Be it proclaimed that . . . PAC-MAN . . .
Yes. In the proclamation biz, just about everyone has his day.
In St. Louis today, under its monumental arch, a long-haired (that's what the woman said), yellow creature with a smiling, open mouth, will receive the keys to the city. In Baltimore the mayor will shake PAC-MAN's hand and declare it PAC-MAN Day. Why, because the makers of the enormously successful video game have declared today National PAC-MAN Day, and because somebody probably said, "Why not?"
But in the District, PAC-MAN and his antagonist a red circle called Ghost, a.k.a. Blinky and Speedy, were to ride in the Cherry Blossom Parade. There were no attempts to get a proclamation from the District Building or the White House. "We didn't go that way here. Once we got into the Cherry Blossom Parade, we thought it was big enough," said Yony McCloskey, the area product merchandiser for ATARI.
But many others have rushed in where PAC-MAN hesitated to tread. In Washington, the proclamations business is a mini-industry.
Recently the District gave them to guitarist Bill Harris, dancer Amanda McKerrow and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, poet Sterling Brown, legendary star Lena Horne, and maestros Itzhak Perlman and Mstislav Rostropovich. Singer Dee Dee Sharpe Gamble, community workers Roy Watlington, Helen Jo Hillman and Ida Mae Blain were also proclaimed.
Congress, never one to miss out on an easy way to make friends gave one to the "Father of the Navy," Commodore JohnBarry, as well as others to children, blinded veterans, African refugees and nurses who got one kind, while boxer Leonard and author James Clavell received another variety. From the White House civil rights pioneer Roy Wilkins, general Omar Bradley, and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, all received them at their deaths.
While Capitol Hill restrictions have limited commemorations, the little person can still get a recommendation from the District Building.
May 7, for example, was the day for Watlington and Hillman, who helped organize the D.C. Marathon; March 28 for Blain, who cuts kids' hair for free and works at a day care center; Nov. 20 for Robert Lennon, who restored some abandoned buildings on Seventh Street NW for the arts community; Oct. 29 for Helen S. Lewis, former executive director of the D.C. Commission for Women; ; June 3 for Thomas J. Hurney, a salesman and former president of the Touchdown Club Charities; and Nov. 27 for Lillian Greene, who since 1966 has collected Thanksgiving baskets for the needy.
Though the volume of proclamations has diminished their prestige, the local dispensers agree they are an easy and inexpensive citizen service. John Mack, who writes the majority of Marion Barry's proclamations, defends the city's volume of 80 a week. "This is the first time the ordinary and black citizens are involved with the government. It's needed," he says.
Proclamations are, however, inexpensive perks, costing the District approximately $30,000 annually; the keys to the city are made from recycled scrap metal of the Department of Environmental Services.
"It is an easy way to win friends, and we are in that business, even if proclamations are a waste of time," says Daniel Buck, administrative assistant to Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), the reformer of the proclamation procedures five years ago.
This political tradition dates back to the Sumerians, circa 2500 B.C., who issued several types of proclamations, according to Robert Hadley, a historian at George Washington University. "They set up monumental proclamations, following a military victory or the beginning of a building or temple."
In Greece the text was inscribed in stone, and read by a herald, and one that survives from 408/7 B.C. honored Oiniades, and reads, in part, "Resolved.....since he is a good man....and zealous to do whatever good he can...commendation should be given him."
The White House generates few and stays away from controversial or commercial suggestions. It has turned out only 95 proclamations since the beginning of the Reagan administration. "We get heavy citizen mail on this subject, thousands of letters, last year fairly close to 2000. But some are not meritorious from the Washington perspective," says William Nichols, the general counsel of The Office of Management and Budget, and the self-described traffic cop of the executive proclamation process.
Since the reform measures, the Congress and the White House have had a much lighter load. "They were sort of a joke," says Michael Ferrell, the staff director of the Census and Population Subcommittee of the House Post Office committee, dubbed the Commemoratarians. Now the number introduced has been cut by half. Each requires 218 co-sponsors, and a day cannot be named for a living individual or a sole sectarian organization, like the American Cancer Society.
The saga of Hungarian Freedom Fighters Day proclamation is an example of the intricacies of the proclamation process. The idea originated in a letter of a Bridgewater, N.J. constituent to Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.). A dear colleague letter went out and the special interest groups, such as the Coordinating Committee for Hungarian Refugees, started writing letters and lobbying. On May 28 the resolution was introduced and the last co-sponsors signed up on October 2. That left 2l days to make it official.
Congress recessed for Columbus Day. Then on October 13, the day scheduled for debate, the committee chair was out of town. The proclamation passed October 14 but had some trouble getting on the Senate calendar. Then someone remembered the President was leaving for the economic summit in Cancun, Mexico. The president left that morning, the Senate passed the resolution that evening, and it was telexed with the president's papers to Cancun.