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Washington, DC

History

Those were the days

With the congressional oversights and crack-rock smoking of the 1990s put to rest, Anthony Williams took his oath as the fourth elected mayor of the capital city in 1999, 25 years after Home Rule commenced. This was the Washington, DC (and by extension, America), of the late Clinton administration, when the economy was growing robustly, the world was at relative peace, the dot.com revolution was still in ascendance and the biggest fear folks had was whether or not the Y2K bug would shut off all the computers. At the same time, Washington's image and respectability were making a comeback. Mayor Williams restored fiscal accountability to District agencies and balanced the city's budget. Under Williams' leadership, the District rebounded and achieved significant improvements in cash management, budget execution and revenue collections. One of the main tenets of this new vision was to create a friendlier government, one that listens to its citizens. Priorities include improving education, public safety and opportunity for all residents.

The turn of the 21st century brought a new administration to the White House. In 2001, George W Bush became the 43rd president of the United States following the most talked about (not to mention highly controversial) national election in modern times. (In 2004, Bush would win himself a second term as president in a slightly less-contested race.)

The Clintons vacated the White House for a less-prominent home on Whitehaven St in Georgetown. George and Laura Bush, along with hundreds of political appointees and hopefuls, settled into new digs in the capital. As a practical (political) joke, staff members of the Clinton White House removed the letter 'W' from all of the computer keyboards in the White House offices.

Many view the waning days of 1999, leading up to the global fireworks of the turn of the millennium, as a strongly optimistic time. They capped a decade that had a wholly different tone from the current one, with the city moving into the future despite trepidations about what this new 'new world order' would translate into - not just for DC, but also the planet.

What a difference a handful of years can make. By late 2006, the country's optimism had all but washed away. More than three years after President George W Bush declared the end of official combat in Iraq, the war was still raging out of control. Reports of military and Iraqi civilian deaths were such a normal part of the evening newscasts that they went unregistered in many Americans minds. Political tensions in Washington, DC, were at an all time high, as was distrust of the current administration. In November 2006, many Americans dissatisfied with sitting back and watching their country go to hell, went to the polls en masse to vote for change. The under-30 voter turnout was estimated at two million more than 2002. The Republican Party lost control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years, heralding a new era and a much-needed change of direction.

Americans who voted for change are cautiously optimistic again, hoping that a majority Democratic Senate will push the United States' foreign policies and domestic agendas back into line, resulting in realistic policies and involvement concerning foreign affairs and caps on government spending.

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Going bush

The 2000 presidential election went off with a history-making glitch. On election night, November 7, the media prematurely declared the winner twice, based on exit-poll speculations, before finally concluding that the Florida race outcome was too close to call. It would eventually take a month before the election was officially certified. Numerous court challenges and recounts proceeded after Al Gore lost to George W Bush, despite winning the popular vote. Florida's 25 electoral votes went to Bush after the final recount showed him having squeaked by with a razor-thin margin of 537 votes, thereby defeating Democratic candidate Al Gore. Following the election, recounts by various US news media organizations disclosed Bush would have won if specific recounting methods had been used but that Gore would have been declared president if a thorough statewide recount had been held.

In an ironic twist of fate, Gore as vice president, and thus president of the senate, had to ratify the findings of the Electoral College that Bush indeed had won the election. When each state's vote was read, Gore had to declare he acknowledged its validity. In a show of support, Black Democrats voiced their opposition to Bush's win to both Gore and Congress. Ultimately, Gore gave up, grew a beard and proceeded into political obscurity until 2006 when he popped up in media gossip circles again with the release of his new environmental blockbuster documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

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Life during wartime

On September 11, 2001, 30 minutes after the attack on New York's World Trade Center, a plane departing Washington Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles was hijacked and redirected toward Washington. Speculation was that the hijackers' primary objective was the White House, but they opted for a more exposed target. The plane crashed into the Pentagon's west side, penetrating the building's third ring. Sixty-six passengers and crew, as well as 125 Pentagon personnel, were killed in the suicide attack.

Like most Americans, Washingtonians had no living memory of war on their territory. The shock of terrorism deeply scarred the nation's public psyche.

In the wake of the hijackers' exploits, prominent media and political figures received lethal doses of anthrax in the mail. Several congressional staffers were infected and two DC postal workers died. Though unsolved, the anthrax mailings were eventually attributed to a domestic source.

