There was a flourish of trumpets, a white-wig fife-and-drum processional, the appropriate champagene sherbet between courses and the de rigueur toast. Except for Washington Mayor Marion Barry's stumbling exuberance (in the Wolof language) during his toast to President Leopold Senghor of Senegal, the District's first official City Dinner went off without any grand snafus.
Held in honor of Senghor's three-day visit to Washington and the formal twinning of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and Washington, the evening was sedately pleasant, though long in pauses and short on drama. At 9:38 p.m. the ceremony linking Daker and the District took place. Then it was a full hour before Barry offered his toast.
In their remarks, both Barry and Senghor reflected their personal interests, the mayor emphasizing world politics, the president speaking of culture. "Historically, the United States has not accorded Africa its due," said Barry. "Mr. President, it's time for that to change." Senghor corrected any misunderstanding that African artists have copied other forms. "The artists of Europe sought inspiration in the African esthetics," he said.
The evening started with a champagne reception in a private suite at the Shoreham Hotel, but last-minute rearrangement of the seating chart delayed the start by 20 minutes. During that time, U.N. Ambassador Donald McHenry, the first guest to arrive, went to the hotel lobby and read a paper. Guy Draper, overseer of protocol for the evening, was still running around in jeans and a yellow T-shirt when the formal receiving line was about to commence. He later reappeared in an ankle-length blue caftan.
Because of the District's straped economy, the dinner had been under-written by local businesses and individuals. Many of the donors were reluctant to discuss their contributions. Elijah Rogers, the city administrator, said the dinner was appropriate even in a time of severe budgetary belt-tightening. "The city is not putting up any of its money," he said. "And this is bringing bonds that are terrific."
Circulating at the reception, Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.) also addressed the appropriateness of the evening. "Certain things have to be done. The cost benefit of something like this is more than worth the investment," said Diggs, the ranking member of the House District Committee.
When the invitations to last night's dinner went out and were limited to approximately 150 people, there were charges of elitism. Last night's guests included Police Chief Burtell Jefferson, Kennedy Center Chairman Roger Stevens, White House Special Assistant Louis Martin, businessmen Theodore Hagans, William Fitzgerald, Ozzie Clay and Ted Pedas, attorneys Robert Washington, James Hudson and Herbert Reid and school board president Calvin Lockridge. Also, most of the African interest groups in town were well represented.
Papa Louis Fall, the first counselor of the Senegalese Embassy, called the evening a success. "The president and the mayor have been impressed by the warmth of their welcome, particularly by the outpouring of camaraderie. Now they have gotten to know who is who in Washington, the city, and it has opened their eyes."