The odds, as everyone knows, are with the house. So the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, not in great shape in fortune and men's eyes lately, did the logical thing last night. It threw a casino night.
"Watch your own money," warned CPA Lloyd Folks, monitoring the crap table at Foxtrappe, "because I'm gonna pay what I see." He meant in play money.
More than 150 guests came to the private club on R Street, forking over $35 apiece -- with no chance to win it back -- in order to nurse the organization back to health. In early May, the president of the chamber, James L. Denson, resigned in the face of three investigations into chamber finances. Later in the month, the 42-year-old organization's directors moved it out of rented offices into donated quarters and sharply reduced its paid staff. With one eye on the "chuck wheel" last night, Joseph McLaughlin, one of the chamber's directors, acknowledged that the chamber faced an uphill battle.
"It has hurt an awful lot," said the president of McLaughlin Oldsmobile in Capitol Heights, referring to the publicity of the last month. Fewer than 10 of the chamber's 300-plus members have resigned, however, and McLaughlin strongly believes the organization will and must survive.
"If we have to go to one person and one phone, we will make it," he promised, explaining that only the chamber can help minority small businessmen, who make up the majority of its membership, to obtain what they "need and deserve" from government and the marketplace.
Down in the Congressional Black Caucus Room of the club, where the caucus indeed used to meet, Ronnie Chocate of WHUR-FM and Raphael Langford of Somerset Importers, a Norton Simon company, agreed that the chamber helped businessmen trying to figure out "the mood of the city."
"The D.C. Chamber of Commerce opened doors for me," said the elegantly attired Langford, saying it gave direction to newcomers in need of advice.
"I'm thinking of getting into it more," added Choate, an account executive. Both men chatted amiably by the bar, paying no attention to the nearby backgammon table. Play money or no play money, Choate was staying put.
"I gave up gambling when I left Vietnam," he explained. "Some have the knack and some don't."