Federal City Council

Honors Its History

In the ballroom of the J.W. Marriott hotel Tuesday night, the mayor, a quorum of the D.C. Council and 800 of the most influential businesspeople in town gathered.

Not surprisingly, it was an event for the Federal City Council, a civic association made up mainly of high-level local executives devoted to improvement of the District. It was the 50th anniversary of the group.

At the event, emceed by Harry C. McPherson Jr., a former Federal City Council president who served in Lyndon Johnson's administration, members of the exclusive group reminisced about some of its greatest civic hits. The council played major roles in getting Metro built, Union Station renovated and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center created. The crowd was shown a video about the council that didn't shy away from past controversy over its role as a power in Washington. "This was basically a white man's business organization in a city that was very divided," said Terence C. Golden, the current chairman of the council, referring to the days when the organization had few female or minority members.

Among the speakers was Washington Post Co. chief executive Donald E. Graham, who is on the group's executive committee and whose father, Philip Graham, was involved in its founding. Donald Graham urged the Federal City Council not to become complacent despite Washington's economic resurgence. "There are many wrongs still to be righted in this town," he said.

In addition to the 50th anniversary, another milestone was noted Tuesday night.

Kenneth R. Sparks, the council's executive vice president for the past 30 years, retired Aug. 31. Sparks, whose quiet modesty and jovial style belie his profound influence over how Washington has evolved over the past three decades, will continue working part time on the council's pursuit of a downtown museum devoted to American music.

His successor is John W. Hill Jr., who previously was president of the nonprofit group In2Books and was executive director of the D.C. control board from 1995 to 1999, when that board more or less governed Washington.

At last week's gathering, Sparks, an avid musician, sang two songs he wrote and received his farewell gift: two plane tickets around the world, for he and his wife, and enough cash to pay for food and lodging on their trip.

-- Neil Irwin

John W. Hill Jr. is the Federal City Council's new executive vice president.