Jeffrey Gildenhorn said it was supposed to be a nonpolitical event, the birthday party he threw for Mayor Anthony Williams at the American City Diner last night.
It was to be just a low-key moment of "celebration, appreciation, recognition" for Williams, 54, as one of several signs noted in the restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in upper Northwest. But, please, this is Washington, people, where nonpolitical parties for politicians are as likely as a $1.20 gallon of gas.
It's just not happening.
Especially when there's an election around the corner next year, and especially when the guest of honor has been keeping supporters and opponents alike on a will-he/won't-he watch, wondering whether he'll seek a third term. The mayor has said he'll announce his decision sometime in the fall.
"We just really admire and respect what he's done in this city," said Gildenhorn, the diner's owner, who ran for mayor himself in 1998 and now has only praise for Williams, whom he credits with bringing the city's development boom and, of course, returning baseball to Washington.
There are those who don't share that perspective, but they weren't at the diner last night. That's politics for you.
Last night's capacity crowd included the mayor's cabinet and constituents from all the wards, Gildenhorn said.
"There was a waiting list of another 100 who wanted to come, once the word got out that this was happening," he said, "but the diner can only hold about 110 people."
The party was Gildenhorn's idea, and he financed the whole affair. The dress was casual, the music was old jukebox jams, from Ray Charles to James Brown, and the menu was pure Americana: mini-burgers and "pigs on a bun" as appetizers, a choice of ribs, garden burgers, fish or chicken for dinner. Tables were adorned with balloons and small placards with birthday greetings.
The mayor arrived a little before 6:30, with wife Diane Simmons Williams and sans bow tie, wearing instead a pastel plaid madras shirt and a pair of khakis. Williams's wife got as much if not more attention than he seemed to, as one person after another sidled up to her to plead his case for a third term.
Asked if it is indeed up to her, she pursed her lips and waved her hand.
"I don't hold the cards," she said. "I keep telling people it's not up to me."
"I think I'm being used as a scapegoat," she joked, noting that she learned he was running the first time by reading it in the newspaper. "Men will be men."
And Williams will be Williams. He started off the evening seemingly a little awkward, at one point folding his arms as he stood near a table scattered with birthday gifts.
"I'm not one for parties," he said, noting that on his 50th birthday he and his wife had gone away for four days and it was a great time.
But this was a week of celebration for the mayor, whose birthday was Thursday -- the same day he made his Hollywood debut, filming a scene for "The Sentinel" with Michael Douglas at the Mayflower Hotel. The cast, said a spokesman for the mayor, had cupcakes for him and sang "Happy Birthday."
As the evening drifted on last night, Williams seemed to relax, downing a burger and a beer and easily greeting guests, posing for pictures and accepting cards and gifts that included a baseball glove.
By the time the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" and he was serenaded with a family birthday tune from his mother, Virginia Williams, he seemed completely at ease.
He cracked a few jokes about being mayor and turning 54, and then told a story about what it means to be human. He talked about visiting the other side of town, in Anacostia, where sometimes the political waters are choppier and colder.
"A girl asked me, 'Do you feel bad when you are over here and people don't clap for you?' " the mayor said. "Of course I do. I'm a human being and it hurts."
But one of his best moments, he went on to say, was walking into a stadium and hearing 40,000 people clap for him. The crowd in the diner applauded, too.
"There's still more to be done . . . but like our country, the District is a work in progress," Williams said. "I know we will get to our goals."
And when one of his constituents noted that "all the work in progress requires continuity in our mayor," Williams didn't respond, though the crowd certainly did.
That's a nonpolitical party for you.