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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

QUIETED LIPS: One of the area's most widely read political columns has gone on indefinite hiatus following the departure of Elissa Silverman, aka "Loose Lips," from the staff of Washington City Paper. Silverman, who has written the column for the past three years and was a staff writer for the free weekly entertainment-oriented tabloid before then, called her departure "a decision of the paper's management." But the exact circumstances appear to be a point of disagreement. "She was not fired in any way," City Paper Editor Erik Wemple told The Common Denominator. "We did have a dispute over free-lancing, which resulted in us parting ways."

Both Silverman and Wemple agree that they argued in late December over Silverman's writing about the District's baseball stadium debate. Silverman told The Common Denominator that she was told she could not write about the debate at greater length for another publication and called City Paper's free-lance policy for staff members "arbitrary."

"Half of City Paper's staff writes for the Post Style section," she said. "I don't think that's fair." Wemple said his staff writers "generally have to get approval for the piece [they] are going to write [for another publication] on a case-by-case basis. We understand that people want to supplement their income," he added.

City Paper began advertising for a new "Loose Lips" columnist in its Jan. 7 issue. Wemple said the column will not reappear until a new columnist is hired.

"Loose Lips has sort of been an anchor for the paper," he said. "I would hate to patch something together hastily. …But we hope to keep the hiatus as short as possible."

TOO SICK FOR LOCAL PARTIES: Mayor Anthony A. Williams returned to Washington Jan. 10 with a nasty case of bronchitis, after hobnobbing for nearly a week in Scottsdale, Ariz., at a conference of the National League of Cities, of which he is now president. The illness forced the mayor to cancel his scheduled attendance at the 20th annual Mayor's Arts Awards at the Kennedy Center that evening, according to a mayoral spokesman, even though a press release issued Jan. 11 by the sponsoring D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities stated that the mayor presented the awards.

Williams continued to cancel all public events on his schedule, including participation in the city's official commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, until the day before President Bush's second inauguration. On Jan. 19, the mayor – still displaying symptoms of his illness – started his first day back to work with a 9:30 a.m. press briefing, followed by his attendance at a Washingtonian magazine luncheon at which he was a guest of honor receiving an award. He spent the evening attending two inaugural-related galas, then devoted Jan. 20 to attending inaugural-related events, including three balls.

SHUT OUT: The Common Denominator had hoped to cover the Independence Ball at the Washington Convention Center on Jan. 20 to give our readers a glimpse of local partygoers at the ball designated for attendance by many D.C. supporters of President Bush. But the Presidential Inaugural Committee denied our request for credentials. However, we weren't alone in scratching our heads over the committee's treatment of access requests from locals hoping to document portions of the official inaugural events.

The award-winning Ballou Senior High School Marching Band received significant, and well deserved, news coverage of its performance in this year's Inaugural Parade. Less attention, though, was given to the Jan. 19 performance by the award-winning Eastern Senior High School Choir with international recording artist Yolanda Adams during the inauguration's opening ceremony on the Ellipse, dubbed a "Celebration of Freedom."

We heard about the Eastern choir's performance on the morning of the event, too late to request credentials to cover it. So we contacted Roxanne Evans, director of D.C. Public Schools' Office of Communications, to inquire about getting copies of photos taken by the school system's official photographer. To our surprise, not even a D.C. government photographer could get through the tight security to document D.C. students' participation.

"We can't get in," Evans told The Common Denominator that day. "They said we needed to go through the normal media credentialing process, but it was past the deadline."

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator