Last July, when Council Chairman Arrington Dixon proposed establishing an official mansion for the mayor, you were very cool to the idea.
When council member Jerry Moore brought it up again last week, your response was considerably warmer.
You want my advice? Stay cool.
It was a bad idea when Dixon first brought it up. It's a worse one now. If you were living upstairs over the Pride headquarters, I'd say, fine, go ahead and get the guy a decent home. But you've bought yourself a decent home, in a nice neighborhood, even if it is in an area most transplanted Washingtonians aren't familiar with. Actually, that's one of the things I admired about your choice: the fact that you decided to live in the District rather than in the part of town outsiders think of as Washington, if you know what I mean.
Now Jerry Moore wants to spend up to $500,000 to move you into a classier, more ceremonial part of town. Half a million might not mean that much in terms of the city's already-strapped budget, but it means a lot in symbolism. The schools are hurting, potholes still make driving an adventure and trash collections are down to one a week. (I won't even tell you how long I had to wait before somebody came to haul off my laboriously raked and neatly bagged leaves.)
The city has money problems, as you keep reminding us. This is no time to be talking about spending $500,000 for an official residence, a luxury that most mayors manage to get along without.
When Dixon made the proposal last summer, you said a mayoral mansion was "the last thing on my mind." When Moore repeated it last week, you decided it was "probably an idea whose time has come" and that it would "add some stature to the office of the mayor."
Wrong on both counts. The timing could hardly be worse, and far from adding stature to your office, it would diminish you--just as the Reagans were diminished, in a lot of eyes, by the let-'em-eat-cake attitude that had them laying in a new supply of china, refurbishing the White House living quarters and complaining about not having enough changes of table linens--all at a time when they were telling the rest of us to tighten our belts.
And don't kid yourself that the $500,000 is the whole package. Even if some civic-minded moneybags bought the place and gave it to the city, I'm still not sure we could afford it. The mansion has to be refurbished and furnished, and Lord knows what that will cost. As a friend of mine put it, "No reasonably honest politician owns sufficient furniture to fill a mansion. If suitably furnished at public expense, the bill for the insides could equal the bill for the outsides--especially if an existing mansion is refurbished for that purpose. You can't stick just anything in a Federal (or even General Grant or Edwardian) mayoral residence. You've got to have period stuff, worth its weight in gold, not to mention china, glassware, flatware, etc."
And even that isn't all of it. We've already heard the complaints about the wear and tear on the carpets at your nice Southeast Washington home, thanks to the official entertaining you have to do. Now just suppose you were living downtown in ceremonial Washington. Can you imagine what regular guided tours would do to your carpets--not to mention the necessity of having staff on duty all the time?
My friend made another point: "The wife of any mayor, in this setting, becomes, willy-nilly, the chatelaine in charge of a large household staff, and an object of public scrutiny. No problem for Effi, but not every politician's wife has the experience, aptitude or desire to undertake the role. (Remember how mean the reporters were to poor Judy Agnew, accusing her of serving wine in jelly glasses in the historic Governor's Mansion?) And of course there would have to be a separate nursery wing for little Christopher, complete with a competent nanny."
Oh, yes. I mentioned the $13,000 worth of security equipment we bought for your current house, out there off the beaten path. What do you suppose it would cost us for security at a downtown location? Imagine submitting a budget calling for a reduction in teachers or police officers and asking for another guard or two for your own home.
No, my friend. We don't want a mayor's mansion, and you don't want one. You have learned to like the ceremonial aspects of your job, but you also like your privacy. The way things are now, you can have both. You can do your official entertaining at some nice hotel, and then go home and dandle little Chris on your knee. A downtown mansion would spoil all that, and also ruin your image as a man of the people.
Be sensible and tell Arrington and Jerry thanks, but no thanks. And do it quickly before it gets to be an issue in your re-election campaign. It's going to be rough enough as it is.