- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Betty Brown Casey, a philanthropist who lives in Potomac, Md., made the District a wondrously generous $100 million offer. Half the money would be used for an official mayoral mansion in the most exclusive residential neighborhood in the city, and the other half would be used for a save-the-trees program. The gift sounds hard to refuse. But is it?

The estate, located at 1801 Foxhall Road NW, has an interesting history. First built in 1936 and last owned by an oil-rich sheik, it has a neo-Georgian mansion whose tenants once included Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress. The Casey Mansion Foundation Inc., created and named for Mrs. Casey's late developer husband, Eugene, bought the property in January for about $16.5 million. Mrs. Casey, who is 72, wants things to move quickly, and hopes the necessary renovations can be completed as early as 2002. Her desire to give something back to her hometown, something so valuable and extraordinary, is altogether commendable. She envisions an official residence for the mayor that is at once "beautiful," "large" and "well-planned," with "comfortable" living quarters, "official" entertainment areas and "guest" areas.

Of course, that is precisely what editors of this page have been advocating for several years now, and one hopes that is precisely what the Mayor's Official Residence Commission, which the D.C. Council established last year, is searching for in a site. Still, other considerations are important as well, and need to be taken into account.

While the Foxhall Road estate has style and elegance, the vast majority of residents of the nation's capital don't expect their mayor to live in digs that stand in such stark contrast to much of the city he represents. Keeping the mayor in close touch with his constituents has to be a consideration. And what's wrong with naming this future house something simple, like the Mayor's House? Do officials really have to bow to Mrs. Casey's request and dub it the Casey Mansion?

Mayor Williams, for his part, said he is "touched" by the Casey offer. However, the gift has done more than raise a few eyebrows on the D.C. Council and that means the mayor should convey his obligatory thanks and step aside so the serious deliberations can begin by the committee. Also, he and the real decision-makers should keep in mind these telling words from Council Chairman Linda Cropp: "I think when something is free you don't have much a say." In other words, are there any strings attached?

To be sure, Mrs. Casey's offer sounds like a great gift, but D.C. taxpayers deserve written guarantees, poured over by tough legal minds, that the gift does far more than "sound" great and that the D.C. government will indeed hold all the strings attached to such a "gift." Besides, they might remember that the District is home to many mansions that merit consideration, including several on Capitol Hill and in other neighborhoods.

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