For Eleanor Clift, A Growing Void Close to Home

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Most people know Eleanor Clift as a columnist for Newsweek or beleaguered token liberal on "The McLaughlin Group." But to her Chevy Chase neighbors, she's the "lady with the sinkhole."

Clift had lived in her home on 30th Street for 27 problem-free years until 2004, when part of her back yard started caving in. She and her neighbors suspect the problem stems from a D.C. road construction project that summer that caused raw sewage to overflow into many of their basements.

But Clift's sinkhole mysteriously kept growing. "It's almost like a cave that opens up," Clift told us yesterday. She's filled it three times, to no avail. The city sent out inspectors from the Water and Sewage Authority -- one was there Monday -- conducted plenty of tests, and concluded that the problem is all Clift's. "We could find no damage to the sewer line on the public side," said WASA spokeswoman Michele Quander-Collins.

Clift just wants the big hole to disappear. "Aside from assigning responsibility, there's the question of what to do -- and no one seems to know," she said.

Obama's Chewing Over His Problem

Has Barack Obama really kicked the habit? It was hard to pin him down Monday night when David Letterman asked, "Are you still smoking cigarettes?"

"Nicorette," said Obama.

He added that his wife, Michelle, has the entire country watching to see if he sneaks a puff. "She gave out my secret to the world and then told America, 'If you see him, turn him in to me,' " he said. The Illinois senator told Letterman he has smoked "on and off" during stressful periods in his life -- while, say, writing a book or campaigning.

Letterman persisted and asked if he was still smoking. "Oh, no, no," said the senator. "The gum's working good."

We checked in with his campaign to see if he's been bumming cigs on the road. "He really has quit," promised spokesman Bill Burton.

UPDATE . . .

Doha, the mother duck that laid her eggs outside the U.S. trade representative's office for the second spring in a row, set out from her nest yesterday with 10 new babies -- and discovered how rough life can be without a powerful federal agency protecting you.

The hatchlings began emerging on Easter, USTR officials said. But after a restless Monday near busy 17th Street NW, Doha (named for the city in Qatar where the current global trade talks are taking place) decided to head south. As the ducklings toddled off their ledge, a couple tumbled accidentally into a pillar ashtray but were helped out by Deputy Assistant Trade Representative Gretchen Hamel: "I raised ducks growing up in Oklahoma, so I know." Then as a couple of staffers escorted them, Doha ventured down 17th with Portman, Zoellick, Barshefsky, Kantor, etc. (named for the last 10 trade reps).

The agency officials bade them farewell at a pond by the Interior Department on Virginia Avenue -- where our colleague Korin Miller found the family, minutes later, under siege from an aggressive pair of male mallards. As Doha tried to fight back, two geese swooped in to peck at the ducklings. (Can't we impose sanctions or something?!) Mom and babes were last seen trying to hide from the turf wars in a new patch of reeds, the geese circling like sharks.


  • The lakeside mansion of the late Johnny and June Carter Cash burned to the ground in Hendersonville, Tenn., yesterday. It's not known what started the fire. Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame bought the home last year and was planning to restore it. Neighbor Richard Sterban, one of the Oak Ridge Boys, told reporters, "Maybe it's the good Lord's way to make sure that it was only Johnny's house."
  • Phil Spector's lawyers plan to argue that Lana Clarkson, the actress shot to death in 2003 in the record producer's home, was despondent over her finances and possibly suicidal, according to new court filings. Jury selection in Spector's murder trial resumes next week.
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