Over a three-week period in the autumn of 2002, area residents were once again terrorized by unseen assailants. A pair of serial snipers went on a shooting spree in the Washington suburbs; 10 people were dead and thousands badly frightened before the snipers were finally apprehended by police.

The city has been palpably changed by these tragedies. From increasing security measures to declining tourism, the effects of the terrorist attack are evident throughout the capital. The FBI has discontinued its popular tour indefinitely, while metal detectors and baggage screening for entrance to museums is commonplace. The jitters over security measures are not completely absent in the consciousness of area residents. Still, often enough, some crazy person tries to get close enough to the White House to fire off a shot at the president, which of course only leads to more paranoia and limitations. Yet no matter how deep the wound that was inflicted in 2001, Washington, DC, has seen - and survived - worse. So the cogs of the capital machine continue to grind, forcing the wheels of the government to spin. The local and federal city carries on.

On May 1, 2003, George W Bush landed via fighter jet, donning a flight suit, on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared 'one victory' in the war on terrorism and an end to combat operations in Iraq. The statement, announced with a huge starred-and-striped banner boasting 'mission accomplished' in the background, was intended to serve as the symbolic end to the war. However, history has proven otherwise.

Three years after 'mission accomplished', the US remains embroiled in the Iraq conflict, and Bush's approval ratings have seen a further slide amid worldwide protests. Even the most die-hard, one-time war supporters are questioning the government's motives, lack of disclosure regarding the staggering funds used getting the country into this quagmire and a seemingly nonexistent exit strategy. Costs are running roughly $200 million a day and the amount spent on four years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is approaching $300 billion. Some say that short blips, like a bumper sticker, can better convey general sentiment because of the practical simplicity of one-liners. In this case it would be the one that has been showing up on vehicles all over the country since 2003 - 'Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam.'

Critics claim the Bush administration has turned a one-time financial surplus in the budget (from the Clinton years) into the largest national debt America has ever experienced. Bush's approval ratings saw a dramatic drop due to the war in Iraq.

This drop in approval ratings probably caused the beating the Republican Party took nationwide in the 2006 mid-term elections. The country proved it was fed up with the Bush administration, especially how it was handling the war, and democrats took control of the House and the Senate for the first time in 12 years. The political shake-up also led to the confirmation of Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the first female speaker of the house in US history. Just one day after the election, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld resigned as defense secretary. Democrats (and even some Republicans) had been calling for his resignation for months prior to the election, but Bush stood fast by his longtime friend. Even after Rumsfeld announced his resignation, during the ensuing press conference, Bush still praised Rumsfeld's service.

Iran and North Korea are both hot topics in DC these days. At the time of research, North Korea had supposedly tested a nuclear weapon with limited success and Iran was pursuing a nuclear agenda. The president of Iran wished to debate George W Bush, but the US president turned down the invitation and continued to push Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, despite Iran's claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes only.

The country is currently buzzing in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election and the USA has caught political fever.

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Early settlement

Before the first European colonists sailed up from Chesapeake Bay, Native Americans, primarily the Piscataway tribe of the Algonquian language group, made their home near the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. As many as 10, 000 Piscataway inhabited the region, living a sustainable hunter/gatherer/trader lifestyle when the explorers arrived. The first recorded White contact with the Piscataway was in 1608 by the English Captain John Smith, who set out from Jamestown colony to explore the upper Potomac.

Relations with the peaceful Piscataway were amicable at first, but soon turned ruinous for the Native Americans. Vulnerable to European sicknesses, many Native Americans succumbed and their numbers were reduced by half within 25 years. In mid-century, the Piscataway suffered further losses from entanglements in the Indian Wars between the English and the more hostile Susquehannock and Powhatan tribes. By 1700, the few remaining Piscataway migrated out of the region to Iroquois territory in Pennsylvania and New York.

The first European settlers in the region were traders and fur trappers, who plied the woodlands beyond the Allegheny Mountains, often working with local Algonquin Indians. English and Scots-Irish settlers followed, turning the forests into farmland. With the founding of Maryland, soul-saving Jesuits arrived to convert the locals.

By the late 1600s, expansive agricultural estates lined both sides of the Potomac. These tidewater planters became a colonial aristocracy, dominating regional affairs. Their most lucrative crop was the precious sotweed - tobacco - which was tended by African indentured servants and slaves. The river ports of Alexandria and Georgetown became famous for their prosperous commercial centers.

