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‘Casey Mansion’ offer locked into Foxhall site

(Published April 23, 2001)


Staff Writer

Betty Brown Casey’s $50 million offer to build and maintain a mansion as the official residence for the District of Columbia’s mayor is irrevocably linked to the Foxhall Road NW site that has been purchased, according to her attorney.

"That’s her gift. It’s the gift that’s on the table for decision," attorney Brendan V. Sullivan told The Common Denominator.

Sullivan, speaking the day after a special commission held what its chairman said may be its only public hearing on the controversial issue of creating a mayoral mansion, said he’s "sure there are many nonprofit groups out there that would appreciate a mansion" if the city turns down Casey’s offer. He said he expects the city "to have the courtesy to respond promptly" to Casey’s offer, although she has set no deadline for doing so.

Casey officially made the offer Feb. 26 in a letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, but one city official acknowledged that she initially contacted the city last June about her offer.

Some D.C. City Council members began publicly promoting the idea of a mayoral mansion last spring, initially focusing on the Old Navy Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE on Capitol Hill. Last June 26, the council created a special commission to make recommendations "on the most appropriate site in the District to establish the Mayor’s official residence and on the most cost-effective methods of financing the acquisition, renovation, and maintenance" of the home.

That commission, headed by former mayor Walter Washing-ton, held a public hearing April 17 at which about a dozen residents expressed their support for the Casey Mansion proposal and few showed up to oppose it.

After the hearing, the commission’s chairman said he expects the commission to forward its recommendation to the city council "within a couple months," rather than waiting until it is due in August.

City officials accompanied Casey to several proposed locations before the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, created in her husband’s memory, purchased the Foxhall Road site that it has proposed as the mayor’s home. Casey’s husband grew up in the District of Columbia.

Sullivan said Casey "looked at all of those" sites that are mentioned in a draft report as having been considered by the special commission.

Among the sites: the Spanish ambassador’s residence at 2801 16th St. NW, the Chancellery of Italy at 2700 16th St. NW, Henry Wardman House at 4845 Colorado Ave. NW, the warden’s house at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, "several vacant sites" between Fourth and Ninth streets on Massachusetts Avenue, "open land" located on both banks of the Anacostia River, and the former Navy hospital on Capitol Hill.

Some residents have criticized the Casey site at 1801 Foxhall Road NW as being too "tony" a neighborhood to be representative of the city. Other critics have complained that any official mayoral residence should be centrally located, and that Foxhall Road is too inaccessible to many of the city’s poorest residents.

One critic who testified at the hearing, Columbia Heights activist Gary Imhoff, described his own testimony as a "futile effort to ask (the commission) to take a common-sense position on the issue of an official residence for the mayor of the District of Columbia: There shouldn’t be one."

Imhoff called the concept of an official home for the mayor "wrong-headed, based on the assumption that an elected official, a public servant, should be elevated above the common people – exalted; that his private living expenses should be subsidized, and that he should be isolated and insulated from the cares of daily life in a cocoon of luxury."

Sullivan said the Casey Foundation would own and maintain the structural components and the grounds of an official mayor’s residence under the terms of the offer. He said "no funds" would be provided for special events at the mansion or for the mayor’s living expenses.

"It would be up to the mayor about how the building is used," Sullivan said. "Obviously, it’s a private property, but I suppose you could have a small concert on the lawn."

He said the money to maintain the mansion would be held in trust by a charitable organization set up for that purpose.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator