In the affluent Washington neighborhood of Chevy Chase, the tinsel, poinsettias and Christmas trees are competing for attention this holiday season with an unusual house decoration: gay pride rainbow flags.
When news filtered out in late November that Vice President-elect Mike Pence was temporarily moving into the white colonial with green shutters on Tennyson Street NW — in the heart of Chevy Chase, a liberal Democratic stronghold — neighbors decided to greet the Republican interloper with polite protest: rainbow flags flapping from their homes.
It was time to Make Chevy Chase Great Again.
Now this isn’t San Francisco, South Beach or Provincetown. Most of the homeowners who ran out to buy the flags or ordered them online are straight.
But in this neighborhood of oak trees and single-family homes, where 85 percent voted for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine and just 9 percent cast ballots for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, residents wanted to make clear where they stand.
“I thought it would send a message in an appropriate way. One idea was to put a ‘Chevy Chase ❤ Hillary’ banner, but we thought that would be too in-your-face,” said Joanna Pratt, 66, an environmental consultant who came up with the idea and lives across the street from Pence.
Now, at least seven homes on the street boast the flags — a response to Pence’s opposition over the years to equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
It’s not clear when exactly Pence may have taken up residence or if he’s done moving in. Moving trucks arrived around Thanksgiving, and Pence was seen milling about, Pratt said.
“My husband sees Pence in the bathroom — Pence was not in the bathroom — my husband was in our bathroom peeking out and saw Pence walking from the front door to a black SUV. That was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving,” Pratt said.
On Saturday, she was standing outside on Tennyson Street, examining an “Emergency No Parking” sign tacked to a tree in front of the five-bedroom home. The restricted dates: Dec. 3 to Dec. 4, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Pence is only renting the place until he moves to the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory after President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Property records show that the home’s owners are Caroline Kende-Robb and Michael Kende. She is the executive director of the Africa Progress Panel, which advocates for development projects in Africa, and used to work at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund; he is the chief economist at the Internet Society, an organization that focuses on policy surrounding the Web. Neither could be reached for comment; neighbors said they live overseas.
Messages left Saturday afternoon for Kathy Redd, the realtor who handled the rental listing, were not returned. According to Realtor.com, the house was going for nearly $6,000 a month. At 2,500 square feet, it’s a far cry from the 10,500-square-foot Indiana Governor’s Residence.
Neighbors say they’ve been debating how to greet Pence should they ever get a chance.
Pratt actually typed up a letter to the Pences and slipped it through their front door.
“Dear Governor Pence and Mrs. Pence: On behalf of your new neighbors . . . we would like to welcome you to the neighborhood! Obviously, your schedule is very busy, but if you had an hour to spare sometime, we would love to host a get-together with some of your new neighbors.”
But Pratt didn’t shy away from explaining why they wanted to meet.
“It won’t come as any surprise to you that many of your neighbors (including ourselves) have political views that are very different from your own. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the results of the election and would like to use this opportunity to set an example of how people with diverse views can still show respect for one another, especially by listening to each other.”
Anjana Tandon, 63, an accountant, was standing with Pratt outside the Pence pad and said she thought about bringing over her special pumpkin bread.
“I’ve been making it for 30 years for Thanksgiving,” she said. “But I think the Secret Service would give it to the dogs.”
Just then, a white BMW SUV rolled up.
“Are you the one I saw on the news?” the driver asked Pratt, who had given an interview recently on camera to a local news channel.
“Well, great job! Good for you!” the driver said, driving away. “It makes me so happy.”
On Chevy Chase’s Internet mailing list, however, the protest was not universally embraced.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if neighbors would respect the man, the office he has been elected to, and give him his privacy, and if anything, welcome his family, rather than hurt them by displaying rainbow flags,” wrote Linda Tavenner, a Chevy Chase resident who voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. “We should put aside political views and welcome him as a human being. People are so quick to tear down or protest against something they don’t agree with. Let’s trust God.”
Others on the email discussion group shared links for buying gay pride flags online or simply said: “We want in.”
Residents at the two houses that sandwich the Pence house declined to comment when a Washington Post reporter knocked on their door. This being Washington — and Chevy Chase to boot — many residents declined interviews, fearing their comments would upset their government employers, agencies that they declined to identify.
But if the Pences are looking for Sunday brunch partners, they would do well to glance directly across Tennyson Street. There, parked right out front, is a Subaru station wagon, with a bumper sticker beaming for all to see in large red font: TRUMP.