Children getting to know government…

 

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D.C. has been a virtual playground for children this week, as they come from near and far  to explore the capital, get to know their leaders and bask in the knowledge that they have seen history.

Those that I have talked to are quite well aware of that history.

Take the 59 students from Lakeside Middle School in Norwalk who came to see the inauguration on Tuesday.

“It just goes to show that anyone from any race can be president and do anything,” said Danielle Kreig, 14.

And that seemed to have them tuned in, and concerned about the course of the country and the world.

You could hear it in the questions they asked Rep. Grace Nopalitano Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol.

“What political party are you from?” one asked.

“What made you decide to run for office?”

“How do you think what is happening now will change the economy?”

The congresswoman did her best to answer, touching on everything from the Middle East to the need to stay in school.

For Debbie Kaesbauer, an algebra teacher at Lakeside, it was a difficult experience have to supervise nearly 60 students in the middle of Tuesday’s chaos.

But it can’t replace the abililty for these students to sit back years from now and say they were there for history, she said.

Linda Sanchez, who on Wednesday met with La Serna High School students, was excited to see them in the wake of Tuesday’s events.

“It’s an amazing opportunity when kids can witness events that will some day be printed in history books,” she said. “I was proud to host them today and answer some insightful questions on congress, what a congresswoman does, and explain some of my policy positions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting back in the swing of things…

 

 

 

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It’s the economy…

That’s the focus as local legislators get into the swing of things in the wake of Tuesday’s inauguration.

President Obama’s economic stimulus plan will be at the top of the agenda here, and some local legislators are already pitching their ideas.

How those ideas play out will determine much of the success for the Obama administration, Rep. Adam Schiff said.

“Ninety-percent of what he needs to do is help turn around the economy,” he said. “If he can’t do that, then we’re all going to be in the embrace of a long experience.”

Rep. David Dreier’s focus for revamping the economy consists of a mixture of tax cuts, incentives for home and car buyers.

Rep. Grace Nopalitano’s focus has been on making sure any stimulus plan provides for community development funds that help revamp social services and money that get shovel-ready projects going.

Others, using their new positions on Capitol Hill, are hoping to be more pursuasive in getting those projects going back home.

“We have hit the ground running in the 111th Congress, facing enormous challenges as well as great opportunities, said Rep. Linda Sanchez. “This session I hope to accomplish many things, most importantly of which is an economic stimulus plan that will work for working families.  My new role on the influential Ways and Means Committee will allow me to play a more direct role in developing such a plan.”

We’ll see. The GOP is pushing back on parts of Obama’s $825 billion spending plan to revamp the economy.

But hopefully, with all this time meeting with constituents this week, legislators got the message loud and clear that they need to get substantial work done.

In the photo above, Schiff, right, chats with Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, center, and his son, Joe, left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing for joy…

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There’s a lot of stories trickling out in the days following the inauguration that aren’t so great.

Many people didn’t get in. People who had tickets, in very good sections, were turned away as the inauguration began.

Actually, turned away is the wrong phrase, since with so many people converging on the Capitol, there was no place to turn to, but to stand and wait it out.

But great stories still came out of these days.

One brief story came on Sunday, the day of the “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Ina grassy areas, just off the National Mall, I couldn’t help noticing a woman dancing with a boy who seemed to be her son.

They were in absolute joy in the moment, holding eachother and dancing in circles as U2 performed “City of Blinding Lights.”

Turns out, Vanessa Robinson of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was fulfilling the dream of her husband, Arthur.

Arthur died last year, but he died knowing that Barack Obama would become president, and was determined to see his family get there. In fact, his last wish was that his family would get to D.C. to see Obama become president.

On Sunday, they were there. Arthur wasn’t, but that was all the more reason for Vanessa and her son Christopher and his sister Arianna to be there.

Above is a picture of the Vanessa and her son Christopher enjoying the moment.

 

 

Walking into the moment…

Sometimes, I suppose, ignorance is truly bliss.

