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Contest: How Should Obamas Connect With D.C.?

In the holiday spirit, how about a contest? The president-elect and his wife said on television last week that they plan to be active in Washington--of course, it would be hard to be less a part of the city's life than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been. But just how can a president in this era of hypercautious security really engage with the city?

Come ahead with your suggestions about concrete ways in which the Obamas could make themselves at home in--or have an impact on--the Washington area. The best--smartest, funniest, most effective--of your ideas will win prizes from the Vast Vat of Values, so add your proposals on the comment board below and tune back in next week when I'll choose the winners. If your entry is selected, please email me with your name and address and I'll send out your prize.

To get you started, here are a few of the ideas some readers came up with (along with my responses) when I posed this question on my Potomac Confidential chat show here on the big web site last Thursday:

Rockville, Md.: How about a monthly or quarterly sit-down dinner in the White House for community District leaders and people of note? Let a few present ideas and have a discussion of what is of interest to the group. Then keep a working online group talking.

Marc Fisher: Ok, but presidents often come into office claiming that they're going to engage on District-centric issues, and then that just falls away. Remember Clinton's visit to Georgia Avenue in his first days in office? Nothing whatsoever came of that.

Washington, D.C.: What can Obama do for the city? How about re-opening Pennsylvania Avenue?! Or is that battle lost forever?

Marc Fisher: Forever's a fairly long time, but yes, that battle is lost. Will someone someday want to build a tunnel to connect the two pieces of Pennsylvania Avenue? Perhaps, but that would have to be in a time after terrorism, and it's hard to see that time from where we sit today.

Washington, D.C.: The new prez becoming part of D.C.: We know he plays basketball, so I think it would be great if the president used his powers of persuasion to institute a pre-season tournament among the area's colleges and universities -- AU, GW, G'town, Catholic, Howard, Gallaudet and, yes, George Mason and Maryland could all participate. Would some schools be overmatched? Yes. But the community building effect could be extraordinary -- especially with the president presiding over the first tipoff.

Marc Fisher: And given Obama's decision this week to use his bully pulpit on behalf of a national championship in college football, it's reasonable to think he might want to get involved in hoops, too. If he could overcome the longstanding inability of Maryland and Georgetown to get together to play one another, that would be a good start. Excellent idea...

Embracing D.C.: My suggestion for the President-elect would be to find some way of allowing east-west traffic through the Fortress White House zone, either on Pennsylvania Ave to the north or on E Street to the south. Various proposals have been made, but always rejected by the security-uber-alles forces. Pick a plan and tell your folks to implement it -- no excuses. It would go a long way toward reconnecting downtown with Foggy Bottom and reducing congestion, show that he actually cares about things outside the White House gate, and that he is calling the shots rather than the Secret Service that the President allegedly controls.

Marc Fisher: Sadly, I wouldn't expect this president to be the one who takes the lead in loosening security around the White House. It might not be too much to hope that he will tap the brakes on some of the homeland security hysteria, or perhaps take an interest in the horrific impression that our security mania makes on the Mall and at our national monuments. But the security apparatchiks are going to have Obama himself in a serious lockdown and the White House area is likely to stay just as difficult for commuters as it has been.

Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: The Obama daughters should attend a National Symphony Orchestra kids concert or two. Get 'em knowledged up about classical music.

Next time Chuck Brown plays Strathmore, Barack and Michelle should go to that. Besides the fact that Barack's favorite music is clearly compatible with the go-go swing, at the last show Chuck did out in North Bethesda, it was clear that Obama would have won an election in there 99.9 percent to .1 percent, with a .1 percent margin of error. Also, Huggy Lowdown called Chuck "the John McCain of go-go."

I call for Strathmore because it's such a classy joint (they could get a box!) and because security concerns should be fewer at Strathmore than if the Obamas just went to Zanzibar or whatever. Though I guess they could do that too.

Marc Fisher: It would be wonderful to see the oft-empty presidential box at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall get some use. Previous presidents, including W.'s father, got around town quite a bit and gave a real boost to cultural and arts groups, as well as local restaurants and other shops. This president has been almost alone in his lack of presence around town.