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Revolutionary results

In the 1770s, growing hostilities between Britain and the fledgling colonies (that were now calling themselves states) led the colonies to draft the Declaration of Independence, formally severing ties with Britain. In 1775, the Continental Congress issued a declaration outlining the colonists' reasons for fighting the British. Perhaps the most empowering section of the declaration stated that Americans were 'resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves.' Also, as a prelude to impending armed conflict, Congress established America's first navy, then appointed a clandestine panel to seek assistance from European nations in the struggle for independence. A year later, the American revolutionaries got the necessary foreign support for which they had hoped. It was a welcome relief because Britain's King George III released a royal decree revoking the American colonies' right to trade and commerce as from March 1776. But in December, Congress learnt that France would lend support and King Louis XVI gave $1 million in arms and munitions. Spain then also promised support. In 1778, American and French representatives signed the Treaty of Amity & Commerce and a Treaty of Alliance in which France officially recognized the United States. France soon became the major provider of supplies to George Washington's army. A decade after the war for independence began, the British Parliament sanctioned the king to negotiate peace with the United States.

Following the Revolutionary War, the fledgling US Congress launched a search for a permanent home. The Constitution, ratified in 1788, specified that a federal territory, no greater than 10 sq miles, should be established for the nation's capital. The newly inaugurated President George Washington chose the site on the Potomac. It was strategically suitable for commerce and river traffic, and politically pleasing to both Northern and Southern concerns. Maryland and Virginia agreed to cede land to the new capital.

Over beers at Suter's tavern in Georgetown, Washington persuaded local landowners to sell their holdings to the government for $66 an acre. In March 1791 the African American mathematician Benjamin Banneker and surveyor Andrew Ellicott mapped out a diamond-shaped territory that spanned the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Its four corners were at the cardinal points of the compass, and it embraced the river ports of Georgetown and Alexandria (the latter eventually returned to Virginia). Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a French officer in the Revolutionary War, sketched plans for a grandiose European-style capital of monumental buildings and majestic boulevards. It was named the 'Territory of Columbia' (to honor Christopher Columbus), but residents began calling it the city of Washington.

But L'Enfant's showcase capital went unfinished. The French major was a diva, quarrelling with city commissioners, running afoul of local politicians and knocking down people's houses while they were out of town. In 1792, Washington fired his planner. Meanwhile, land speculators grabbed prized properties, and buildings sprang up haphazardly along mucky lanes. In 1793, construction began on the President's House and the Capitol, the geographic center points of the city. In 1800, John Adams became the first president to occupy the still uncompleted mansion. His wife Abigail hung the family's laundry in the East Room. The city remained a half-built, sparsely populated work in progress.

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War of 1812: washington burns

In the early 19th century, the young nation had yet to become a formidable force in world affairs. US merchants and seamen were regularly bullied on the high seas by the British Navy. Responding to congressional hawks, President James Madison declared war in 1812. In retaliation for the razing of York (Toronto) by US troops, the British assaulted Washington. Work was barely complete on the Capitol in August 1814, when redcoats sailed up the Patuxent River and burned it to the ground. The victorious British embarked on a night of looting and arson. When it was over, most of the city's public buildings had been torched. President and Dolley Madison fled to the Virginia suburbs, with the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in hand.

Although the British were expelled and the city rebuilt, Washington was slow to recover. A congressional initiative to abandon the dispirited capital was lost by just nine votes.

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Slavery in the federal city

When Congress first convened in Washington in 1800, the city had about 14, 000 residents. It was even then a heavily African American populated town: slaves and free Blacks composed 29% of the population. Free Blacks lived in the port of Georgetown, where a vibrant African American community emerged. They worked alongside and socialized with the city's slaves.

Since its introduction in Jamestown colony in 1619, slave labor had become an essential part of the regional tobacco economy. In 1800, more than half of the nation's 700, 000 slaves lived in Maryland and Virginia. The capital of America's slave trade at that time, Washington, DC, contained slave markets and holding pens. Slavers conducted a highly profitable business buying slaves locally in DC and selling them to Southern plantations.

The city's slave population steadily declined throughout the 19th century, while the number of free Blacks rose. They migrated to the city, establishing their own churches and schools.