It was for me today, and all it did was get me into the Senate Press Gallery to watch the Senate confirm Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and at the Senate floor’s door trying to talk to a senator about Hilda Solis’ pending confirmation to become labor secretary.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune reporter Rebecca Kimitch asked if I could try and get a quote from Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Since I’m here, it seemed like a good idea, and what the heck, I thought it might be a great experience.

Well, that it was, but it technically never should have happened.

I walked over to the Senate, and at first talked my way into getting a gallery pass — the kind the general public gets to view Senate proceedings from above the Senate’s floor.

But that wasn’t good enough. Rebecca needed a quote, and I was pretty determined to get it for her.

So I went back to the clerk who issued me the first pass, and asked about a one-day press pass.

She didn’t give me that, but she did give me a little pin-on piece of paper that allowed me into the Senate Press Gallery.

The press gallery is essentially the wing of the Capitol in which reporters have an office to cover the Senate. The doors of those offices open right up into the actual gallery, a balcony that overlooks the proceedings, with a great view.

But I guess I didn’t understand that with that little piece of paper pinned on to me I wasn’t suppose to go inside — as I only later understood.

But being the snoop that I am, I walked through anyway, only to find Sen. John Kerry touting Clinton as a the needed lead the nation’s foreign policy under Obama.

He was the lone senator on the floor at the time, and was stalling with words as he waited for his colleagues to enter for a vote.

I looked for Coburn, once the senators started trickling in.

Anyway, slowly they started streaming in for the vote…Reid, Rockefeller, Graham, McCain, Burris (the new guy from Chicago)…and ultimately Coburn.

He talked briefly with a colleague. And as I sensed he was going to leave, I bolted for the second floor exit of the Senate chamber.

If you’ve never seen that second floor entry/exit area, where senators enter and leave the Senate floor, it’s quite a sight.

Just imagine a Hollywood movie premiere, only with a bunch of guys wearing blue suits walking in and out of the theater.

Now, this was a big vote, so maybe that’s why so much press was there.

But as I came down the stairs, I walked into a mish-mash of reporters and press secretaries, photographers and police, interviews and senator-led lines of people. But no Coburn.

For that brief moment I was coming down stairs, he either left the chamber or was still in there, and you can’t tell who is in there form outside those second-floor doors.

So, after a guard told me to step back to a press waiting area until the senator I wanted to speak to exited, I waited and watched as reporters bolted to who each wanted to talk to.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham got a lot of attention, for some reason. Perhaps I should have spoken to him. At that moment, I wasn’t sure.

Kerry left, so did Rockefeller…and others perhaps left through doors I didn’t see or know of.

Anyway, the press pool dwindled down to me and a few others. I asked a guard something about access — I can’t remember what — and they he asked me what kind of pass I had. I looked down to the front of my shirt only to realize that the original pass I’d pinned on to myself was missing.

Great! Now that guard didn’t even believe I was from the media.

Here I was, a man looking for a senator without a pass, in an environment I didn’t know.

The guard was nice enough to let me go back upstairs to the press gallery offices, but before that, I was required to have an armed guard escort me back into offices. So there I was, with a police officer by my side, weaving though a bunch of other reporters to get a gallery employee to vouch that I was there earlier.

“No, I haven’t been stirring trouble,” I told her.

She vouched for me.

Only this time, she reminded me I couldn’t go anywhere — not even the gallery — without a credential, which my editor back home would have to write a letter for.

It was a little much for my purposes.

So, I gathered my belongings, and left.

I still had a gallery pass, though, and hung out for a debate, I think about equal pay for minorities and women in the workplace.

The seat just wasn’t as good as the first one, though.

And Rebecca, sorry I didn’t get that comment. Maybe next time.

