Item: another subway stop opened last week on Connecticut Avenue, but the Metro still isn't any closer to Georgetown, the area of the city with the worst traffic congestion and parking problems.
Item: The fight goes on over development of the Georgetown waterfront, now a catchall of vacant lots, city truck depots and warehouses under the dilapidated Whitehurst Freeway. Georgetown community groups continue to argue against much being built there except a park. The result: nothing gets done because the delays cost developers money.
Item: There will be no lottery in Georgetown. There will be no legal raffles or bingo either. Congress, in its hesitation to allow the city to have legal gambling at all, finally compromised on a bill that would keep ads for the lottery off the buses and trains and out of one neighborhood: Georgetown.
The message in all this is that there is a separate city over there in Georgetown. It's not only that the rich live differently; people with money always have. What's unique about contemporary Georgetown is that its version of the different life is no longer simply lavish private lives but now ostentatious exclusivity in public life as well.
This is a neighborhood where in October 1978 the 13 homeowners on one block--the 3100 block of O Street NW --paid a total of $2,000 to have the city replace an old concrete sidewalk with red bricks. You can't take the subway to Georgetown, you can't park there, but if you live there you should walk on a carpet of distinction--red bricks.
And now its the lottery. How uncivilized to have the riffraff placing bets near the well-to-do.
"When I saw what they'd done to the lottery legislation to keep it out of Georgetown," says Brant Coopersmith, the chairman of the lottery board, "my jaw dropped. What do we do when we license raffles? Say that the raffle tickets can't be sold in Georgetown? And I'll tell you what I want to see, I want to see the police raid the churches in Georgetown when they have a bingo game."
The irony of this, according to Coopersmith, is that studies of existing lotteries show that the wealthy play, too. In Massachusetts, demand has forced the state to establish a telephone system with credit-card numbers that allows those who are credit-worthy--not the poor--to place bets.
The technical reason offered for the ban on the lottery in Georgetown is not opposition from some powerful and organized residents, as it was in the case of the subway. The prime actor in keeping the lottery out of Georgetown was Rep. John Porter, a Republican from a state that has a lottery--Illinois. The congressman's rationale, according to an aide, is that while he was against having a lottery in the capital, the people here voted to have it and so they should; but not in the Federal Triangle and not in the grand, historic district of Georgetown.
An uprising can be expected from people who live along 16th Street, in LeDroit Park or on Capitol Hill, areas also quite historic where the "evil" of wagering will be allowed.
The truly wealthy of the city might also take umbrage at this. Georgetown is not among the top areas of the city in mean household income. Those neighborhoods, in order, are the area adjacent to the U.S. Naval Observatory; the Foxhall Road area; Potomac Palisades-Spring Valley and DuPont Circle. All boast higher mean incomes than Georgetown, where it is approximately $30,000.
But the really rich and those who live in other historic places in the city will have to get in line to complain about preferential treatment of Georgetown: the Citizens Association of Georgetown has fought every proposal yet for developing the waterfront. Everyone in the city who sees that blighted area and imagines what could be there and the money and jobs it could bring to the city has a right to go to the head of the line to complain about the neighborhood. All the citizens' association wants is a park on the waterfront; no more houses, no more condominiums, no more office space--just a park. Of course, once teen- agers and families start hanging out there, playing loud radios and picnicking on the grass there no doubt will be screams about closing the park and leaving vacant the valuable land that could bring the debt-ridden city treasury more tax dollars.
People who live in any neighborhood have a right to influence decisions about what will be built and what will be done on their streets, from drinking liquor to go-go clubs. No one would deny Georgetown residents that right. The final decision, though, on any neighborhood matter is the city government's, with the goal of doing what is best for the entire city. Some Georgetown residents seem to be saying that they will decide what is best for Georgetown and the rest of you can take a walk.
In 1974 the citizens' association spent almost $100,000--in a losing battle--to fight the city on one zoning decision. That is beyond the bounds of fighting the good fight. It is taking the all-American tradition of local control of local life and mixing it with elitism to build a fence around a neighborhood. The rest of the city can look through the fence.
But the fence won't hold up. As the barrier becomes more obvious to people who can't ride the subway there, can't place a bet there, and who fume as even the city government can't get something built on the waterfront, more and more people will see that the fence is there to be torn down. Lottery or no lottery, Georgetowners can bet on that.