- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

Maryland lawmakers celebrated Presidents Day last Monday with the state’s acquisition of a handwritten personal copy of a speech by George Washington, in which he announced his resignation from the Continental Army. The address is viewed as a landmark in American history for establishing military subservience to civilian authority.

Lawmakers and Gov. Martin O’Malley gathered in the Rotunda of the State House, just outside the old Senate chamber, where the country’s first commander in chief-to-be gave his resignation speech on Dec. 23, 1783.

The room is kept as it looked in the 1780s and includes a mannequin dressed as Washington. The document, which is about 350 words, will be on display in the State House.

“Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action — and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life,” Washington wrote.

Edward Papenfuse, the state archivist who worked on acquiring the speech, described it as “that priceless link on paper to the mind of the man who believed that civilian government and leadership was the only answer to the future of the republic.”

The document is interesting because it includes scratched-out words from revision. For example, Washington initially wrote that he intended to “take my ultimate leave of all the employments of public life,” but the word “ultimate” is crossed out. It is a noteworthy change, considering he became the country’s first president about five years later in 1789.

“It is clear from what Washington crossed out that he had two goals in mind in making this speech, one of the most important of his whole career: reinforcing the supremacy of the civil authority and leaving the door open for his being called back to civilian service,” Mr. Papenfuse said.

It took state officials about two years to acquire the speech from the family that has owned it all these years. The document is worth an estimated $1.5 million, Mr. Papenfuse said. The state paid $600,000. Two Baltimore philanthropists — Willard Hackerman and Henry A. Rosenberg — donated $200,000 each. The owners, who have asked to remain anonymous, donated the rest of the value.

There are two official copies of the speech. One is in the National Archives; the other is in the Library of Congress. The one acquired by Maryland is Washington’s personal copy, which he wrote while in Annapolis.

Other than the ratification of the Treaty of Paris and the formal end of the Revolutionary War, Washington’s resignation from the army is perhaps the most important historical event to occur in the Annapolis building, the nation’s oldest state Capitol in continuous legislative use.

• What’s in a name?

The D.C. public school system has been criticized for everything from crumbling schools to slow enactment of much-needed reforms.

But one sign of the system’s struggles has to do with a specific educational subject: spelling.

Anacostia Senior High School Principal Ronald L. Duplessis Sr. — who appeared at his school last week with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to announce a safety initiative that will in part focus on Anacostia High students — admittedly has a challenging name to spell.

But while the principal’s name is typed correctly on his business card, the public schools’ Web site lists the moniker as “Duplessie.”

“I have no idea, I gave them the correct name,” Mr. Duplessis said when asked about the switch in the last letter of his last name online. “I’ve been called everything except a child of God.”

Public schools spokesman John C. White said it was the first time he had heard of the misspelling, but that Mr. Duplessis’ name also was listed wrong in a school directory.

“He’s never said anything to me since I’ve been here,” Mr. White said.

Mr. White promised to have the problem fixed immediately.

The principal also said he has had no problem cashing his paychecks despite the discrepancy.

• Praised and scorned

Condescending. Rude. A gentleman. Professional.

The adjectives and names heaped on Geoffrey Griffis ran the spectrum from superlative to despicable during a D.C. Council confirmation hearing for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s nominee to head the District’s zoning commission.

Mr. Griffis, head of the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment since 2001, has come under criticism from neighborhood groups after Mr. Fenty submitted his name to the council for the new position — leading the five-member independent commission that prepares, adopts and amends D.C. zoning regulations.

Some resident leaders say Mr. Griffis has been biased and too pro-developer as BZA chairman — often ruling with developers and against local neighborhood groups.

“Geoffrey Griffis is a disastrously wrong nominee for chair of the zoning commission,” said Peter Espenscheid, vice president of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. He “lacks any normal sense of judicial ethics.”

But other witnesses defended Mr. Griffis.

“I want to let you know I’ve never seen any behavior by Mr. Griffis I could not classify as that of a gentleman,” said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. “I think he’ll be an outstanding zoning commissioner because I think he can take the city to the next level.”

Mr. Griffis also defended himself before the council, and was able to combat conflict-of-interest accusations stemming from a 2004 case in which he had a relationship with a one-time board member of a nursery school seeking a zoning judgment from the BZA.

Mr. Griffis said the relationship began after the case had been closed and that his fellow board members decided not to dispute his previous votes on the matter.

“We based our decisions extensively and exclusively on the facts and the record,” he said.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, who has opposed Mr. Griffis’ nomination, grilled the BZA head during his time to speak from the dais. Council memberMarion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, also expressed concern.

“I have never seen this number of people who oppose your nomination,” Mr. Barry said. “All over [the city], you get this opposition.”

However, Mr. Griffis appeared to have the support of other council members. Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, criticized Mr. Mendelson for reading from e-mails sent by anonymous critics of Mr. Griffis, who said they feared retribution if they were to speak publicly.

Mr. Graham also said he counted 15 witnesses who testified against Mr. Griffis, while 19 testified in favor of his nomination.

No date has been set for a vote on Mr. Griffis’ nomination.

• ‘Great son’

The cheers for Cal Ripkenwere heard in the hallowed halls of the Maryland State House last week when he was honored by members of the General Assembly, a month after being elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who said he tried to recruit Mr. Ripken for the House of Delegates’ basketball team, introduced him in the House as “one of Maryland’s great sons.”

When Mr. Ripken, 46,got the standing ovation from lawmakers, he told them that the last time he received an ovation that big, he had to run around Oriole Park at Camden Yards, referring to the night in 1995 when he broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.

He then asked lawmakers: “You don’t expect me to take a lap do you? I’ll say what I said then: I don’t think I can make it.”

Mr. Ripken, who grew up in Aberdeen and spent his entire 21-year baseball career with the Baltimore Orioles, said he was lucky to play a game he loved in a place he wanted to play. He said he was proud to wear the Orioles uniform and represent Maryland and Baltimore around the country and in other countries.

“I always took great pride in it,” he said.

Gary Emerling and Tom LoBianco contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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