Correction to This Article
Carrie Lemack and Mary Fetchet, who were invited to attend the State of the Union address as guests of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were misidentified in the Jan. 23 Reliable Source column as 9/11 widows. Lemack¿s mother and Fetchet¿s son died in the attacks.

Pelosi Lures Cameras to the Speaker's Box

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The party's not over! Newly minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not only sit behind President Bush at tonight's State of the Union address, but she's filling the normally staid speaker's box with a cluster of political stars.

Many of Pelosi's guests, who will sit in 21 balcony seats, will be past and present celebs of the Democratic Party: former speakers Jim Wright and Tom Foley, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Washington's Adrian Fenty. Pelosi also invited two of the more influential 9/11 widows, Carrie Lemack and Mary Fetchet, and the wives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and vice chairman, Lynne Pace and Cindy Giambastiani.

Ronald Reagan began the tradition of inviting special guests, who sat with the first lady and were introduced at key moments in the address. Last year, an injured Iraq war veteran, Air Force Sgt. Jamie Dana (with her dog and former military partner, Rex), sat with Laura Bush. The speaker's box, by contrast, hardly merited a glance -- except in 1997, when conservatives blasted Newt Gingrich for inviting Jesse Jackson to sit in his box.

This is the second time this month Pelosi made the seats a camera magnet: Richard Gere and Tony Bennett sat there for her Jan. 4 swearing-in ceremony. No word who else might pop up, but Lynne Cheney -- who sat in the speaker's box in the past few years -- will move on over to the first lady's this year.

The Million-Dollar Set, With Reason to Celebrate

If you're a young, talented actor-director trolling for a patron who loves the theater -- well, there was only one party to crash Saturday night: the "Happy Ever After Gala" at Signature Theatre's new digs in Arlington. (Signature's Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer was your basic starving artist 17 years ago.) The black-tie bash celebrated the company's new space, new production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and folks who made it all possible, especially the big-three couples who throw serious bucks to the arts in Washington.

Eric Schaeffer
Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and donor Maxine Isaacs at Saturday night's "Happy Ever After Gala" at Signature's new home.(Scott Suchman)
Maxine Isaacs and Jim Johnson (major donors to the Kennedy Center) gave the first $1 million for the new quarters, so the Max Theatre is named after her. Gilbert and Jaylee Mead (who recently gave $35 million to Arena Stage) also gave $1 million, and their names grace the theater lobby. And Arlene and Robert Kogod (they donated $25 million for the new glass roof on the Old Patent Office Building) wrote a check for $3 million, and both the entrance lobby and smaller Ark Theatre bear their monikers. Unlike MCI . . . er, Verizon Center, these names won't change.


Special Celebrity Detox Edition:

  • Miss USA Tara Conner has checked out of rehab and will resume beauty-queen duties soon, reports the New York Daily News. The New York bar where she spent some infamous nights is hosting a "Coming Out" party, but she's definitely not going, said a pageant rep -- although Donald Trump told Fox News he is considering an offer from Playboy magazine to feature a semi-clothed Conner inside and on the cover.
  • Country singer Keith Urban calls the 90 days he spent at the Betty Ford Center "one of the most impactful times of my whole life." In a video message released yesterday to his fans, Urban -- who checked in just three months after his wedding to Nicole Kidman -- said he originally planned to stay a month but "I started to learn a lot about myself, and how I got to be in this position. . . . It feels really good to have gone through it and be where I am right now."
  • HEY, ISN'T THAT . . .?

  • Keith Olbermann, eating a hamburger at downtown's Les Halles yesterday with a dark-haired woman whose business suit led onlookers to conclude she was a political source, not a broadcast colleague. The N.Y.C.-based cable yakker has brought his MSNBC show south for the State of the Union address.
  • Supreme Court Justices Sam Alito, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at opening night of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's "Richard III" -- a little riff about the succession of power and why tyrants are bad. Hey, take notes, you guys!

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