- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

Pass the ketchup

Former President Bill Clinton didn't let a police "takedown" of a dangerous suspected hit man disturb his meal at an Outback Steakhouse in Prince George's County, Inside the Beltway has learned.

Even more frightening, a Prince George's County Police officer informs this column, Secret Service bodyguards escorting the former president into the restaurant apparently never spotted a van in the parking lot loaded with heavily armed officers.

Mr. Clinton's motorcade wheeled into the newly opened Outback in Largo early in the evening of Nov. 1, after the former president spent the afternoon preaching in the pulpit of Jericho City of Praise Church in Landover on behalf of Democratic Maryland gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

"It was about 5:30 in the evening when he arrived," confirms Ernest Lawrence, the Outback waiter who personally served Mr. Clinton several appetizers off the menu.

Here's what happened next, according to the police officer:

"We were setting up a 'meet' at the restaurant when Bill Clinton and his security detail suddenly come in and he starts having dinner. One of our investigators immediately went in to tell them: 'First off, the Secret Service didn't notice a van full of police officers, armed to the hilt, getting ready to do a bust. Secondly, we have an operation going down and [Mr. Clinton] may want to get out of here, because it may not be the best situation to have him in.'

"From what I understand," the officer continues, "Bill Clinton refused to leave. He wanted to stick around and see the action."

Fortunately for the cops, Mr. Clinton got his fill of three appetizers a Bloomin' Onion, the Aussie cheese fries and the Kookaburra Wings. After autographing the restaurant's surfboard, he sped off into the night with his entourage in tow.

A short time later, "the shooter in a criminal murder investigation did show up and an arrest was made," says the officer.

The "hit man" suspect is identified as Hayes Capers Jr., 31, of Oxon Hill, who is being held without bond on first-degree murder charges in the killing last September of Metropolitan Police Lt. Garret Allen Baxter.

Deleting dictators

House Democrats will select their new leadership today, but "just changing things at the top will not be enough."

"Changing the top, without changing the system, will lead to no real systematic or substantive change," warns Rep. William O. Lipinski, Illinois Democrat and a former Chicago City Council member.

The congressman, just re-elected to an 11th term, readily acknowledges that "after four straight failures in our efforts to retake the majority [a new leadership] is not only proper, but needed." However, he says the party "struggles" over message, and more members who are responsible for governing should get the tools they need to govern.

To that end, Mr. Lipinski says he will offer an amendment to change Democratic caucus policy regarding control of subcommittee staff appointments.

"The current system of top-down control of all staff appointments in reality, by the ranking member of the full committee, undercuts and undermines the authority of ranking members of each subcommittee," he said, which curtails "creative debate on policy that is desperately needed.

"I know someone will see this as an attack on the seniority system," he concludes, but it is "more democratic than the current system, and we are the Democratic Party."

Mr. Lipinski's communications director, Jason Tai, said yesterday the Democratic caucus probably won't consider any rule changes until January.

Democrats today will decide whether Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee or Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio will become the House Democratic leader, replacing Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Sophie cannon

Staff at the United Nations made a point when Kofi Annan first took over as U.N. secretary-general in January 1997 of telling the press corps how to pronounce his name: "It's 'Kofi' as in 'Sophie,' 'Annan' rhymes with 'cannon,'" they explained patiently.

Almost six years later, however, the lesson appears not to have taken. At this week's gala dinner honoring Mr. Annan at the National Building Museum in Washington, U.N. staffers winced as one speaker after another mispronounced the secretary-general's last name.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, U.N. benefactor and media-mogul Ted Turner, and other hosts of the dinner sponsored by the United Nations Association-USA, all took turns heaping praise on the Ghanaian secretary-general. And all pronounced "Annan" to sound like the Jordanian capital "Amman" or "banana" without the final "a."

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