the microphone: Darrell Hammond.
The master impressionist from "Saturday Night Live" was a rare treat for the council, a nonpartisan group of corporate public affairs officers formed at the urging of President Dwight Eisenhower (back in the gray-flannel '50s, it was called the Effective Citizens Organization). Usually, they invite politicians to speak. "The last thing Washington needs is another boring dinner presentation," Nate Garvis, a Target Corp. VP and incoming council chairman, told us when asked why Hammond got the gig.
For an hour, he mixed stand-up with dead-on political mimickry, spoofing Kerry's dramatic, "very magisterial" oratory by briefly breaking into "Les Miz"-inspired show tunes. He also demonstrated how, by contrast, President Bush often seems to lose interest mid-sentence and become irritated "because he has to finish a sentence he doesn't like."
Example: We're tirelessly -- Look, we're tireless!
Hammond told us he admires Bush for his tough, crisp approach and plain-spokenness. "From a comedian's standpoint, I want Mr. Bush to win," he said. "I want to play Dick Cheney forever and ever" and "I want to keep playing Rumsfeld. I want to keep playing John Ashcroft. He's just fantastic. . . .
"I play the whole Cabinet, except Condoleezza, and obviously I would like for them to come back."
Those Bushies: A laff riot!
'Mean Girls,' Sweet Deal: An Author's Astute Choice
• With luck like hers, District author Rosalind Wiseman ought to play the lottery this week. She had plenty of other options when she decided to sell rights to her nonfiction book "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence" to Tina Fey, head writer for "Saturday Night Live." But Fey she picked, and "Mean Girls," the movie that resulted, opened at No. 1 last weekend.
"I got a lot of requests to sell the book, and the people were so cheesy and weird," Wiseman, 35, told us. But Fey called and said, " 'I want to try and do this' and I appreciated her candor and straightforwardness. And she's smart and I was impressed."
The true selling factor, though? "Honestly, the reason I said 'okay' -- people think it's the money, but I felt that she was someone to have a drink with after work."
Her next project? Simple: "A boys book," said the mother of two young sons, laughing.
'Gopher' Checks Into Sick Bay
• Former "Love Boat" actor and Iowa Republican congressman Fred "Gopher" Grandy, who does a morning drive-time radio show on WMAL-AM, suffered a heart attack Friday evening but is expected to make a full recovery, the station's operations director, Randall Bloomquist, told us yesterday.
Grandy, 55, will be off the air for at least a week. A series of guests will fill in with co-host Andy Parks, starting Monday with former Pentagon spinner Torie Clarke, Bloomquist told us.
Annals of Puffery
An Occasional Verbatim Press Release
• "The real 2004 presidential race officially starts on Mother's Day. . . . 'The first candidate who grabs a slice of plaidberry pie from my hands will win the 2004 presidential election.' Those are words of Dennis Dickson, the owner of the Decadence Bakery and Tea Shop in Carlsbad, Calif.
"Dickson plans to carry on a family tradition that began 128 years ago in Dumfries, Scotland. Starting in 1876, the first candidate who grabbed a slice of plaidberry pie from the hands of Dickson's great-grandfather Henry Dickson would win that election. . . .
"The race for the pie will officially start on Mother's Day at 8 a.m. and end on election day. Dickson concludes, 'Any candidate who says they are serious about running for president should start running to my door with a fork.' "
With Anne Schroeder
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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