The people speak…

 

 

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I saw all emotions today.
Grown men broke into tears, women closed their eyes in quiet contemplation and little children smiled in wonder. Others showed regret and anger at what is now the past, and happiness at the present.
I saw 2 million people crowd into the nation’s capital for a national cleansing.
Yes, Barack H. Obama became the nation’s 44th president today in D.C., but it was the people here that were the real stories.
They came from all nations, all colors and religions, they hugged each other, danced together, prayed together, booed and shouted  in unison, and listened like  you never thought 1.9 million people could listen.
The sound of that many people listening at one time is amazing in itself.
As I looked behind me from what lucky for me was a good seat to view the inauguration, the crowd, stretching as far back  — almost 2 miles — as the Lincoln Memorial was at times more interesting than what was happening on the Capitol’s steps.
There was the Wave — and then the chants — Obama! Obama! Obama!
And then, they waved small American flags — thousands of them at the same time.
It was an incredible sight and sound.
 What was happening behind me was surreal.
But with what was happening in front of me, it was clear why.
 I watched a new president tell the nation that it was time to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of re-making America.”
As a reporter, I’m supposed to be dispassionate about this kind of stuff.
But I couldn’t help it, I felt some of those emotions too. And I’m not the only one.
I saw other reporters cry and clench their fists in commitment to the values that a new president has asked us all to seek.
That’s because those reporters and myself, some might say, are just crazy liberals, bent on ruining the American way of life. But I don’t think so. But I think there was more going on in what I saw today.
Two million people crowded into a city — there wasn’t one reported arrest as of the evening I write this — braved the cold and listened in silence and wonder as Obama began his presidency with where he left off his candidacy. With a message of hope.
And I have to come back to how that message resonated in the crowd.
Many times today, people told me this was a “miracle,” that a black man would become president in their lifetime and come to inspire  and unite so many people.
But it goes to show that a message of hope and peace, when it’s articulated the right way at the right time, can go a long way.
But as I walked around D.C today I saw signs that we have a long way to go.
It is clear, many blacks are struggling to make a buck in D.C. And when you look across the nation, many communities over the last several years have witnessed a widening disparity of incomes.
I could see those two economies when just walking around the town.
I think that’s what made Obama’s message all the more powerful — when he talked about how our badly weakened economy has been battered all the more with greed and “childish thinking” of the past.
And that’s what makes this mass of humanity all the more powerful.
Obama is right. It’s not about him, it’s about all those people I saw today, rising in unison for change, walking en masse along a closed D.C. interstate to  a simple of oath of office, standing in lines for hours, wheeling their elderly loved ones up and down city streets in wheelchairs.
This is the America Obama is talking about.
My feet were really tired when I got home tonight, and my face  was cold from the freezing wind and my lips badly chapped. But I’ve got no right to complain. Many people sacrificed a lot more than a cold day to get to this day.
And it’s on their shoulders that we can all stand. Because it really is about us. Not one man.
It’s just that we have one man to thank for reminding us of that.

Ranch Cucamonga mayor helps clean up in Day of Service

Everyone from Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth and wife Dee to Barack Obama volunteered their time Monday as part of National Day of Service. In D.C., people were out in force. Here is Kurth’s report:

 

Don Kurth’s Inauguration Report – Marvin Gaye Park Clean-up Project

Monday, January 19, 2009

Washington, D.C. – Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been designated as a National Day of Service across America. I am sure people back home in the Inland Empire had no problem finding lots of worthwhile projects on which to spend a few hours being of service to our nation. But being here in Washington, D.C., as out-of-towners, my wife, Dee, and I really had no idea what service projects would be available to us. Luckily, some of my classmates from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government had tracked down a community clean-up project at Marvin Gaye Park right here in D.C. and invited us to join the 350 volunteers planning to tackle the parks renewal.

Marvin Gaye Park is located in a poor, African-American neighborhood in the northeastern section of the city. Originally named Watts Branch stream park, it is the longest city park in Washington, D.C., winding almost 1.6 miles through some pretty tough, drug infested areas. The name was changed a few years ago to Marvin Gaye Park to honor the famous singer who grew up nearby. The park had fallen into disrepair over the years until a group of local citizens created a public-private park revitalization project. We worked with the “Down by the Riverside Campaign of Watts Branch Park” of the Washington Parks and People group. If you are interested, you can find the entire story at: http://washingtonparks.net/wattsbranch.html .

At the turn of the last century, the Watts Branch was a woodland stream in which people could fish and even swim during the warm summer months. After decades of neglect though, by the turn of our most recent century, it looked more like a sewer than a mountain stream. The clean-up project began around 2001. Between the project’s inception in 2001 and 2006, volunteers have removed a total of 1950 old tires, 78 abandoned cars and trucks, 7800 used hypodermic needles and 20,000 bags of garbage.

