By Amy E. Moeller | October 7, 2015 | People
In honor of Capitol File’s 10th anniversary, we gathered thought leaders from some of Washington’s most booming industries to talk about where DC was then and what they’re doing now to make it thrive.
On Racine (left): All clothing, his own. On Dickerson: All clothing, his own.
Journalist and Face the Nation host John Dickerson and DC’s first-ever elected attorney general, Karl Racine, have watched from the front lines as this city has evolved and grown. Both lifelong Washingtonians—Racine arrived from Haiti at age 3, while Dickerson was born and raised in the DC area—the two men have plenty to say about the changes sweeping this town.
How it’s changed:
KR: There is a palpable energy all around the city these days, and you can see it with the bike lanes, greater use of parks and recreation… vibrancy in pockets of neighborhoods that had been dormant. The energy is attracting young people from around the country, and indeed around the world, to come and live and be a part of DC.
JD: The school system has big pockets. There are some strong schools, and there are a lot of schools that are not so strong. The prosperity of certain sections is still not shared—that’s still a big challenge for Washington.
KR: There continues to be an expanding gulf between the haves and have-nots, almost to the point where you worry as to whether DC will become a city of only the haves. There’s a significant crisis with respect to affordable housing and increasing homelessness in the city.
JD: The Nationals coming to Washington. Also, having the first African American president in a city that’s got such a large African American population. I know [the Obama administration’s] desires to connect to the city, which were quite strong at the beginning, in some sense have not been fulfilled, because the presidency turned out to be a bit different than they’d imagined it. But in terms of milestones, that would have to be included.
KR: Amen! Can you put that down as my answer?
DC gets its first elected AG
JD: It’s a significant development that DC joined 43 other states that have elected an independent attorney general. What that means is that the District of Columbia is moving the way of modern democracies and really embracing the notion of separation of powers and checks and balances.
What’s in store for DC
KR: The next 10 years give us a great opportunity to achieve full autonomy. The day when DC was viewed as being a basket case in terms of managing its finances is completely gone. So building on our sound governance, we can have a DC that is not interfered with on a regular basis by the Congress of the United States, when we act consistent with the will of the people.
Their best advice
KR: I know that where I have failed professionally, it’s been where I have been looking at the next job and not concentrating all my time and energy on doing that which is in front of me. Doing your current job as best you can is the best insurance that you’ll have an opportunity for that dream job next.
JD: Fail quickly. Recognize that if you’re not failing at least a little bit, you’re not pushing hard enough. If you incorporate risk-taking and failure into your mind-set, you get over the setbacks faster—learn from it, and move forward.
On Armstrong (left): Sweater, Rag & Bone ($350). Saks Fifth Avenue, Mazza Gallerie, 301-657-3000. Pants, J. Brand ($168). Bloomingdale’s, The Shops at Wisconsin Place, 240-744-3700. Slim d’Hermès watch, Hermès ($8,500). CityCenterDC, 202-789-4341. Sneakers, Johnston & Murphy ($135). 600 13th St. NW, 202-638-2924. On Bajaj: Cardigan, Burberry ($895). Bloomingdale’s, The Shops at Wisconsin Place, 240-744-3700. Shirt, Brooks Brothers ($92). 3077 M St. NW, 202-298-8797. Pants, Canali (price on request). 978 I St., 202-545-6579; canali.com. Shoes, Christian Louboutin ($895). Saks Fifth Avenue, 5555 Wisconsin Ave., 301-657-9000
Star restaurateurs Ashok Bajaj and Cathal Armstrong both arrived in DC 25 years ago—but with very different objectives. Bajaj, owner of eight popular District eateries (including 701, The Oval Room, and Rasika), came from London intent on continuing his career here. Armstrong, on the other hand, flew in from Dublin for summer vacation. The chef and owner of three Alexandria restaurants (including Restaurant Eve) jokes now that the vacation continues. The two longtime friends dish on DC’s ever-burgeoning restaurant scene.
