Opening, and Lauding, Washington's Next Big Thing

The new Washington Convention Center is SO BIG . . .

"How big is it?" asked Channel 9's Gordon Peterson.

"It's big," answered Channel 4's Debbie Jarvis. "It's really big."

"It's almost big enough to hold all the egos in Washington," Peterson shot back.

Naahhhh, it's only 2.3 million square feet. But big enough to comfortably host more than 2,500 people at Saturday's black-tie grand opening, including Mayor Tony Williams, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, former mayors Walter Washington and Marion Barry, present and former D.C. Council members and plenty of other bigwigs.

"This building is a statement," Williams told the crowd. "It says the District can get things done! After a decade of dreaming, let's light up the night."

The party kicked off with acrobats, a laser light show and a gospel choir. The building was officially opened with a democratic (small d) ribbon-cutting: The District officials wielded huge gold scissors, each snipping his or her very own section of the giant red ribbon. Budget meetings should run so smoothly.

"It's a very exciting evening," said council member Carol Schwartz. "I do think we have to give credit where credit is due: This is one of the legacies of Marion Barry." The former mayor looked thin but thrilled. "It's fantabulous!" he said.

Dinner was served in the vast upstairs ballroom (think glamorous airplane hangar), filled with fantabulous flowers, elegant food, upscale schmoozing and bipartisan back-patting.

"It's a great night," said council member Jack Evans. "It was a long, painful process. If we can do this, we can easily build a baseball stadium."

PFLAG's Celebration of Love and Understanding

It was all in the family at Saturday's 20th anniversary gala of PFLAG -- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays. The high-spirited celebration drew 800 people to the Hyatt Regency to bolster the organization's mission: to support gay men and women and their parents. "It's a one-by-one process, and there's still lots of work to be done," said PFLAG D.C. Executive Director Rhonda Buckner. "It's about raising awareness."

The dinner featured actress Sharon Gless, who plays an "outrageous" PFLAG mom on Showtime's "Queer as Folk," and real-life inspiration Alice Hoglan, whose gay son, Mark Bingham, died in the attempt to overcome 9/11 terrorists on United Flight 93.

The warmly embraced Hoglan gave an emotional speech about her son, and then Gless ended the evening with both laughter and tears. At first, she said, she was attracted to the novelty of the role. "But now I realize what an amazing impact it has. Young men on the street come up to me and ask me to hold them, and in a lot a ways I'm the mother they never had."

Making Time for the State Department Donors

We were surprised that Friday's reception at the State Department proceeded as scheduled, but it was no surprise to all who know Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell carved out the time to stop by briefly at a donor reception for the building's Diplomatic Reception Rooms. "It's wonderful of him to be here, particularly in the middle of all this business," said patron Esther Coopersmith.

"I love these rooms," Powell told the 300 guests gathered on the eighth floor. "I often come up here to wander around and gain inspiration." These chambers, he said, "are more than national treasures -- they are tools of diplomacy."

Now many of these treasures are going on tour. The party launched "Becoming a Nation," the first traveling exhibition of antiques from the State Department's collection. More than 170 objects -- including Paul Revere's silver and George Washington's porcelain -- will travel to eight cities over the next two years.

Powell, unfortunately, doesn't get to go along. "A little tour of the countryside might not be bad right now," he joked.

With Beth Buchanan