Cantankerous times

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 13, 2006 10:05 PM

A "political power grab" is said to be under way at historic Ford's Theatre, orchestrated by theater board member Linda Daschle, lobbyist-wife of former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and involving one of Washington's more mysterious, if not generous couples.

"For years, the board (leadership) has been carefully kept bipartisan," an outgoing trustee tells The Beltway Beat. "This is partisan politics, pure and simple."

Partly for political exposure, the board member insists that Linda Daschle has "orchestrated a behind-the-scenes secret slate" of friends, including congressional spouses, to replace the 42-member board's outgoing chairman, pair of vice chairmen, secretary and treasurer.

Figuring into the controversy are Washington power couple Wayne and Catherine Reynolds, who already have envious tongues wagging in Washington's social circles with their $100 million-plus in donations to the National Gallery of Art and Kennedy Center, among other recipients.

But not everybody wants the dough. Catherine Reynolds took back one $38 million contribution to the Smithsonian Institution after the couple was accused in gossip sheets of trying to buy their way to the top of Washington's A List, if not into personal control of the museums' exhibits.

Linda Daschle is proposing that Wayne Reynolds become the board's next chairman, the trustee reveals, adding that the Daschles in recent weeks flew aboard the Reynolds' private jet, which we could not confirm Monday. Also, says the trustee, the Reynolds' have already made a $1 million donation to Ford's Theatre - site of President Lincoln's assassination in 1865 - "with promises of more to come."

Board member Debbie Dingell, wife of Michigan Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell, was pushed by Linda Daschle to become secretary, the trustee continues, but for personal reasons withdrew her nomination.

Linda Daschle did not return a telephone call to her office early Monday seeking comment.

Among current board members are Karyn Frist, wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Kathleen Gregg, wife of Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican; Patricia Lott, wife of Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Landra Reid, wife of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; and Kimberly Dorgan, wife of Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

Meanwhile, talk about timing, tickets go on sale Aug. 14 for the Ford's Theatre production of "State of the Union," which is about a charismatic candidate being groomed for the presidency during "a politically cantankerous time, eerily similar to our own."

"Perfect for midterm elections, it's a wild ride of politics, power and personalities," touts the theater's box office.


GODSPEED, PHIL

"Each time, I have felt the same mixture of inspiration, dedication, determination and appreciation for everything this country has done for me, for my family, and for the cause of freedom and free institutions."

So said publisher and diplomat Philip Merrill when sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney as president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in December 2002. It was the eighth time in his life that he'd taken the oath of office, his first being as a private in the U.S. Army.

Merrill, 72, is missing and presumed drowned in the Chesapeake Bay. His 41-foot sailboat was found adrift Saturday evening.


CONGRESS RULES

Who wants to be president of the United States when you can rise to be speaker of the House?

Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Page Board, made that clear when Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, was bidding fond farewell to the current class of pages.

"I suspect that in the future we will see some of you here as members," Davis observed, "and perhaps we will even see one of you sitting in the big chair up in the White House."

Shimkus piped in: "I am a legislator, and I believe that the big chair is the speaker's chair. So I am an Article I guy, not an Article II guy."

Article I of the Constitution states that all legislative powers shall be vested in the Congress. Article II reads that the executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States.


FIT TO PRINT?

General Motors is firing back at the New York Times. So to speak.

"I've spent much of the past week trying to get a letter to the editor published in the New York Times in response to the recent (June 1) Tom Friedman rant against GM," the auto giant's corporate communications spokesman Brian Akre writes on GM's blog. "I failed. This is my story.

"For those of you who haven't read it already, Mr. Friedman spent 800 words on the Times op-ed page to accuse GM of supporting terrorists, buying votes in Congress and being a corporate 'crack dealer' that posed a serious threat to America's future. He suggested the nation would be better off if Japan's Toyota took over GM."

"Part of our response was to send a letter from my boss, Steve Harris, to the editor of the Times. Now, you'd think it would be relatively easy to get a letter from a GM vice president published in the Times after GM's reputation was so unfairly questioned. Just a matter or simple journalistic fairness, right?

"First, there's the word limit. Our first letter came in at 490 words, a length we felt was appropriate to address the major pieces of misinformation in Mr. Friedman's attack. This was also after the Times ran four letters in support of Friedman's column on Friday, June 2, totaling 480 words.

"The Times told us it would 'consider' our response only if it were limited to 175 words max," Akre says. "And I note that today's (June 8) Times has a 304-word letter from two Democratic senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer.

"We countered by offering to cut our letter to 300 words. They offered to go up to 200 words. OK, we reluctantly concluded, 200 is better than nothing. Then came the editing. They removed our invitation to Mr. Friedman to come to Detroit to learn the facts about what GM's doing to reduce our nation's oil consumption. They removed a sentence in which Steve said falsely accusing GM of 'buying votes' in Congress was irresponsible. We didn't like those edits, but the rest of the letter was left largely intact, with one exception.

"Our letter opened with a paragraph that accurately summarized the most bizarre elements of Mr. Friedman's attack, then reacted with this one-word sentence: 'Rubbish.'

"That word accurately portrays how we felt about the column," Akre explains. "The Times suggested 'rubbish' be changed first to, 'We beg to differ.' We objected. The Times then suggested it be changed to, 'Not so.' We stood our ground. In the end, the Times refused to let us call the column 'rubbish.'

"Why? 'It's not the tone we use in Letters,' wrote Mary Drohan, a letters editor.

"What rubbish. How arrogant."


'READY TO GO'

You know by now that Rep. Tom DeLay cast his last congressional vote on Friday, unable to withstand the furor after a Texas grand jury last year charged him with money laundering.

The Texas Republican and former House majority leader, now officially retired from Congress, joked with reporters as he put his plastic House voting card into his wallet, keeping it as a memento of his 22-year congressional career.

"It's the first day of the rest of my life," he said. "I'm ready to go. I'm looking forward to fighting in a new arena . . . doing what I can to energize the (Republican) base."

He said some have already offered him office space up on Capitol Hill.


NEW 'TODAY' HOST

There's a new television host for "Today" - or we should say, "D.C. Law . . . Today."

Washington lawyer Annamaria Steward is host of the new 30-minute weekly program that premiered this month on D.C. public access television. The first show, which each week highlights lawyers and their contributions to the Washington community, featured University of the District of Columbia law school Dean Shelley Broderick, who discussed free legal services available to D.C. residents.

"We hear and read so much bad about lawyers, some deserved, some not, that our show will give viewers the opportunity to see the good that many lawyers do, often without any compensation," says Washington malpractice lawyer Jack Olender, whose law firm sponsors the program.

Steward previously served as law clerk for Judge Annice Wagner, then-chief judge for the D.C. Court of Appeals. She also created and hosted a radio program for the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

"My only concern is that one of the networks may lure her away," says Olender.