Through the courtesy of my boss, Carl Appleby, publisher of the former Daily Times-Advocate, I attained membership in the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1971. As such, I was privileged to attend its annual conferences, most of which were in Washington, D.C. What follows are some of the incidents that occurred during my visits to Washington.
In 1975, my wife and I (she always accompanied me to the conferences) decided to treat our two teenage daughters to their first visit to our nation’s capital. We were in for an unexpected surprise: an invitation to an informal evening presidential reception at the White House. None of us had ever been in the White House.
After a day of the conference’s business, President Gerald Ford had issued the invitation for the editors and their guests. We were instructed to supply our Social Security numbers, which, I assume, were used for background checks to verify they matched the name of the holder. All of us boarded buses, with our names matched to a check list.
At the White House, we were permitted to roam the first and second floors. It was on the second floor where light refreshments were available. As my wife and daughters and I were enjoying a refreshment, Jerry Warren, the president’s assistant press secretary, was walking toward us. We had a brief conversation. I had known Jerry when he was a reporter for the San Diego Union, but had not seen him for several years. He had been a part of the Nixon administration, but was not tainted by the Watergate scandal which forced the resignation of President Nixon. (Jerry left the Ford administration to become editor of the Union.)
Later, I noticed a crowd gathering at the other end of the second-floor corridor. I realized the president had come down from the third-floor family quarters. I told my daughters, “Let’s go see if we can meet the president.” We managed to maneuver our way through the crowd right up to the president. I introduced myself, my wife and daughters. The president shook hands with each of us¸ and my daughters were especially thrilled, something about which they later were excitingly telling friends. (Neither the president’s wife or any of his children were present during the reception.)
There certainly was something special about shaking hands with a president of the United States – in the White House. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my family.
I can’t remember the exact year, but it was in the late 1970s at one of our conferences when I was hoping to visit the two houses of Congress. I was aware that visitors needed to obtain a pass to visit the galleries of the two Houses (you were not permitted on the floor); and the pass had to be obtained through the office of your local member of Congress. In my case, that member was Rep. Clair Burgener, one of the “good guys.” Clair was easy going, personable. Maybe he was the perfect politician, with a smile that seemed to say: “Hi, I’m Clair Burgener; I’d like to get to know you.” He came across as one you could trust.
Clair. a Republican, got his start in politics when he was elected to the San Diego City Council. Then came election to the state Assembly, then to the state Senate and finally election to the House of Representatives in 1972, serving 10 years before retirement.
Anyway, back to my visit to his office for a gallery pass. My wife and I stepped into his congressional office and were identifying ourselves and requesting a pass when Clair unexpectedly stepped out from a side door (to what I presume was his personal office) to ask something of the front-desk secretary to whom we were talking. He was wearing a dress shirt and tie, obviously working at his desk. He stared at me, did a double-take and said, “What are you doing here?”
He recognized me, having met several times in my Escondido office. I explained why I was in Washington and that I was seeking a gallery pass. He said something like, “Hold on;” and turned back into his office. He came out, wearing his suit coat, saying, “let’s take a walk.” Clair took us right down on the floor of both the House and the Senate, pointing out his desk in the House. (Congress was not in session.)
I don’t remember much of the conversation, except for two things I thought were kind of interesting. He was telling us he and his wife had an apartment in the Watergate complex. (This was a few years after the Nixon-Watergate scandal.) He mentioned how expensive it was to rent a space for a second car — $5,000 a year. The other comment: There had been rumors that he was thinking of retirement. I asked him when he might be planning to retire from public office. We were standing on the floor of the U.S. Senate. His reply was that he wasn’t quite ready, but he kind of stared around the Senate and said something like, “But, I sure would like to be sitting here.”
I don’t know if Clair ever seriously thought of running for the Senate; I doubt it. But his response was indicative of how politicians must dream of one day joining what some say is the most exclusive club in the world – the 100-seat U.S. Senate.
Clair’s given name was Sinclair; I can understand why he preferred Clair. A personal note: Clair was a graduate of Chaffey Union High School in Ontario (San Bernardino County). It also was my alma mater.
I am an avid reader and a history buff; in my younger days when I was much more active, I loved browsing through bookstores. During the 1976 conference, I intended to visit the Georgetown section of Washington – for one reason. I had read in the Christian Science Monitor about a bookstore there, the Savile, on P Street just off Wisconsin Avenue. The “Monitor” had described the Savile something like this: “It is to all other bookstores as the Library of Congress is to all other libraries.” That meant one thing: It was a treasure trove of books.
The Savile is a unique experience for book browsers. For several years, I had been looking for a certain book, “John Adams and the American Revolution,” browsing through bookstores every chance I got. The book, by Catherine Drinker Bowen, had been published in 1949.
I had high hopes about that bookstore. When I reached the Savile, and peering at its front-window display, there staring at me was “John Adams and the American Revolution.” I kid you not. Right there, in the front window. What else can I say?
At the 1976 conference, Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgia and the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, was scheduled to be the main speaker. At the scheduled luncheon at the headquarters hotel, all the editors and their guests were seated when it was announced that Carter’s appearance had been canceled. Why? Some hotel workers were picketing the hotel. Carter had refused to cross the picket line.
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.