I wouldn't expect to see the Obamas out clubbing, but there's no reason they couldn't be regulars on the restaurant scene and certainly at local theaters, concert halls and sports events.

Alexandria, Va.: Instead of White House dinners for "people of note," Obama could continue an idea he used during the campaign. A couple of times, he held dinners with half a dozen or so supporters who made contributions during a specific interval. He could do the same without the contribution twist. Dinners could, perhaps, be organized around certain topics -- health care, education, or whatever -- but mainly the idea would be for the president to keep in touch with (at least a few of) the people.

Marc Fisher: One of the mandates Obama could fairly claim is the idea that voters didn't want their president to embrace a dumbed-down, anti-intellectual concept of the office. So it would make sense for him to restore the notion of the presidency as a sponsor of the arts and as an instigator of new ideas--Kennedy famously did that by hosting concerts and by inviting poets, philosophers and the like to the White House. That's a grand bipartisan tradition that I'd love to see Obama restore.

By Marc Fisher |  November 25, 2008; 7:41 AM ET
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1) Because he's such a basketball fan, it'd be great if Obama would show up at the City Title games, and perhaps participate in handing out the trophy to the winning teams.

2) Take the kids to Glen Echo (good symbolism here, too).


Posted by: staxowax | November 25, 2008 9:36 AM

1. Lend support to initiatives for the homeless, many of whom are "neighbors" to the White House in the various parks nearby.

2. Hold several rally-type events with government employees at the Verizon Center (perhaps as a reward for good work?), to reinvigorate morale.

3. Grab a bite to eat at local restaurants with the regular folk who just happen to be there.

4. Take the kids to the National Zoo, the museums, the monuments, etc. just like every other family that comes to DC.

Posted by: kmcnyasha | November 25, 2008 9:52 AM

Have the family and the secret service detail come to the Tastee(in SILVER SPRING-not Bethesda)Diner for sunday breakfast. I don't know if Parkway is anything like Manny's in Chicago but PE Obama might want to try their corned beef.

I understand that Bush rarely went to cultural events. The president has boxes at a number of places so he and Michele and when appropriate, their daughters should take advantage of the theatre, music and dance scene. I think the girls take ballet lessons so they would have lots of opportunities to see the companies that perform here.

Posted by: silverspring25 | November 25, 2008 9:59 AM

How about standing in solidarity with their new neighbors and highlighting the absurdity of our lack of voting representation in Congress by registering to vote in DC?

Posted by: hfrench | November 25, 2008 10:55 AM

What about at least opening Pennsylvania Avenue to limited, authorized trafic (such as Metrobuses). Even a limited step like that would help bring Pennsylvania Avenue back into the urban core.

Posted by: qwertyuiop2 | November 25, 2008 10:57 AM

The "show up at local restaurants" idea is nice in theory, but not so much in practice. By the time the Secret Service swept the place and secured all entrances and exits, the other customers' dining experience would be pretty much ruined. Sure, they should go out occasionally, and some restaurants will be better prepared for it than others, but I for one would not want to be sitting in a casual restaurant or diner when the whole security apparatus descended. (Nor do I see that as an argument to loosen up security for such events -- I'm all in favor of keeping such precautions. I just don't want to be present for them.)

Posted by: Janine1 | November 25, 2008 11:46 AM

how about a cameo role in one of the Shakespeare in the Park productions? or leading the Caribbean parade down Georgia Avenue all decked out in carnival attire?

Posted by: eomcmars | November 25, 2008 12:15 PM

Two things, give DC full voting rights in congress, and FIX THE SCHOOL SYSTEM.

Posted by: ptown31 | November 25, 2008 12:21 PM

President-Elect Obama can best engage with the city on two fronts:

1) Internally by supporting/working with Fenty, Rhee and Lanier to better the schools and reduce crime, thus in turn spurring more economic development and jobs. Basically, head DC down the path of being a model city--which is what our nation's capital should be.

