"Do like the President says: Help your Dad and Mom by shutting off all lights when not using them; shut off all spigots -- don't waste water. Make Dad buy a small car. Drive only when you have to -- use the bus and Metrorail. Shop once a week and don't waste gas just to run back to the store every day. Everybody should help and work together. Save should be the big word at home." -- Peter Martin Laricos, age 8
You didn't read this rather innocent essay on energy in the February issue of the Foggy Bottom News. You didn't read it because the editor, 31-year-old Catharine Worth, "didn't think it said anything new about energy." So, as editors will, she decided not to print it.
Most of the time, that would have been that. But in Foggy Bottom, a sedate, almost village-like neighborhood of 14,000 people, wedged between Georgetown and the White House, Worth's decision has produced a bitter dispute among the neighborhood's previously cooperative community leaders.
It's a matter of principle.
Should the volunteer editor of a community newspaper -- funded by the local citizens' association -- have the sole right to decide what gets printed and what doesn't?
Should Foggy Bottom, which has successfully fought condominium conversions, office building encroachment and many other threats to community stability, have come up with a compromise?
And does the dispute -- which breaks down into a battle between the old guard and the new -- indicate that old and young can no longer work together in Foggy Bottom, as they have so often in the past?
Two months after Catharine Worth made her decision, these questions are still being debated in the neighborhood's stylish townhouses and high-rise apartment buildings. And feelings still run high.
Many longtime friends aren't speaking because of the episode. Some residents say the survival of the 350-member civic association, long considered one of the most active and representative in the city, is in doubt.
One longtime Bottomite calls L'Affaire Laricos "the worst community flap I can remember. Everyone thinks diplomacy when they say 'Foggy Bottom,' because of the State Department. Let me clue you: This is the least diplomatic fight I've ever seen."
The immediate upshot of Worth's decision not to print the Laricos article was that Alfred Cottrell, the 60ish president of the Foggy Bottom Association and an FBA board member for 17 years, resigned "irrevocably" in protest. He cited the former spirit of cooperation among community association members, which he feels he helped foster and Worth helped undo.
Popular Foggy Bottom News' columnist Mary Healy has "definitely, absolutely" resigned in protest from the board, too, despite "50 letters and I don't know how many phone calls."
Healy has refused to continue the well-read "Seen Around the Bottom" neighborhood gossip column she contributed to the Foggy Bottom News for 21 years. That is perhaps an even more important and visible sign of protest. 2
"I'm terribly disturbed by all this," Healy, normally a bouncy, 66-year-old chipmunk of a woman, allowed. She has been known as Foggy Bottom's most energetic civic activist for much of her adult life.
"It's a shame that a community this wonderful to live in can't avoid this sort of thing," she added. "I can't see any way it would have hurt Catharine or the community to have printed it. This is the sort of item that makes a community newspaper palatable. Hell, we aren't The Washington Post.
"The whole thing is a mess."
The only actor in the play who isn't upset seems to be Peter Martin Laricos -- and that's only because his mother Barbara and father Peter George haven't yet broken the news to him that his article isn't going to run.
"I'm sure he'll be terribly disappointed when I tell him," Barbara Laricos said. "It's rather stupid that it turned out the way it did. I mean, this paper is hardly the literary digest of the world.
"I think it's childish."
"This kind of dispute is an aberration. We don't usually have these kinds of conflicts," said Jon Nowick, 27, chairman of Foggy Bottom's Advisory Neighborhood Commission and a foreign policy analyst for the federal government.
"But I'm afraid this could reflect something of an old-young split in community affairs, even though that's probably an exaggeration. I don't usually think in those terms, but this does seem to invite you to."
Al Cottrell and Mary Healy emphatically agree.
"It's certainly an age-vs.-youth thing in the sense that many of the people who sided with Catharine on the board were closer to her age than I am," said Cottrell, who retired three years ago from his job as an administrator for the telephone company.
"It's the young buck challenging the old dog," Healy, an executive for the Federal Aviation Administration for 39 years until she retired eight years ago, said."I think we may have gotten too many younger people on the board at one time. As a result, we didn't have a gradual change of thought processes and desires."
Of the 13 members of the FBA board, six are 35 and under. The other seven, including Cottrell and Healy, and 60 and over. Cottrell and Healy are still officially members, because the full board refused to accept their resignations. But that is "a technicality, as far as we're concerned," Cottrell said.
One observer of the Laricos situation who is particularly upset at Cottrell's and Healy's resignations is Lt. Alan F. Herbert, a Metropolitan policeman assigned to Foggy Bottom for 18 years and a frequent visitor to FBA meetings.
"These older people on that board, you'll go a long time before you find more qualified people," Herbert said. "They're 100 percent, solid-gold citizens. And the young people that come to those meetings, they're very concerned. They talk not just to hear themselves talk, but they bring up issues. They really care.
"It's just that, with the young people, the capability may be there, and the dedication may be there, but the experience isn't there."
But Steve Levy, a Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, feels that "in this neighborhood, the carrying through, the planning and the organizing are all done by the younger people. They're the ones who've turned this around from a sleepy little area."
According to Levy, Foggy Bottom's petition drives to resist condominium conversion, and campaigns to keep George Washington University and the World Bank from building "unacceptable" high-rises "would never have happened" without young people's efforts.
But in the case of the Laricos article, according to Catharine Worth, the question is one of "backing up the people you bring in," regardless of their age.
"If you want to keep the community alive," said Worth, a desk officer at the Department of Energy who lives in a book-lined, one-bedroom apartment on K Street, "you have to be willing to accept newcomers who are willing to give the time and effort.
"I see this whole Laricos business as two people (Cottrell and Healy) who felt their authority was challenged. There were no written guidelines for the editor. It had never come up before.
"So they felt that it should go on as always, that the president and a well-respected columnist could simply say what the editor could and couldn't do.
"But in a community newspaper, you've got to exercise some kind of judgment. You're not going to print anything anybody sends in.
"Even though I understand that the News is paid for by the Association, my feeling was, 'Hey, you asked me to take this volunteer position. If you want me to do the work, then take me seriously when I try to take the responsibility seriously.'"
For Peter Martin Laricos, if for no one else, the story may have ended happily.
Mary Healy "leaked" his article to Energy Insider, a Department of Energy newsletter, which published it in the March 3 issue. All smiles, Healy delivered a copy to Peter Laricos' mother the other day.
"Maybe now," said Barbara Laricos, "I'll have the nerve to explain to him what happened."