Our goals for the day were somewhat more modest, but we did want to find a way to contribute what we could to this national day of service. Armed with little more than the name of the park, Dee and I set out on the morning of Martin Luther King’s birthday to find the Marvin Gaye Park and see how we could be of service in our nation’s capital. We were soon to learn that our task would not be as easy as we had envisioned. The first two taxi drivers claimed not to know where the park was, despite our destination being only a ten minute drive from where we began! The first cab would not even let us get in when we told him where we wanted to go. The second one picked us up but when we explained where we were going, he quickly told us he did not know how to get there, pulled over and told us to get out of his cab near Union Station.

Undaunted, we went into Union Station to find a map or directions to the park. We finally met a kind woman whose son lived near the park. She gave us excellent directions on the back of a paper towel. Armed with her paper towel map, we headed back to the street to find a cab. In the cabbies’ defense, the streets are a madhouse here today and with all the visitors in town for the Inauguration, I am sure there are lots of easier fares than our fare to a dubious neighborhood with little chance of a fare back to town. We soon flagged down two more cabs in succession, each of which refused to take us to our destination. Finally, we hopped into the cab of an older African American driver who told us that he did, indeed, know where Marvin Gaye Park was located. In fact, he had grown up nearby and had gone to elementary school just a few blocks from the park.

On the way there he asked us twice why we were going out to a neighborhood like that. I guess he finally believed my story that we were going out there to help clean up the park for MLK Day because he finally warmed up a bit and showed us his childhood elementary school along the route. As we traveled, the neighborhood gradually degenerated and the street transients gradually increased in number. Finally we arrived at the park. A huge pile of garbage bags marked the spot where the earlier volunteers had done their service work. Dee and I met Behnan Mehrahkhani, the volunteer chief of maintenance, and Ian Tyndall, an architect who served as the project’s park designer. They put us to work immediately stacking tools and moving trash out of the park’s community center.

The Riverside Community Center, we soon learned, had been converted from the night club where singer Marvin Gaye originally got his start way back when! The inside mural (see photo) depicted the dancing and festivities that had filled the club in days gone by. The mural on the outside wall (see photo) had been artfully created from the shards of broken bottles fished out of the river during previous clean-up efforts.

My construction worker roots must have shown through (or perhaps just my eagerness to help!), because Behnan soon asked if I could help hang a few fire extinguishers on the walls to meet the local fire codes (see photos). Happy to oblige, I grabbed a drill and we had them up in no time while Dee documented our activity on digital film.

Finally, as darkness approached, we were the last volunteers to head for home. Knowing we had no way back to Capitol Hill, Ian offered to let us ride with him on his final garbage run! Grateful for any ride back to the Hill at that point we quickly accepted. In addition to the ride, Ian first took us on a fascinating tour of the long winding park as it followed the stream. As he showed us the parks renewal progress he related the history, stumbles and successes, of the project. His enthusiasm was fun to listen to. Actually, he reminded me of my friends back in Rancho Cucamonga who care so deeply for our city and have given of themselves to make things better for everyone there. Some work on historical buildings, others on horse trails, and still others on cultural events. They are community service patriots, just like Ian and his friends here in Washington. And although they are separated by three thousand miles of mountains, plains and rivers, the same red American blood flows strong in each of these national patriots.

Finally we arrived back on Capitol Hill and Ian dropped us off to get some rest and get ready for tomorrow’s Inaugural celebration. Dee and I were both exhausted. But we were proud to have a chance to contribute in our way to MLK Day and our National Day of Service for America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Seeing it with us…’

 

 

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Frankly, I was a bit frustrated today.

It was freezing, and I, like maybe 80,000 others, had to stand in line for hours to get into their Congressperson’s reception. I even missed a discussion over at the National Cathedral on Martin Luther King’s legacy.

But then I met Altadena resident Dolores Hickambottom and it reminded me of why we’re all here.

Hickambottom, 77, is well-known in Pasadena for her and her late husband’s work in the struggle for civil rights and desegregated schools in the area.