Washington, DC, became a front line in the intensifying conflict between the North and South over slavery. The city was a strategic stop on the clandestine Underground Railroad, shuttling fugitive slaves to freedom in the northern states. The abolitionist movement fueled further racial tensions. In 1835, the Snow Riots erupted as White mobs set loose on Black Washingtonians. When the rampage subsided, legislation was passed restricting the economic rights of the city's free Blacks. At last, Congress outlawed the slave trade in Washington in 1850; the District Emancipation Act abolished slavery outright in 1862.

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A house divided: civil war & reconstruction

The 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln meant that the office of president would no longer protect Southern interests in the increasingly irreconcilable rift over slavery. Rather than abide by the electoral outcome, Southern secessionists opted to exit the Union, igniting a four-year fratricidal clash. A prized target, Washington was often near the frontlines of fighting. A ring of earthwork forts was hastily erected around the city to protect it from attack. Washington saw only one battle on its soil: Confederate General Jubal Early's unsuccessful attack on Fort Stevens in northern DC, in July 1864. Washingtonians lived in constant anxiety, however, as bloody battles raged nearby at Antietam, Gettysburg and Manassas.

Washington experienced an influx of soldiers, volunteers, civil servants and ex-slaves. Within three months of hostilities starting, over 50, 000 enlistees descended on the capital to join the Army of the Potomac. The city served as an important rearguard position for troop encampments and supply operations.

Only five days after Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox, Lincoln was assassinated in downtown Washington at Ford's Theatre.

The Civil War had a lasting impact on the city. The war strengthened the power of the federal government, marking the first efforts to conscript young men into military service and to collect income tax from private households. Warfare brought new bureaucracies, workers and buildings to the capital. Between the war's start and end, the city's population nearly doubled to more than 130, 000. Howard University was founded in 1867 to educate Black residents; by this time, Blacks comprised nearly half the population.

The capital economy was bolstered by a postwar boom. Although in many ways a Southern city, Washington was already part of the commercial networks of the north. The B&O Railroad connected the city via Baltimore to the industry of the northeast; while the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal opened a waterway to the agriculture of the Midwest. In 1871, President Ulysses S Grant appointed a Board of Public Works to upgrade the urban infrastructure and improve living conditions. The board was led by Alexander Shepherd, who energetically took on the assignment. He paved streets, put in sewers, installed gaslights, planted trees, filled in swamps and carved out parklands. But he also ran over budget by $20 million or so, and was sacked by Congress, who reclaimed responsibility for city affairs. 'Boss' Shepherd was the closest thing that DC would have to self- government for 100 years.

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Turn of the american century

As the 1900s began, the US asserted itself on the world stage, competing with Europe to extend its influence overseas. With the Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, the US had entered the Age of Empire.

In 1900, Senator James McMillan of Michigan formed an all-star city-planning commission to make over the capital, whose population now surpassed a quarter-million. The McMillan Plan effectively revived L'Enfant's vision of a resplendent city on par with Europe's best. The plan proposed grand public buildings in the beaux-arts style, which reconnected the city to its neoclassical republican roots, but with an eclectic flair. It was impressive, orderly and upper class. The plan entailed an extensive beautification project. It removed the scrubby trees and coal-fired locomotives that belched black smoke from the National Mall, and created the expansive lawn and reflecting pools that exist today.

The Mall became a showcase of the symbols of American ambition and power: monumental tributes to the founding fathers; the enshrinement of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in a Greek temple; and the majestic Memorial Bridge leading to Arlington National Cemetery, hallowed ground of the nation's fallen warriors. Washington had become the nation's civic center, infused with the spirit of history, heroes and myths. The imagery was embraced by the country's budding political class.

The plan improved living conditions for middle-class public servants and professionals. New 'suburbs, ' such as Woodley Park and Mount Pleasant, offered better-off residents a respite from the hot inner city, and electric trolleys crisscrossed the streets. Of course, the daily life of many Washingtonians was less promising. Impoverished slums like Murder Bay and Swamppoodle stood near government buildings, and about 20, 000 poor Blacks still dwelled in dirty alleyways.

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War, depression, more war

Two world wars and one Great Depression changed forever the place of Washington in American society. These events hastened a concentration of power in the federal government in general and the executive branch in particular. National security and social welfare became the high-growth sectors of public administration. City life transformed from Southern quaintness into cosmopolitan clamor.