AB: Everything [used to be] very formal, white tablecloth. When I opened the first restaurant, on Friday and Saturday night in the dining room you would never see anybody without a jacket or dressed up. Now that’s [not the case].
CA: When I first started fine-dining in DC, there were probably four restaurants in the city that you could say were on a national level, competitive. And now there are easily, easily 50. Without trying, you can come up with a long list—a bistro that’s as good as any bistro in the country, an Indian restaurant as good as any Indian restaurant in the country.
AB: Georgetown used to be the place to be…. Nobody wanted to be in Penn Quarter. It wasn’t even called Penn Quarter when I opened 701.
CA: [Since the Verizon Center arrived] that whole area has exploded. Everybody thought José [Andrés] was crazy opening Jaleo there on Seventh Street. And 701 was well before.
Most surprising neighborhoods
AB: Northeast. I never thought that would develop so much. You couldn’t even drive at night five years ago, and now there are so many restaurants and clubs, bars. You feel safe.
CA: It can’t be overstated what happened to 14th Street. That whole corridor has just been completely transformed.
AB: When I opened, I used to write on a cue card how to order in an Indian restaurant. Now they tell me what they want to eat.
CA: The demand is for more adventurous and exciting. I put a dish on the menu and I just called it “Warning: You have to be brave to eat this dish because it’s really spicy.” I thought no one would ever order it, but it sells by the boatload.
CA: Not enough employees to go around.
AB: Staff is a main issue. When I came here, people said, “Okay, I’m going to stay five or six years here and then I’ll become a sous chef.” Now, a month later, they want to be the sous chef. They don’t want to learn.
Restaurants to look out for
AB: Maketto in Northeast, I think, is a neat concept in that location.
CA: I think the exciting one this year is going to be Eric Ziebold’s new restaurant.
AB: You’re right!
CA: He’s a great chef and a good friend of ours. That’s the one everybody’s looking at this year.
On Glass (left): Sweater ($295) and pants ($195), Rag & Bone. Saks Fifth Avenue, Mazza Gallerie, 301-657-9000. Shirt, Canali ($295). 978 I St. NW, 202-545-6579. Cape Cod Dual-Time watch, Hermès ($7,925). CityCenterDC, 202-789-4341. Shoes, Salvatore Ferragamo ($1,500). CityCenterDC, 202-289-6610. On bronner: Sweater, Prada ($890). Tysons Galleria, 703-245-3438. Pants, Rag & Bone ($210). Saks Fifth Avenue, 5555 Wisconsin Ave., 301-657-9000. 43.5mm Automatic Chronograph watch, David Yurman ($3,400). CityCenterDC, 202-842-2804
Entrepreneurs and investors Sean Glass and Phil Bronner know talent and a good idea when they see it. Glass, the CEO of GBS Health and a founding partner at Acceleprise, moved to Washington fve years ago with his wife, insisting on a new home base that was “geographically connected and had a strong fnance community with lots of interesting development.” Bronner arrived in 1999 to join Novak Biddle Venture Partners, where he’s now a venture partner, in addition to serving as CEO of Quad Learning, which he cofounded. With a broad spectrum of investments and their fngers on the pulse of the city, the two friends and colleagues offer their insights on the entrepreneurial and tech climates in DC.
How it’s changed
SG: When I got here, there were more venture funds investing than there are now. So on the downside, DC now has less investment dollars than it did five years ago—which I think is counter to what people think—but more companies have been founded. The center of gravity has shifted into the District. It used to be most of the companies [were in] Reston, Dulles, Northern Virginia, and a little in Maryland. Now you’re seeing companies [with] 100 employees right on Thomas Circle. The companies starting [now] don’t need as many resources to get up and running. 1776 and these other community buildings are creating a lot of interest and excitement.
PB: The number of venture firms has gone down, so there’s less capital locally, and less coming in. [Investors] are looking here, but they haven’t written a significant number of checks. What’s really come in is… software and service businesses, education, quite a bit of healthcare. You have more of a community now than we used to. It’s younger, more innovative in that regard.
