Last Thursday night was a memorable one for old codgers like me. It was a chance to see La Streisand and confirm for oneself she is still as great as she always was. The voice may be a little huskier than it was when I first heard her in I Can Get it For You Wholesale in 1962 and then Funny Girl, but it was just as tantalizing.
Her ‘Memories’ brought back so many for the older crowd at the Verizon Center. Now the crowd was definitely different from other concerts such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. But it was only for Streisand I stayed to the bitter end not wanting to leave before the crowds and wanting to hear every last note.
Now I wasn’t among the elite who went backstage as participants in the fundraiser associated with the concert for a charity close to Streisand’s heart Women’s Heart Alliance. That group included Madeleine Albright, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chris Matthews. What I do have in common with them is age. We all remember Barbra from those early Broadway shows and her TV specials which all earned Emmys. Better than hanging with them was the fun of watching and listening to Barbra with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, who brought her mom and her boyfriend, and former first mom Jan Fenty.
As Barbra began to sing my thoughts went back to a fantastic evening in June of 1967 when I sat with good friends on the great lawn in New York’s Central Park, alongside another 135,000 people, to hear Barbra in an amazing concert. It was the first of the huge concerts to be held there. In September 1981 500,000 came out to hear a short-lived reunion of Simon and Garfunkel. But it’s Barbra who is still going strong after all these years.
There was not a lot of new music but we did get a preview of a duet with Anthony Newley from her new album “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway”. But then new music is not what we came to hear. We came to hear vintage Streisand and enjoy the songs we all know so well. ‘Evergreen’, ‘Memories’, ‘Don’t rain on My Parade’. Her 70s pop hits as she called them remembering when ‘she was trying to be hip’ including ‘Woman in Love’, ‘Stoney End’ and ‘No More Tears’ (more well known as Enough is Enough).
Then the beautiful hymn from ‘Yentl’ Papa Can You Hear Me. Yentl was the film only truly loved by Streisand devotees like me. Through-out the evening Streisand continued to chat about politics and her favorite candidate Hillary Clinton casually mentioning as she was driven to the venue on Pennsylvania Avenue she passed Hillary’s next home.
She talked about climate change and remembering the strive in the 70s singing Carole King’s “Being at War With Each Other,” backed by a video of stills picturing civic strife from then to now including images from the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando.
She came out for four encores singing songs including ‘People” and “Happy Days Are Here Again”. That she sang as she always does to inspire the audience and reminded us she sang it for JFK, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton and soon hopes she will be singing it for Hillary Clinton when she is President.
It was truly a night to remember.
Vincent Orange just accepted the job as President of the DC Chamber of Commerce. It is understandable he needs work since he lost his reelection campaign in June. But his intent to do both jobs, fill out his remaining term on the Council and begin his job as Chamber President at the same time, is the kind of thing that turns people off to politics.
Vince Orange chair’s the Council Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and if he can’t see the conflict here then it’s a good thing people voted him out of office. Taking on both positions at the same time and trying to convince anyone that it’s not a conflict is the height of arrogance, it’s downright offensive, and an embarrassment to the District as we try to convince people we should have Statehood.
The Washington Post said in his remaining time in office Orange will earn $56,188 of taxpayer money. The honorable thing to do would have been for him to step down the moment he found out he got his new job. His excuse that he is protecting his staff is nonsense. He was voted out of office and political staff know what to expect. I am sure they have all had their resumes on the street since he lost his reelection in June.
The reactions of Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd are also quite outrageous. They defended Orange saying it was legal. Then Mendelson added “There’s a significant difference between what the public might see as a conflict and what the law prohibits.”
Where is their call for changing the law to prohibit such behavior in the future? Being legal doesn’t make it right and the council has the ability to change this. I expect to see the same outrage from these two as we have heard from Mary Cheh, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau and Charles Allen.
This is the kind of behavior from our Councilmembers we need to end. If we are to become a State we need to ensure our elected legislators are not allowed to hold any other jobs. We need to pay them a living wage and end the conflicts of interest that occur when they have bosses other than the people who elected them. We also need to end the ability for members of the Council to raise money for their constituent service funds which are simply inappropriate slush funds for them to use at will.
D.C. residents face many challenges and one of the greatest is that we have no representation in Congress. We are often used as a petri dish for Congressional experiments like school vouchers which members of Congress could never foist on their own constituents. If we are to control our own destiny one of the first things Congress must grant us while we fight for full statehood is full legislative and budget autonomy.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has reinvigorated the drive for Statehood. At the recent Democratic convention she worked hard to let Democrats across the nation know the over 630,000 residents of the District are disenfranchised.