WWI witnessed a surge of immigration. The administration of war had an unquenchable thirst for clerks, soldiers, nurses and other military support staff. By war's end, the city's population was over half a million. This phenomenon recurred in WWII, when the city's population topped a million. A burgeoning organizational infrastructure supported the new national security state. The US Army's city-based civilian employee roll grew from 7000 to 41, 000 in the first year of the war. The world's largest office building, the Pentagon, was hastily built across the river to house them all.

In response to the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal extended the reach of the federal government into the economy. Federal regulators acquired greater power to intervene in business and financial affairs. Dozens of relief agencies were created to administer the social guarantees of the nascent welfare state. In Washington, New Deal work projects included tree planting on the Mall and finishing public buildings, such as the Supreme Court.

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The cold war

The Cold War was without doubt the dominant political reality of the post WWII 20th century. The United States' very public ego battle with the USSR was not fought face to face, but through the use of proxy clients. Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mozambique and Afghanistan were all pawns in the geopolitical, economic and ideological battle. Red fever swept the US. Communists were devils, and the domino theory (if one country turns red the next one will follow until a whole continent topples like a set of dominoes) was coffee table-conversation for many. People built special underground shelters (stocked with canned food and bottled water) to safeguard their families in the event of a nuclear war.

During the 40-plus years known as the Cold War, everything became a race. There was the arms race: Who could build the most intercontinental ballistic missiles fastest? There was the space race: Who could put a man on the moon first? Score one for the USA - Neil Armstrong took the first steps on July 20, 1969.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, which took place over 12 days in October 1962, brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war, and many believe that without John F Kennedy's brilliant diplomacy it would have. The president resisted using force to make Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev dismantle the nuclear weapons he had deployed in Cuba (a little too close to US soil to be ignored). Instead, he chose a nonviolent blockade that allowed the Soviet leader to withdraw the missiles without losing face.

During the Cold War, many covert battles were waged on foreign soil. Perhaps the most famous was the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan's tenure as president. Folks in his administration, along with the CIA, secretly and illegally sold arms to Iran, a US enemy, and then used the proceeds to finance the Contras, an anti-communist guerilla army in Nicaragua.

The Cold War furthered the concentration of political power in Washington-based bureaucracies. It attracted new breeds of policy specialists - macro-economists, international experts and social engineers. They comprised a better-educated and more prosperous middle class. This trend continued unabated until the Reagan presidency. Even then, the foundations of 'big government' proved too firm to undermine. Candidate Reagan vowed to abolish the Commerce Department once elected. Not only did the bureaucracy survive his tenure, but it constructed a fabulous new office building, ironically named for the 40th president.

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Segregation & the civil rights movement

In the early 20th century, Washington adopted racial segregation policies, like those of the South. Its business establishments and public spaces became, in practice if not in law, 'Whites only.' The 'progressive' Woodrow Wilson administration reinforced discrimination by refusing to hire Black federal employees and insisting on segregated government offices. In 1925, the Ku Klux Klan marched on the Mall.

Nonetheless, Washington was a Black cultural capital in the early 20th century. Shaw and LeDroit Park, near Howard University, sheltered a lively Black-owned business district, and Black theater and music flourished along U St NW. Southern Blacks continued to move to the city in search of better economic opportunities. Between 1920 and 1930, Washington's Black population jumped 20%. Citywide segregation eased somewhat with the New Deal (which brought new Black federal workers to the capital) and WWII (which brought lots more).

In 1939, the DC-based Daughters of the American Revolution barred the Black contralto Marian Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall. At Eleanor Roosevelt's insistence, Anderson instead sang at the Lincoln Memorial before a huge audience - and that iconic moment highlighted a new era of Black-led demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts and lawsuits. Parks and recreational facilities were legally desegregated in 1954; schools followed soon thereafter. President John F Kennedy appointed the city's first Black federal commissioner in 1961. The Home Rule Act was approved in 1973, giving the city some autonomy from its federal overseers. The 1974 popular election of Walter Washington brought the first Black mayor to office. The capital became one of the most prominent African American-governed cities in the country.