You’d think that as a local leader in that struggle, she would have been to D.C. before.

But seeing Barack Obama take the oath of the office in person was the moment she decided to be here for the first time.

So there she was with her daughter Ann on Monday at Rep. Adam Schiff’s reception, before the first man of her color becomes president, humbled by the moment, but carrying with her

Frankly, I was a bit frustrated today.

It was freezing, and I, like maybe 80,000 others, had to stand in line for hours to get into their Congressperson’s reception. I even missed a discussion over at the National Cathedral on Martin Luther King’s legacy.

But then I met Dolores Hickambottom and it reminded me of why we’re all here.

Hickambottom, 77, is well-known in Pasadena for her and her late husband’s work in the struggle for civil rights and desegregated schools in the area.

You’d think that as a local leader in that struggle, she would have been to D.C. before.

But seeing Barack Obama take the oath of the office in person was the moment she decided to be here for the first time.

So there she was with her daughter Ann on Monday at Rep. Adam Schiff’s reception, before the first man of her color becomes president, humbled by the moment, but carrying with her the pride and the hopes of people who sacrificed their lives for that moment.

Hickambottom, who herself was born into the heat of a segregated New Orleans, isn’t here just for herself.

She’s here for her late husband, L.B. — a 16-year Pasadena school board member and veteran of World War II and Korea. He came back from the war to buy a home, only to find he couldn’t buy in certain areas of the city because of his color; for L.B.’s sister, Verdia Arnold, who couldn’t find a job in the area, but who ultimately became an officer for the Tuskegee ; and for her uncle, Peter Oscar Dupree, who served in France during World War II, and died there.

“I wish these people were here,” she said. “I happen to be spiritual, so I believe that somehow they are here, and they are going to see this with us.”

There’s a lot of people in D.C. this weekend who believe the same thing, and they too are carrying with them hopes and dreams of many who could not be here.

A lot of what you see are African-American mothers and daughters, who are here to relish all of this not just for themselves.

It’s like Dolores Hichambottom said, “I am bearing witness for those who have gone before…”

With regard to Obama, she was on board from the start, she said. And her daughter Ann noted that that is not insignificant.

A lot of people from her generation were crazy about Obama — a similar zeal that Ann noticed in young people. Perhaps it was because both generations had the same sense of idealism that drive their interest in civil rights, she said.

“I just see that they’ve gone crazy together for the same person, and once that ball got rolling, you couldn’t stop that,” Ann said.

The ball will continue rolling tomorrow at noon when Dolores Hickambottom sees Obama sworn in.

She’ll start to remember…

“I guess I’m going to feel a mixture of pride and a little melancholy for the people won’t see it,” she said.

A decent view…

 

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I’ll be telling my grandkids about this.

I watched Bruce Springsteen sing, the vice president-elect speak and much of a gigantic musical performance for Barack Obama from the top of a porta-potty.

Yep. You got it — that was an increasingly viable option Sunday as I weaved through the estimated 300,000 people who gathered on the National Mall to see the Boss, Bono, Beyonce, Garth Brooks and many other A-Listers perform from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

You wouldn’t think watching such a thing live would be so good from a toilet.

But I’m here to tell you, it worked.

With nowhere to go and nothing to see (except for the potties) as I hit a wall of people, about 300 yards from the memorial’s steps I decided to climb atop one of the thousands of portable potties around that have been set up around the capital in preparation for the inauguration.

I was nervous at first. But with the help of a couple of guys, who pushed me up, I ended up with a perch above everyone, with an adequate view.

It was a great place to start watching this event.

And for a while it worked.

But pretty soon, I kind of started feeling like me and the other folks who’d decided to watch from the top of the potties were becoming a story ourselves.

It was an increasing point of interest among the thousands who were walking by.

“Is there any more room up there?” I kept getting asked.

And then came the National Anthem. An announcement went out over the loudspeaker: “Please remain standing….” for the National Anthem.

That had many in the crown looking our way with smiles. That’s right, please stand, the man said…

My absolute apologies for failing to stand — because of fear of falling right through the roof of the potty — during the anthem. I’m not proud of that.

