Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 5/8/09

A visitor to the offices of Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans could be forgiven for thinking he’d stepped into a sports bar.

There’s no alcohol, but there are sports banners and trophies, mounted baseballs and photographs and even foosball-style hockey and football games. Evans was showing off his Stanley Cup rod hockey table on Monday afternoon just hours before the Caps-Penguins’ playoff game.

“Tonight you’re going to have twenty-some-thousand people at a hockey game. And when the Caps win, they’re going to pour out of that arena and go to our restaurants, our stores and our hotels," he said.

Evans was right about the game's outcome -- and the vibrancy downtown.

Richard Bradley, who runs the Downtown Business Improvement District, says that a decade ago the downtown area attracted maybe 3 million visitors annually, most of whom had wandered off the Mall or some other place in search of food or entertainment.
Now it’s 9 million and growing, even in a bad economy, with nearly 350 “sit-down” restaurants, new museums and attractions, and myriad retail opportunities.

That has meant more daytime activity, nightlife and jobs, jobs, jobs.

“It’s great to have this kind of vibrancy,” Bradley said of the Capitals playoff series. “It certainly adds to the overall vibrancy.” And it’s certainly generating millions of dollars in collected taxes.

The sagging national economy is having an impact on the District, but it’s not nearly as bad as in other areas.

“We’ve actually weathered the storm much better than certainly the outlying regions,” Bradley said. “While we haven’t had dramatic growth this year, it has stayed flat, and flat today is a very good sign.”

Downtown D.C. was percolating before the Verizon Center was built, but the complex added fuel to the fire. And 7th Street is awash in activity almost every night of the week, game or no game.

The sprawling Clyde’s on 7th Street has a sports motif in the ground-floor bar area. Executive vice president Tom Meyer says the popular restaurant and bar is looking for suitable hockey artwork or memorabilia to add to the collection highlighting football, baseball, boxing, golf and other sports.

“The Caps fans roll in,” he told us this week. “They’re the most robust group of all the sports fans in this town. I think they’re a really great crowd to have in here.”

Around the corner, some early patrons at the Green Turtle bar and grill had driven down from Frederick, Md., to attend the game. Five of the six wore jerseys supporting the Capitals, and one wore a Penguins shirt. But all said how cool it was to be in downtown Washington.

It’s a remarkable change from 12 years ago, when the Downtown Business Improvement District was established. The organization promoted new business (and business retention) by cleaning the streets, increasing security and creating an atmosphere of opportunity rather than decay.

The Verizon Center opened two years after the improvement district’s launch.

One loss is the size of the old Chinatown. It’s more often called “China block” now.

Whatever the area is called, you won’t hear anyone talking about a “dead downtown” anymore.

• In Praise of Jack Kemp

The tributes and praise are pouring in for the late sports hero and political leader who died this past week.

From the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page to the more liberal Washington Post, Kemp was recalled as a decent man and politician filled with aspirations of expanding American capitalism and democracy.

We were disappointed, but not surprised, that The Wall Street Journal writers left out one aspect of Kemp’s remarkable life: his support for D.C. voting rights.

But Kemp wore voting rights as a badge of honor, testifying for legislation before the House and Senate and speaking out at rallies.
He would say time and again, “I lend my voice in strong support … .”

The Kemp voice is silent now.

• In a Funk Over Fenty

They’re calling him “Mayor Betrayer.” A group of frustrated citizens were to hold a three-hour rally and concert Thursday starting at 4 p.m. to protest Fenty’s “attack on teachers, school workers, recreation department employees, firefighters, police, mental-health professionals and other city employees.”

A list of speakers for the Freedom Plaza event includes longtime civil rights organizer Lawrence Guyot, Johnny Barnes of the American Civil Liberties Union and Linda Leaks of Empower DC.

“Join us for great music and great energy to save our great city from the Mayor Betrayer,” says the e-mail promotion.

The folks who are angry with Fenty are really angry, but will they be able to build that into a serious challenge?

Whatever his troubles, Fenty has a commanding hold on the mayor’s office. With his $2.5 million in re-election funds in the bank already, no one is even suggesting a challenge in 2010.

• Democracy Videos

Democracy can be a tough sell in some parts of the world.

Thursday night, the Notebook was master of ceremonies when the U.S. State Department and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery hosted a special screening of some semifinalists in the “Democracy Video Challenge,” which asked participants around the world to create short videos completing the phrase "Democracy is ... ." Thursday's event was the only opportunity to see the videos in a theater setting.

The public will be invited to vote on the best videos through June 15, after watching them at the event or at

The winners will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, New York and Hollywood, where they will spend time on TV/film sets; meet with film professionals, democracy advocates and government officials; and attend special screenings of their videos.

• Final word

Tom Blagburn always had one of two looks on his face: either smiling because he was happy to see you, or frowning at the immense task of aiding troubled young people in the city. A former police official, he tried mightily to guide young people to safe shores of adulthood.

Tom Blagburn died this past week of cancer, and his funeral was Monday. For those who knew him, they know what is lost.

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