An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a comment by Christopher Lu. This version has been corrected.
For Some on Obama Team, Capital Is Close to Home
Sunday, December 14, 2008
For some members of the incoming Obama administration, Washington is more than just the next political posting. It's home.
Soon-to-be Cabinet secretary Christopher Lu was a debater at Rockville's Thomas S. Wootton High School and has lived in the District and Northern Virginia. Future national security adviser Gen. James L. Jones was a basketball standout at Groveton High in Fairfax County before going to Georgetown University for four years. And President-elect Barack Obama's pick for ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, was born at George Washington University Hospital, grew up in the District's Shepherd Park and was a scholar-jock at the National Cathedral School.
"Born and raised here," Rice said proudly. "I absolutely identify myself as a Washingtonian."
Obama (D) has had a somewhat superficial relationship with the city during his short Senate career, living two or three nights a week in a dumpy Capitol Hill apartment and jetting back to Chicago and family as soon as Senate business allowed. But as president, Obama will be surrounded by at least a few people who know Washington as something more than the seat of government, locals versed in the agonies of finding parking at Tysons Corner in December and the reliable stampede for milk and toilet paper whenever a weather reporter whispers the words "chance of flurries."
But they also know the good stuff.
"We would skip class on occasion and go down to Great Falls and sit on the rocks," said Lu, 42. "It's still a place that I like going to now. It's become easy for politicians to come in and criticize everything about Washington, but as someone who grew up here and considers it home, this really is a wonderful city."
The son of a civilian Navy employee, Lu's family moved to Rockville from New Jersey in 1974 and settled in the Fallsmead neighborhood. Lu walked to his elementary, middle and high schools before graduating from Wootton in 1984. He recalls that era as the "glory years," with the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl two years running and the Beach Boys playing on the Mall. Downtown Bethesda had yet to bloom as a entertainment zone, and Lu and his friends traveled frequently to the District, seeing "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in Georgetown and enjoying the 18-year-old drinking age (Maryland had already moved it to 21).
Lu, who met Obama at Harvard Law School and most recently served as his acting Senate chief of staff, has also lived in Cleveland Park and now lives with his wife in Arlington, a jurisdictional trifecta. He acknowledges that it is rare to cross the Potomac.
"I still think of myself as a Marylander," Lu said. "I still get lost in Northern Virginia. I always end up going across bridges I don't need to cross."
Jones, too, has lived in all parts of the region, including Bowie and the Marine Barracks in Southeast Washington, when he was commandant of the Marine Corps. He and his wife have lived in McLean since 1995, and all of their grown children live in Northern Virginia, "within 20 miles of the Capitol," he said.
Jones, 64, was born in Missouri but grew up in Paris, where his father worked in the European office of International Harvester. Hoping to play college basketball, Jones moved in with an uncle in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County in 1961 and enrolled in Groveton as a way to Americanize the round-ball skills he'd learned abroad.
Fluent in French, Jones signed up for an advanced class in the language as a way to boost his grade-point average and to maybe trade on his exotic stature.