But I assure you, the reverence was in the moment.

And for what it’s worth, others were too. In fact, for about an hour on Sunday, being perched atop those potties enhance the experienced.

The young woman who was sitting on the potty next to me was as proud as ever, as the events unfolded.

“I just know I’m excited to be sitting on this particular potty right now,” she said.

Finally, the mounted police patrols came around and ordered everybody off.

We all complied.

It was, after all the theme, of the show: “We are one.”

By the way, the show was incredible. Springsteen rocked. So did Garth Brooks and Beyonce. They all did.

The view in the picture is looking back from the Lincoln Memorial.

I’m atop the porta-potty focusing away from the stage.

Bono never fails to rouse a crowd. It was sincere, with energy I won’t soon forget it — and from where I saw a lot of it.

On the shoulders of history…

 

                                                                            

                                                   

 

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I met Terrence Roberts and Carlotta Walls LaNier on Saturday. They may not be household names for some, but in civil rights history, they are giants.

They are members of the Little Rock Nine and are in town to see the inauguration.

The Little Rock Nine were the group of black students who were blocked from entering Little Rock Central High School in 1957 — three years after desegregation — because of the color of their skin. It took federal troops to escort them into the then all-white school and to protect them. And even still, that did not protect them from racially charged abuse.

And yet, they are not angry or bitter people.

Roberts said the abuse was intense, but they absorbed it.

It’s wasted energy to be angry or bitter, he said. It was energy to spend on living, and living he has indeed done — long enough for sure to see Obama elected.

I’m so grateful to have met these people.

Just as they never thought they’d see an African-American become president, I never thought I’d get a chance to meet one person – let alone two — who were at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights in this country.

Forefront is perhaps the wrong word.

Just as Obama’s election stems from what the Little Rock Nine endured, and the progress it ultimately created, people like LaNier and Roberts are humble about where their own strength came from.

“We are standing on others’ shoulders,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans and Democrats can get along blissfully

 

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She’s leans left, he leans right and somehow they meet in the middle.

Yes, today I learned that Republicans and Democrats can live in marital bliss.

I met Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Donald Kurth and his wife Dee Matreyek outside the National Cathedral on Friday night.

They were in a bi-partisan mood, as we chatted at a toasty nearby restaurant.

But it was nice little contrast in political philosophies.

Watching them together wasn’t exactly like watching conservative political strategist Mary Matalin and her left-leaning husband and political “enemy” James Carville go at each other on T.V., but you could tell they had their political differences, which they were a little tongue-and-cheek about.

Both agreed that Obama was a good thing for the country, even though Kurth helped lead John McCain’s health care coalition in California and she was among the several people arrested in a war protest in Hollywood when the U.S. initially occupied Iraq.

“Obama manifests the hopes and dreams of the future,” Kurth said. “We all want the best for our country.”

But when I asked about what they’ll be thinking when they see President Bush depart from the Capitol, the tones were more contrasting.

“Nothing you can write down,” Matreyek said.

“Dee!” the mayor jokingly chided, just before she added that the self-reflection she has seen Bush display over the last couple of weeks was something she wished he would have shown his whole presidency.

Mayor Kurth was a little more forgiving.

“You know, it’s a tough job,” he said. “We elect human beings for that job. I mean, it’s not easy being a mayor. I’m sure it’s much tougher to be president of the United States.”

And yet, even with political differences, coming to the inauguration was a chance for the couple to see D.C. together — not on official mayoral business, they said.

That doesn’t mean the mayor won’t be chatting it up with local legislators like Reps. Gary Miller and David Dreier.

Kurth has his work cut out for him, hoping to convince legislators to bring home the bacon for his city and the Inland Empire as Obama seeks infrastructure projects that could help revive the region’s sagging economy.

But politics aside, with all the contention between Republicans and Democrats over the last eight years, it was good to know first hand that there was at least one couple that can meet on bi-partisan ground.

With that, I thanked the mayor and his wife and I was off into the cold air again, looking for a cab, a ball and an interview with Obama.

See ya next time from the freezer that is D.C. But hey, I’m not complaining…