- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

Our congressional leaders had some nerve. With a war underway, reams of work afoot and tourism down all around, many Republicans were running away like sissies in a beer garden full of rough-and-tumble blue-collar types. Meanwhile, Democrats who didn't leave town were stumbling over one another, trying to get to the TV cameras to give us their two-cents worth on CNN and other cable news outlets.

We, meanwhile, have been wallowing in fear, sitting around flipping the channels and news pages from one story to another, searching for up-to-date happenings from Washington and sighing over the safe, not-safe dilemma.

Isn't it time to end that boring us-them-media menage-a-trois? The winter blahs and holiday obligations will be here before we know it. Now is the time to "touch, feel and see" for ourselves, as a tourism official said the other day, that our "nation's capital and the best symbols of our democracy and patriotism are alive and well in Washington."

Indeed, South Dakotans shouldn't take Tom Daschle's word for it that things are OK, and folks from Missouri don't need Dick Gephardt to show them. To tell you the truth, my guess is that Tom could no more direct you to Washington's South Dakota Avenue than Dick could Missouri Avenue. Nor, for that matter, do I think Trent Lott could get in a car and drive directly from his offices on Capitol Hill to Mississippi Avenue which is precisely my point.

So don't take their word, come see for yourself. Take a tour of the city, visit the local monuments, favorite watering holes and neighborhood eateries. You'll find that this city, this home to the seat of the federal government, is a place of magnificent intentions far beyond its national exclamation points.

In center city, for example, you can pop into one of my favorites, the Florida Avenue Grill, whose smothered chops are the second-best this side of the Mason-Dixon Line (my mother's are No. 1) and whose short-order breakfast man makes some of the fluffiest pancakes in town and while you wait you should check out the walls of autographed photos of notables from the political and entertainment worlds.

Across town you'll find Cedar Hill, the home where abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass pondered not only post-Reconstruction America but his own destiny as well. These days, his estate is maintained by the National Park Service. But as a youth growing up in Anacostia, I used to sled on that hallowed ground, oblivious to its weighty significance.

"This city, has some of the finest educational opportunities in the country," Bill Hanbury, president and CEO of the Washington Convention & Tourism Corp., told editors of this newspaper the other day. And Mr. Hanbury isn't talking about schools. He's talking about the foundations, media outlets and organizations, such as the National Geographic Society and, yes, even the National Postal Museum.

Remember, the reason we're having this conversation about tourism is because, although Washington was not directly hit by an airplane on Sept. 11, its tourism industry is bearing the brunt of the attacks that occurred that day. And, believe it when I say that it nonetheless took a big hit a billion-plus hit.

Now, I don't want to depress you. So I won't cite alarming statistics to prove that air flights, hotel occupancy, nightlife, restaurants, and taxi and bus-chartering are all depressed. I will, though, offer you this: D.C. tourism is a $10 billion annual industry.

Now, having said that I will tell you something else, too. This is a personal pitch and their is no shame in this particular game. After all, New York, home to the city that never sleeps, has revived its TV spot, "I Love New York" as part of the state's $40 million ad campaign. The new version, which stars such celebs as Nathan Lane and Derek Jeter, beckons visitors to return to New York.

Washington's pitch, "Be Inspired," is not as inspiring as it could be and that's where you come in. I think you can come up with something more exciting, something more along the lines of "Celebrate & Discover," a slogan that used to beckon on D.C. license plates, that sends an entirely different message. And while Michael Jordan is being considered as the messenger, I'm not so certain he'll be too convincing considering the fact that he and his family don't live here and the timing for the campaign (late winter, early spring) is post-basketball season.

So, while you're thinking about the message, I also want you to think about the perfect messenger. The Bush family George and Laura, and twin daughters Barbara and Jenna is on the top of our list, but there are endless possibilities to send to Mr. Hanbury (www.washington.org).

Of course, I know this might seem trite and boring to some of you. Believe me, I understand. Some of you prefer to hug your patriotism and your capital from a distance. Fine. No problem. Get your fix from Martin Sheen and "West Wing." Just keep sending us your tax dollars and have no say. That's your business.

Helping this city, though, isn't just about money. It's about our message to the terrorists who have us living in fear afraid to fly and afraid to drive. We can't survive like that. And, as my Aunt Charlotte told me the other night, "Living in fear isn't living."

So, it's still up to me and you, frankly, to turn that around. And, so far as I can tell, the only way to make sure America not only survives the terrorist attacks but thrives despite them, is to pray, hug our families, hug our flag and hug our capital.

As always, thanks for your patriotism and your support.

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