Beltway Beat: It pays to walk

Posted: May 10, 2002 12:00 AM
Pierre L'Enfant, the French military engineer-turned-city planner, thought he was doing future Washingtonians a favor when he laid out the crisscrossing avenues of the nation's capital for the horse-drawn carriages of the early 1790s. (The traffic circles, so terrifying to tourists and newcomers, were put there to prevent an invading army from firing a cannon down the avenue into the Capitol and the White House.) The reality is that Washington's slashing streets and thoroughfares, now hooked up to a confusing maze of suburban freeways and interstates, leads (if motorists are moving at all) to the second-worst traffic nightmare in the nation. Enter Christopher Zimmerman, the new chairman of the Arlington County (Va.) Board of Supervisors, who included in his 2003 budget a new "walk/bike" incentive of $25 per month. According to the budget description forwarded to us, the incentive would provide a small cash "award" or incentive to employees who choose alternative transportation to the office - i.e., walking or biking. The county's employees would register as "alternative commuters" and receive $25 per month post-tax for biking or walking to work. This incentive would allow them to purchase new equipment periodically, as it says, to continue their healthy lifestyle. (And this in turn would help the rest of us stifle the temptation to fire a cannon at the cars ahead of us on the avenue.) HILLARY'S MARATHON Whom do we believe: Dick Morris, Chris Matthews or Hillary Rodham Clinton? Morris, the political guru who introduced Bill Clinton the presidential candidate, is now predicting that Mrs. Clinton, New York's junior Democratic senator, will likely be elected president of the United States before the decade is out. Not "run" for president, mind you, but get "elected" (Morris made the prediction in an interview with on Tuesday.) Before you get out your checkbook and give your last dime to the National Rifle Association, be advised that Mrs. Clinton was forced to respond to Morris' prophecy during an interview with WABC Radio's John Gambling on efforts to rebuild lower Manhattan. The exchange went like this: Gambling: "I have to ask you this - it's sitting in front of me on the Web here. Dick Morris says you're gonna be president within the next 10 years. Your reaction?" Clinton: "Oh, please, John (nervous laughter). You know that - uh - he's made a lot of other predictions about me that haven't come true (more laughter)." After Mrs. Clinton hung up the phone, Gambling described her response "as reasonable an answer as you could possibly expect at this point, probably." We can't help but recall "Hardball" host Chris Matthews once saying in this column of Mrs. Clinton: "The only reason for her to run for the Senate is to eventually run for president." DRAWN TOGETHER Strobe Talbott, who was a correspondent for Time magazine before he was deputy secretary of state for seven years and architect of the Clinton administration's policy toward Russia, soon will have a new book out titled "The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy." We got an early peek at Talbott's memoir, in which he discloses the challenges of dealing with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whose alcoholism not only exacerbated his poor health, but also seriously interfered with his ability to govern (and hold summits with the United States). Talbott, as unlikely as it sounds, reveals that he and other U.S. officials regularly tracked Yeltsin's alcohol consumption during meetings. Based on the number of drinks that went down the Russian's chute, the U.S. officials would adjust their expectations for progress. President Clinton, who huddled with Yeltsin on everything from nuclear weapons removal to NATO enlargement, never seemed bothered by the leader's insatiable thirst, perhaps because Clinton was trying to hide an addiction of his own (but not of the bottle). The Random House book will go on sale May 21. PROFESSORIAL PERKS Did the daughters of former President Lyndon B. Johnson get a free ride through school? Author Tevi Troy, who will participate in today's American Enterprise Institute book panel surrounding the release of "Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters or Technicians?" suggests that LBJ provided the first daughters with more than just a tutor. One of several presidential "intellectuals" (brain trusts who serve as unofficial advisers and policy planners at the White House) Troy writes about in his Rowman & Littlefield book was Princeton professor Eric Goldman, who LBJ figured could be of more help to the country by helping Lynda Bird and Luci Baines upstairs. "As a professor only two years earlier, Goldman had graded the papers of college students," observes Troy. "Now he was ghostwriting for two girls in their teens." HELLO, KINKO'S Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. has issued a directive to create competitive bidding for the executive branch's $500 million annual printing and copying contracts, virtually withdrawing the Government Printing Office's monopoly over such jobs and potentially saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per year. Citizens Against Government Waste is one group applauding Daniels, saying in this era of "all-night photocopying chains," Uncle Sam was falling further and further behind the private marketplace in providing fast, efficient services at low cost.