BETTY SPEIR, a high school guidance counselor from Bethel, N.C., came to town this week and in two days has been fed:
Fresh salmon, veal scallopini, lobster with caviar sauce, quail stuffed with chestnuts, rack of lamb, coquilles St. Jacques, filet of beef, a Bavarian souffle' with peaches, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, sweet rolls, new potatoes, cheese twists, strawberries Romanoff with sparklers on top, red wine, white wine (a 1980 Pouilly Fuisse'), sherry, brandy and champagne.
And here are some of her presents:
A Convention Center key chain, a business card carrying case engraved with her name, a T-shirt, a scarf, a folder that includes four glossy maps showing every angle of the Metro system, a fresh newspaper at her hotel room door and, on her pillow, a copy of a National Geographic article on Washington that was held in place with a single rose.
Welcome to Washington, Betty Speir.
She's a member of the Site Selection Committee, a group that is trying to decide if Washington is the place for the 1984 Democratic National Convention. City officials say the convention could mean $30 million for the area. They are very concerned that Speir is having a good time.
"The real fun part is having somebody at the airport come and put you in a limousine and then be already checked in at the hotel," she says. "Now that's joy." Speir is 55, a North Carolina Democratic Party official, a state board of education member, an avid gardener, and a woman who says chair as chay-air in a North Carolina lilt.
She arrived in Washington Thursday morning to join the 25 other members of the site selection committee. They've already looked at San Francisco, New York and Detroit, and will soon see Chicago. On April 21 they'll decide.
Washington was at first considered something of a joke. The Democrats here? In the lap of the fat bureacracy? But the city is pulling out all its personalized tote bags, and to listen to the descriptions of Washington this week, it's a wonder that people aren't rushing the District borders to get in.
Still, the informal word among the committee members yesterday was that Washington was running a close second to San Francisco, where Democrats are worried about the relatively small size of the police force and the possibilities of a gay rights demonstration. Mayor Marion Barry says $200,000 in city funds and private money is being spent to bag the convention (although the catering bills from two meals alone amount to more than that).
The mayor, who has said he is interested in improving his national political profile, was also at every lunch, dinner, tour and reception yesterday and Thursday. Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, who is a Democrat, was the host at a six-course dinner last night at the Madison Hotel. Pamela Harriman, the chairman of the host committee, had a reception among the art and antiques in her Georgetown home. And Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, also a Democrat, is having a lunch for the committee today at the Annapolis Hilton.
Betty Speir is stuffed. "I have to have a different wardrobe for the beginning of the trip than at the end," she sighs. "And there's one thing you must learn: You do not eat all of anything you are served, or you will be ill."
The first event was a lunch on Thursday at the city's new Convention Center. The mood was like the party before the homecoming game. "Are we going to win this thing?" wondered W. Averell Harriman, the Democratic statesman. Betty Speir saw Pamela Harriman, who asked her where she was sitting, then seized the opportunity for some one-on-one lobbying. "There are 34,000 hotel rooms within the Beltway," she marveled. "And think of all the people who will be able to sleep in their own beds!"
At lunch, City Council Chairman David Clarke took the podium. "Washington, D.C., probably reflects America more than any other city," he said. "We live here in harmony."
Pamela Harriman then got up and mentioned Wolf Trap Farm Park, the Phillips Collection, Joe Theismann and the Redskins, the Corcoran Gallery, the National Arboretum, the financial savings to delegates and the party, and the fact that Washington is in the Eastern time zone, implying that nobody wants the nominee delivering his acceptance speech out in California at 3 a.m. EST. Everybody clapped.
Next was a technical meeting, then a tour of the Convention Center. Michael Rogers, the Convention Center's deputy manager, spoke into a microphone that was attached to a little speaker box he carried around. "You will notice the C pattern on the rug, of course, which is the Convention Center's logo," he said as everybody dutifully looked down. He moved on. "You will notice that this is another corridor of meeting rooms, all of them beautifully decorated." He moved on again. "And outside in this area, we will have completed a very lovely waterfall," he said, as everybody looked at scaffolding and piles of junk.
The convention hall itself is huge. Everybody poked around and tried out the chairs. Betty Speir liked the wide aisles, but worried about distortion in the sound system. "But they have plenty of bathrooms," she said approvingly.
After the tour the committee members were herded into a small room. "Just take a seat," said Rogers. "We'd like to tell you a few more things, and then give you something."
"Here's where we get the cash," joked William Dixon, a committee member from Wisconsin.
Nope. Just a mini-digital clock that said "Washington Convention Center."
Then everybody piled onto the buses. They got to stop traffic and go through red lights because there were police cars with screaming sirens that escorted them through.
In her hotel suite, Speir quickly changed into a blue silky dress for the evening. "There was a buffet so elegant in New York that Gourmet magazine was there photographing it before we even got to it," she said. She sprayed her hair, then took a seat on the couch.
"Do you ever wonder how one gets appointed to something like this?" she asked. "I really didn't ask for it." Charles Manatt, the Democratic party chairman, appointed her. She figures it's because she's given five years to the North Carolina party--and because she's a woman from a southern state.
"This is fun and games," she said, "but it's also very serious." No committee member wants to be part of a group that selects a city where there's a bloodbath, as in Chicago in 1968. "That's why we're paying so much attention to security," said Speir.
So does all this food and drink and attention really make a difference?
"Well. It serves a couple of real purposes. One is to see how well the host committee can coordinate and carry through. If they can do it with a small group like this, then they're more apt to be able to do it with a larger group. And it is nice to know that you're welcome."
Then she was off to another reception, this one at the Carnegie Library. The mayor kissed her, then made the rounds. "We're the Cinderella team," he said. "We were Number Five when we started behind Houston, which dropped out . Now we're Number Two and closing in on San Francisco fast."
After a dinner on Capitol Hill and a short night's sleep, Betty Speir was up for an 8 a.m. breakfast with labor officials yesterday at the Sheraton Washington. More speeches, more food, and then, a subway ride--to which they were driven. Everybody got into limousines at the Sheraton, and then were taken to the Woodley Park-Zoo stop perhaps 30 seconds away.
Betty Speir was impressed. "Is it always this clean?" she asked the mayor, who wore a white carnation in his lapel for the occasion.
"Oh, yeah," said the mayor, surveying a subway stop that looked as if it had been carefully scrubbed with toothbrushes the night before.
"But people don't write on it?" asked Speir.
"Oh, no," said the mayor. "We don't allow that here."
The train arrived, a "special" that was waiting just for these passengers. Metro officials quickly pointed out that it wouldn't tie up regular traffic. "GOOD MORNING," came the voice of the train announcer through the loudspeaker. "THE NEXT STOP WILL BE--DUPONT CIRCLE."
"How neat," said Speir.
Next was a meeting at the District Building, where various officials gave presentations. They assured Speir and her colleagues that there would 150 coatracks, 150 typewriters ("Are they manual or electric?" Speir wanted to know), five word processors and even wastebaskets and ashtrays available for the Democrats. And office space? Do they have office space? One city official even offered to vacate his building should they run short.
Next was lunch aboard the Dandy, a boat that cruised the Potomac from the Gangplank restaurant to the Kennedy Center and back. Everybody drank champagne. At lunch, the mayor came around twice to see how Speir was doing.
Somebody at Speir's table wanted to know about Washington's police force.
"We can protect anybody," said the mayor. "We've got the best police force in the world. We're used to demonstrations. And I'm in charge here. That's another good reason." Then he sauntered off.
And Speir turned back to her cheesecake.