Washington hosted key events in the national civil rights struggle. In 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr led the March on Washington to lobby for passage of the Civil Rights Act. His stirring 'I have a dream' speech, delivered before 200, 000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was a defining moment of the campaign. The assassination of Reverend King in Memphis in 1968, sent the nation reeling. Race riots gripped the country. DC was no exception. It saw the worst racially motivated conflicts in its history when the city exploded in two nights of riots and arson (centered on 14th and U Sts NW in the Shaw district). Twelve people died and hundreds of mostly Black-owned businesses suffered heavy damage. White residents fled the city en masse, and downtown Washington north of the Mall (especially the Shaw district) faded into decades of economic slump.

The legacy of segregation proved difficult to overcome. For the next quarter-century, White and Black Washington grew further apart. By 1970, the city center's population declined to 750, 000, while the wealthier suburbs boomed to nearly three million. When the sleek, federally funded Metrorail system opened in 1976, it bypassed the poorer Black neighborhoods and instead connected the downtown to the White suburbs.

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Decay & decline

By the end of the 1960s no-one could ignore the declining situation in Vietnam. The war was taking a giant toll on President Lyndon Johnson's popularity. Americans were growing angry at the rising death tolls and seeming quagmire in Southeast Asia, along with the deteriorating domestic economic situation at home. Demonstrations in Washington were called for, and people took to the street to protest poverty and the Vietnam War.

The political upheaval that began in the 1960s continued unchecked into the next decade. The year 1970 marked the first time DC was granted a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives. Three years later the Home Rule Act paved the way for the District's first mayoral election in more than a century.

These were about the only two positives the city experienced that decade. Neighborhoods continued to decay, crack-cocaine hit District streets with a vengeance and housing projects turned into war zones. In fact, by 1980, DC had won the oh-so-lovely tagline of 'Murder Capital of America.'

Jimmy Carter became president in 1977. A 'malaise' marked his tenure. High gas prices, unemployment and inflation climbed to an all-time high. The taking of American hostages in Iran in 1979, an act that Carter had few options for dealing with, was the straw that broke the camel's back. In November 1980, he lost his job to Ronald Reagan, a former actor who had once been California governor.

The city's negative trends continued in the 1980s. Elected mayor in 1978, Marion Barry was a veteran of the civil rights struggle. Combative and charismatic, he became a racially polarizing figure in the city.

On January 18, 1990, Barry and companion, ex-model Hazel 'Rasheeda' Moore, were arrested in a narcotics sting at the Vista Hotel. The FBI and DC police arrested the mayor for crack-cocaine possession amid his memorable quote: '…set up…bitch set me up.'

When Barry was re-elected to a fourth term, following a stint in jail, Congress acted to reclaim financial control of the city and end yet another episode in Home Rule.

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American history

The outskirts of DC have no shortage of historic sites in the near vicinity. George Washington's magnificent estate at Mount Vernon is an easy half-day trip from the city, as is Manassas, the site of the first major Civil War battle and a shining example of old-fashioned America. The Colonial town of Leesburg is one of the oldest settlements in the area - the old town is still an easy charmer, but avoid it during rush hour when the roads are clogged with miles upon miles of commuters. The towns on the Chesapeake - such as Annapolis and St Michaels - are less touristy and preserve their maritime history with harbors that have been bustling for hundreds of years, and with old mansions overlooking the bay.

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Favorite books on dc history

The Birth of the Nation: A Portrait of the American People on the Eve of Independence, Arthur Schlesinger (1968) Colonial life vividly portrayed.

On this Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, DC, Paul Dickson and Douglas Evelyn (1992) Pinpoints the spots and shows photos where historic events took place.

Black Georgetown Remembered: A History of Its Black Community from the Founding of 'The Town of George' in 1751 to the Present Day, Kathleen M Lesko, Valerie Babb and Carroll R Gibbs (1991) From Indian village to bustling tobacco port to slave town to colonial town, this great narrative tells the story of Georgetown from the very beginning.

State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, Bob Woodward (2006) A peeling back of the varnish; indictment of perhaps the most controversial presidential wartime decisions in contemporary history.

Washington Goes to War, David Brinkley (1996) An agreeable book about the changes that WWII wrought upon DC as thousands of newcomers flooded into town to fill government jobs.

The 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (2006) A compelling avant-garde cartoon illustration recounting the controversial history of the fateful day and following weeks that rocked the country's self-assuredness indefinitely.

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