Civic pride in 'the swamp': How DC feels about itself

Sports have a way of bringing a city together and fostering civic pride like few things can. So what does that mean f...

Posted: Jul 19, 2018 1:23 AM
Updated: Jul 19, 2018 1:23 AM

Sports have a way of bringing a city together and fostering civic pride like few things can. So what does that mean for Washington, home of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals and 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, but also a city whose reputation is defined today by a growing number of political crises and controversies, a city derided by the President as "the swamp"?

Outside Nationals Park on Tuesday, a woman named Alice agreed to be interviewed but wouldn't give her last name because she said she worried about Trump's "goons." Alice, who sells baseball gear, said she gets jokes from people about the city she's called home off and on for 18 years. " 'You're there with a crazy man,' they say."

She hasn't noticed a change in the number of people who buy Washington gear since Trump has taken office, but said she has to be careful about what she says to customers. "You never know who you're talking to," she said.

In Washington, "nobody's happy," said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. Fitch caught "Potomac fever" on a school trip to DC when he was young, and later moved here. He's worked with members of Congress for about three decades and sees a side of Washington that doesn't always make the news, holding confidential meetings and training sessions with members of Congress and their staffs about increasing transparency and effectiveness and improving relationships with constituents.

Fitch said one former member of Congress told him he no longer tells people about his former job when golfing ("It makes things easier," he told Fitch), but the foundation CEO said the city is still filled with people committed to public service. He mentioned one Republican lawmaker from the Midwest who got choked up in a meeting when asked by staff, "Why do you do this?"

"I'm their advocate," the member said of their constituents. "I'm in this to help them."

"You still see those people finding happiness and fulfillment in public service in their own way," Fitch said. And Washington is "still drawing in the best of America."

That earnest side of DC comes out every so often these days. Fitch's Congressional Management Foundation sought to highlight it with its first-ever Democracy Awards, which honored congressional offices for innovation and constituent services. And the beleaguered Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority made a commercial out of it, promising to "bring the same passion and commitment to our job as our riders bring to theirs."

It also showed up in the wardrobe of the Nationals' Bryce Harper, who used his clothing to pay tribute to his adopted city for all-star week. He wore a Washington, DC flag headband for the Home Run Derby, which he won, and to the red carpet before the all-star game, he wore a suit with a lining covered in a collage of Washington monuments, eagles and founding documents.

Washington is a city known to attract eager, earnest public servants the way Los Angeles attracts aspiring movie stars and singers. Though its reputation today may be overshadowed by political turmoil, Harper said the cleats he wore to the Home Run Derby -- a patriotic colorway of his Harper 3s -- represented "what DC means to this country."

He didn't mean the Washington of scandals or division, he meant the idealized Washington, the idea of a city that's inspired people from across the country to move here and do their part to try to make it a little better.

"There's so much history in this town," Harper said.

It might not be enough to keep him in the swamp. Whether Harper will find a new team next year and skip town is one of the hottest questions in the District.

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