© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Residents, Businesses And Charities Urge The Trumps To Get To Know D.C.


Now, we don't know how much time President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will actually spend here in D.C. But when they're here, a whole lot of organizations are going to ask for their time, from the Kennedy Center to the American Red Cross. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this look at how social and cultural Washington is waiting for a new first family.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: At a black tie event earlier this week, Mary Kane and Tim Quigley were hoping their guest of honor would show up.

TIM QUIGLEY: And we do have good Slovenian wine to toast her with.

MARY KANE: (Laughter) And vodka.

BLAIR: Melania Trump is, of course, from Slovenia. So when Donald Trump won the election, Mary Kane immediately asked the Slovenian embassy if they'd like to co-host the ball, a fundraiser for Sister Cities International, a citizen diplomacy network. Slovenian Ambassador Bozo Cerar said sure, he'd also like to get her attention.

Will she be here tonight?

BOZO CERAR: I believe she's out of town, at least that is what I was told about.

BLAIR: Melania didn't make it. But when the Trumps do spend time in Washington, many of the city's cultural organizations kind of need them to be involved. Paul Tetreault is director of historic Ford's Theatre.

PAUL TETREAULT: It's a new beginning for us here. And I think we are excited, we're a little anxious because trying to figure out, OK, how do we get to this administration, who are our connections and how do we know them?

BLAIR: Ford's Theatre holds an annual fundraising gala every year, a whole weekend of events including a reception at the White House. One year President and Michelle Obama were unable to participate so the gala was canceled.

TETREAULT: Quite candidly, their role in that weekend is so central that it really happens with their participation, and without their participation it sort of doesn't - it falls apart.

BLAIR: Even a casual visit to a local restaurant can make a big difference. When then-President-elect Obama made a visit to Ben's Chili Bowl, it was all over the news. Regular customer Baron Saunders hopes President Trump will visit all of Washington.

BARON SAUNDERS: If he wants to get to know Washington, go to the city. You've got to get to where, as we call, the hood. No, not just the upper class, but you got to get to know the middle class, the lower class and all classes. Because to hear the heart, you have to go where they live.

BLAIR: And here's where there's some anxiety, Washington voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. When the Obamas showed up at the restaurant and performance space Busboys and Poets, owner Andy Shallal says there were cheers and tears. He doesn't know what will happen if President Trump comes.

ANDY SHALLAL: I don't see the same kind of reception would take place if he was to set foot in here. I don't know if people will start booing, but I don't think they'll give him a standing ovation. I think there's been so much vitriol that has come out in this election that it's going to be very hard to just move on.

BLAIR: But Lea Berman believes it's important to try. She was a White House social secretary under President George W. Bush.

LEA BERMAN: I think it's useful and very important for presidents to reach out to the Washington community, and those who do it are very successful at it.

BLAIR: Berman is co-writing a book with one of the Obama's former social secretaries called "Treat People Well." She says a wise leader can gain advantage by being part of social Washington.

BERMAN: For example, when the Reagans, who were kind of exceptional in terms of getting to know people in Washington, seeking out people who are not necessarily their supporters and befriending them and basically co-opting them, were able to have much more influence within the city than presidents who don't bother.

BLAIR: Berman says that kind of interaction is rare these days, even though there are neighborhoods where it could happen.


BLAIR: In Northwest Washington, a couple of moving trucks are parked in front of the six-bedroom house Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner recently bought. It's on a tree-lined section of D.C. with historic mansions and embassies. It's not exactly the kind of community where people bring over fresh baked cookies to welcome new neighbors. But David Bender, head of the local neighborhood commission, says the Trump-Kushners will be treated kindly.

DAVID BENDER: Once they're here, they're kind of treated like everyone else. We don't talk about them. We basically let them live their own lives, and they can interact in the community as much as they want or they choose.

BLAIR: In a twist, the Obama family is renting a house just around the corner. They're staying in the city at least until their daughter Sasha graduates from high school. Just like political Washington, social Washington is waiting to see what kind of tone president and first lady Trump will set. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.


Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.