Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Social Sea Change

WL discusses the social scene with three plugged-in journalists.

With the swearing in of new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat resurgence Washington became a different town and the parties are likely to change as well. In our annual Zeitgeist, Washington Life sat down at the Mandarin Oriental's Café Mozu with Kevin Chaffee, society editor of The Washington Times; Patrick Gavin, columnist for The Examiner and editor of FishbowlDC; and Washingtonpost.com reporter Mary Ann Akers to discuss the changing social landscape and the role of the media covering it.

"THERE ARE AN AWFUL LOT OF B-LIST STARS and starlets who get told by their agent and their publicist that their last movie wasn't so great and all of sudden there's a new SPOKESPERSON FOR RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME." Cafe mozu was the perfect backdrop for the wl zeitgeist - KEVIN CHAFFEE

WL: How many nights do you go out?
KEVIN CHAFFEE: People say to me: "You must go out every night." But actually, I don't. There are some months when you do go out a lot, but there are other times of the year, in summer for example, when things are dead. You either have nothing to go to or you have five things in one night. The essential thing is that everybody is competing for the same 800 or 1,000 people in Washington who get 95 percent of all the invitations. They're all over-invited and a lot of them don't even want to go out.

WL: What's your favorite event to go to?
MARY ANN AKERS: Casual events at which Hill staffers and even members of Congress are more relaxed, maybe knocking a few back and, therefore just a little looser than they are at work.
KC: I rarely see Hill people, except for a few old school dining-out senators like Ted Stevens and Pat Leahy. House members being seen off the Hill are almost unheard of, except for Ed Markey and the lamented Mark Foley.
MA: The White House Correspondents Association Dinner is a really good time because there are always some really fun dynamics going on.

WL: Do you still think it's the big ticket?
MA: I do and I'm not just talking about the after party. Everyone wants to go before, during and after, and there's a lot of buzz.
PATRICK GAVIN: The White House Correspondents has the buzz. The energy in the air is so clear. One of the reasons is that it is one of the few big parties that is pretty democratic. As long as you dress up, you can get into the Hilton for the preparties. You can't get into the Bloomberg after party, but you can probably get into Reuters or whatever second tier party there is. Everybody is super excited. You get all these 20-year-old kids who probably have never seen Tim Russert in their lives and it's adorable.
KC: What's not adorable is the fact that they start drinking at 6 o'clock then drink all through the dinner. Then they go to their after parties and post after parties and by that point they are blotto.
MA: One of my favorite events of the whole year was going to Patrick Leahy's fundraiser with The Grateful Dead. He was close with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. It's a blast. What's really fun about it is all of these very button-downed Washington politicos in the room with true Deadheads who have crashed. It's at the Ritz-Carlton: the Dead playing at the Ritz!

WL: Do senators bring out their dancing teddy bear shirts?
MA: Absolutely. Pat Leahy wears his and his wife wears hers.
PG: It always interesting when you bring in an outside element - Hollywood, music, sports.
KC: Everyone in Washington is so sick of seeing each other all the time. If somebody fabulous from outside shows up - foreign heads of state , supermodels, fashion designers - people love it.

WL: Are more celebrities coming to Washington?
PG: Washington [types] shrivel like raisins because of George Clooney's star power.
KC: Hollywood stars often feel quite humble to be here because they think what we do is so serious and important.
MA: Movie stars are following in the model of Bono or Angelina Jolie. Celebrities have become lobbyists. They're having an impact because the staffers and even the members really find it cool. They get meetings that a lot of regular lobbyists might not get. Isaac Hayes came to Capitol Hill to lobby for the recording industry. Jewel came for a bill to end so-called drive-through mastectomies. Will it make a difference in the end? Who knows.
KC: I don't want to take anything away from some of these stars who have their causes, and if you look at someone like Bono, or Elizabeth Taylor with AIDS, or Michael J. Fox with Parkinson's, they do make a difference. But there are an awful lot of B-list stars and starlets who get told by their agent and their publicist that their last movie wasn't so great and they'd better get me some headlines, and all of sudden there's a new spokesperson for Restless Leg Syndrome or whatever. I find a lot of it to be very shallow.
PG: You can also look at it both ways - that it's not necessarily always a career benefit. Bono has managed to navigate really well because he makes sure he does both sides. He doesn't play the partisan [game]. Michael J. Fox campaigned for a particular candidate and certainly burned some bridges.

WL: It's comical when you get a press release with a "big" name and then you Google them and find out they were only the police officer in Miss Congeniality 2.
PG: What's even more funny is that it works.

WL: What faces do you see out regularly? Who are the faces that still turn your head?
KC: Anybody in the Cabinet on up. Any time you get Rove, Cheney...
PG: It would probably be the order of succession to the presidency: Bush, Cheney, Pelosi ... .
MA: One person who turns heads everywhere is Barack Obama. He's a huge rock star. Also Rahm Emanuel. He won the House back for the Democrats.
PG: He's got a great aura. And that voice!
KC: I have to say I think our new mayor, Adrian Fenty, is going to be huge.

WL: Who do you think gets the most invitations?
PG: There are some chiefs of staff who get invited to everything.
KC: Jack Valenti still turns heads. He's very much Washington, but also very much Hollywood.
PG: Wolf Blitzer goes out too much but he turns heads.
MA: George Stephanopoulos certainly does, but I don't see him out a lot.
PG: Katie Couric, but the era of the mega anchors is gone - none of the current anchors have giant status. They haven't earned it yet. When Len Downie goes out, which is probably twice a year, it's a big deal. He's notoriously anti-social.
MA: If Keith Olbermann showed up at a party, heads would turn like crazy because Democrats have fallen in love with him. They think he's fabulous.
KC: Christopher Hitchens is a good, intelligent, funny and provocative guy. John and Irene Danilovich are well liked.
MA: One of the big power couples is Tony and Heather Podesta. He ran Pennsylvania for the Democratic Party very successfully. She's held many fundraisers for Democratic candidates who won their races.

WL: How will the new rules limiting entertainment of public officials affect the scene?
MA: I won't be meeting my sources out at the Capitol Grille any more. I'll be meeting them at Stetson's.

WL: Who do you think will lose their luster? Do you think we'll see Rumsfeld out?
MA: Rummy is already out. He lost his luster a long time ago.


Angelina Jolie at the Kuwait Embassy George Clooney heats up the White House Correspondents Association Dinner
Angelina Jolie at the Kuwait Embassy George Clooney heats up the White House Correspondents Association Dinner


Will Pelosi help changethe social scene? MARY ANN AKERS
Will Nancy Pelosi help change the social scene? Mary Ann Akers


Kevin Chaffee Patrick Gavin


Cafe mozu was the perfect backdrop for the wl zeitgeist
Cafe mozu was the perfect backdrop for the wl zeitgeist


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