2) Externally by speaking out in favor of DC voting rights; re-opening the City Museum and similar acts to put DC's unique cultural history on the map from Duke Ellington to Marvin Gaye, etc. Maybe he could show up at a couple DC street fests, even if briefly such as "Adams Morgan Day" or "Taste of DC" etc. We need a larger voice that will let the American people know that people of all kinds live here, not just politicians and lawyers.

Posted by: djwpost | November 25, 2008 12:27 PM

Their daughters play soccer. It would be great to see part of the mall transformed to soccer fields and the many regional kids playing league games on the mall! of course they would actually have to maintain the grass on the mall. Nevertheless, my kids play soccer and I am not the biggest soccer fan other than my kids, but sense of community and family of these youth sports would be great to see on the Mall.

Posted by: oknow1 | November 25, 2008 12:54 PM

1. The best, and easiest thing Obama can do, is develop a good working relationship with Norton, the shadow Senator (I'm not sure who won the last election), and Fenty. If this can translate into voting rights for DC, all the better.

2. Being President is a difficult and time consuming job. It doesn't allow for much time to get out and visit the city. But, if they can open the White House back up to the tours they used to do, perhaps he would be able to get down and meet with people coming through. It's a perk for everyone.

3. Maybe an organized "DC Day" where residents can get together with elected officials, including Obama, and have informal discussions about local issues.

Posted by: akchild | November 25, 2008 1:11 PM

They could move back to IL.

Posted by: islandhopper24 | November 25, 2008 1:43 PM

I bet Obama would look great dressed in drag for the annual Halloween High Heel Parade near Dupont Circle.

Posted by: eomcmars | November 25, 2008 1:45 PM

#1 - Work with Norton to get DC voting rights in Congress

#2 - Federal funds for renovating the national mall

Posted by: dctarheel1 | November 25, 2008 3:22 PM

Move the Redskins back into the District! The RFK Stadium site is Federally owned land leased to the City.

Posted by: tsbrul1 | November 25, 2008 4:36 PM

First and foremost: replace those "Taxation Without Representation" plates on the limo. Clinton used them, but W. had them removed instantly.

Posted by: BPookah | November 25, 2008 4:46 PM

1-Full congressional voting rights for the citizens of DC.
2-President-elect loves Shakespeare's tragedies...Please attend our incredible Shakespeare Theatre.
3-Ride METRO at least every quarter-six months.
4-Open up Pennsylvania Avenue.
5-Come on over in October and kick off the High Heel Race.
6-Get to the zoo as often as you can with the girls and the Mrs.
7-Get briefed monthly on how Fenty and Rhee are doing on the DC schools.
8-Let DC appoint its own judges.
9-Make it to as many of our churches as you can. No need to choose just one to attend.
10-Spend some summer time over in Rehoboth Beach DE, the nation's summer capital.
11-Root for the Caps, the Nats, the Wizards. Wait to root for the football team until they 1-drop its name and 2- move to DC!

Posted by: johnklenert | November 25, 2008 5:36 PM

I think that as a long time Washingtonian I am very close to the political scence but if Obama gives DC senators or maybe even statehood, then as a city we will really connect with him. He would even impact our liscence plates if he did this, how could they read taxtation without representation if we had senators. Other than that if Obama could use is mandate to fix our schools and create positive enviorments for students in after school programs.

Posted by: mbuckman | November 25, 2008 6:02 PM

Send the kids to public school and hold the DC teachers accountable. Imagine if the rest of the kids in DC received an education that was the same quality that the Obama kids received.

Posted by: reston75 | November 25, 2008 6:47 PM

Do NOT himself, Biden or their guests tie up traffic at rush hour with blocked-off streets waiting for their too-long siren-screaming motorcades: the insult to tired workers waiting for buses home (or those watching their taxi meters click and click)is painful.

Posted by: esthermiriam | November 26, 2008 11:55 AM

Sit down with Weingarten, Shroder and Barry and offer to become part of the next Post Hunt (May 17, next year[yay!]). He could be at the very end of the End Game so he would only have to hang around for about 20-30 minutes. Or he could record the phone message that (inevitably) will be part of the End Game. Obama has a natural, well-developed sense of humor and likes to laugh - I think he might actually dig this idea.

Posted by: benhere | November 28, 2008 11:40 PM

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