Our hard-working Shadow Senator Paul Strauss hosted an impressive luncheon with the Creative Coalition (an advocacy group formed of members of the American entertainment industry) to generate publicity for Statehood. He is working to build on Hillary Clinton’s strong support of Statehood. At the luncheon Mayor Bowser spoke as did statehood supporter Josh Shapiro, Montgomery County Commissioner, who is now running for Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Eleanor Holmes Norton was there and has been lending her voice and national reputation to this fight since she was elected our Congressional Representative in 1990. Strauss shared commercials being shown during the convention in Philadelphia made by stars from the Creative Coalition speaking out for Statehood. Members of the Coalition attending the luncheon included David Schwimmer and Ashley Judd.
In retrospect the only sour note of the day was Vincent Orange speaking as we now know he is more of an embarrassment to the cause then a help.
It is my hope the City Council Leadership and all its members who take seriously the effort to gain statehood understand avoiding blatant conflicts of interest is one way to do that. They should collectively call on Vincent Orange to step down immediately and if he doesn’t, Chairman Mendelson should strip him of his Committee Chairmanship which he has the authority to do.
This column first appeared in the Washington Blade.
Saturday night in Washington, DC we celebrated with a hundred thousand members of the LGBT community and our allies; mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers; children and adults of every gender, race, religion and creed cheering as we marched down the street. We partied late into the night and then woke Sunday morning to the horror of another massacre.
At 2:00 am on Latin night in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 49 of our fellow human beings were slaughtered in the worst mass shooting in American history. 53 more were injured in what can only be described as senseless violence no matter what the cause. Terror is senseless and hate is senseless and this crime was both. It was an attack on LGBT Americans but also an attack on all Americans. It seems to have been carried out by one self-proclaimed radical jihadist who supported ISIS, hated the LGBT community, and had easy access to an assault weapon.
Americans will again debate who is to blame and how we stop the violence. One thing every rational human being must accept is whatever the cause of the gunman’s hatred; whatever motivated him to this horrific act; he was born here and bought his guns and ammunition here in the United States. He used an assault weapon that should never be allowed in the hands of any civilian.
The nation is mourning with the families and friends of those who died and praying for a speedy and full recovery for those who were injured. Their personal stories will be as diverse as our nation and the LGBT community itself. We are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and atheist; white, Black, Asian, Latino and have one thing in common; we are part of the LGBT family, my family.
As we mourn we must also act. Like it or not this dastardly act comes in the middle of a Presidential election. We cannot accept those who would continue to try to divide us and campaign against the very essence of our Democracy. We could stop every Muslim from entering our country as Trump has suggested and this American terrorist would still have gunned down these innocent people because he was here and he hated them. In his own way he was deranged as were the perpetrators of Columbine, Aurora, Charleston and Newtown.
The one thing all these mass murderers have in common is the ease with which they had access to or purchased a gun to commit their crimes.
It is my hope that my family, the LGBT family, will find a way to mourn and remember our brothers and sisters who were taken from us at Pulse Nightclub that will make a lasting difference in the world. The innocent souls of all the mass shooting victims who are now together in heaven need to know they gave their lives for something.
No one is asking to repeal the 2nd amendment but we need to stop the sale of assault weapons and make it more difficult to buy a handgun in our nation. 33,000 men and women die each year from guns and we could do something about this tomorrow if Congress had the will and guts to act.
Sunday after we witnessed another mass shooting and just like after every one of these massacres, rational people asked “how many more must die before we act?” We cannot change the world overnight, we can’t defeat ISIS overnight, we can’t end mental illness overnight, and we can’t end hate overnight. Yet overnight we do have the power to make it safer for our fellow Americans. For those enjoying a night at a gay nightclub; teaching in or attending school; going to a movie or bible study; or just walking the streets in their neighborhoods. We can pass sane gun control laws.
As we work to make the deaths of those who have died from guns mean something we must not become haters or condemn every one of the same religion as a Jihadist or terrorist. Let us not follow the people who want us to hate anyone who doesn’t look like, sound like, or have the same religion or sexual orientation as we do. Let us reject totally the presidential candidate of the political Party asking us to do that.
Instead we should pass sane gun control; the Equality Act; reform our criminal justice system; give women equal pay for equal work; and pass meaningful immigration reform. With those actions we will show the world ‘Love conquers Hate’.
A version of this column is in the Washington Blade.