The DC advantage
PB: The education scene in DC is quite vibrant. Being close to the Department of Education is a huge benefit. People are moving here to start companies because of the skills and the capabilities that are in this area.
SG: The healthcare world—similar to education—is regulatory-driven, and you have to understand the regulations in order to build a business, whether that’s a technology business, a services business. Being in DC and having interaction with people who drive the regulation, drive the policy, is a huge advantage. There’s a lot of opportunity… but you have to do it within the regulations. DC’s a unique place to be able to do that.
SG: Seek out great people and build really good relationships. I love meeting people who have been successful. I love learning from them. And when I haven’t found people who knew more than me and listened to their advice, I haven’t done as well.
PB: Follow your passion. Excellence comes from hard work, and if you follow your passion, you will make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. In addition, we all spend a lot of time on our careers and it’s important that you enjoy that time. Life is short.
On Kimsey (left): All clothing, his own. On wood: Shirt, Paul Stuart ($228). 906 I St. NW, 202-754-8866. Belt, Salvatore Ferragamo ($995). CityCenterDC, 202-289-6610. Pants, Theory ($275). Bloomingdale’s, The Shops at Wisconsin Place, 240-744-3700
Jim Kimsey, a DC native best known for cofounding AOL, and Donald Wood, president of DC’s Federal Realty Investment Trust, have three things in common: They represent the top of the business game, they love Washington, and they’ve committed themselves to philanthropy. Kimsey has served on the boards of Refugees International, the Kennedy Center, and the International Commission on Missing Persons, among other organizations, and Wood and his family have supported the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Catholic Charities, and Boulder Crest Retreat, a wellness center for combat veterans and their families.
How DC has evolved
JK: The cultural and restaurant scene has changed dramatically. It’s much more sophisticated. Washington has become a very social town. It used to be a cultural backwater when I was growing up. Now it’s flourished—the Kennedy Center being one of the reasons…. It’s starting to rival New York. It’s not as big and diversified, but it’s become a destination beyond the government.
DW: DC is growing up! Less dependence on government and more on the private sector. I just wish we could attract more manufacturing and technology.
The key to success
JK: Blind-ass luck. You can say “ass” in print, even now. My best advice to anybody starting out is: Be lucky. I don’t know how you do that, but I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my own life. You’ve got to be a good judge of people. Surround yourself with good people. To the extent I could, I did. Take care of your people and motivate them. Be a good leader and have a sense of your mission.
DW: Luck certainly plays into it. But for me, it’s my love and respect for hardworking people, coupled with a strong work ethic, consistency, and determination, that has allowed me to put and hold together a great team.
On giving in business
JK: It’s necessary. If you want to do well, you have to do good. There are only three things you can do with your money: piss it away, leave it to your ungrateful children, or give it away. And if you have enough, you end up doing all three.
DW: Philanthropy is such a core part of who I am, and that really started 20 years ago with the birth of my daughter, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Over the years, my eyes were opened to the incredibly compelling need in our country for private citizens to accept the mantle of helping others, both in terms of dollars and service. Americans are the most generous people on the planet. “If not me, then who?” became a mantra.
DW: Federal is executing a 10-year growth plan aimed at doubling our income. The main driver is the creation of better retail and mixed-use destinations than were acceptable in past decades. Retail of the future requires us to up our game. Take a look at what we’re doing at Pike & Rose in North Bethesda or at Congressional Plaza in Rockville. Bigger isn’t better. Better is better.
Favorite thing about DC
DW: After all these years, I’m still blown away by the proximity and natural beauty of Great Falls Park. It’s amazing that this treasure is just 10 miles upstream from our nation’s capital.
photography by shane mccauley. Styling by Faye Power. Grooming by Peggy Ioakim. Shot on location at Marden House in
McLean, home of Jim Kimsey