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Doing D.C. in Style: Box Lunch, 16 Degrees

February 10, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ On a day when the front page warned of cuts in bus service, when two more shooting victims died, and when the temperature hugged 16, the tourist industry made a brave show of selling Washington, D.C.

The wonder was that so many attended.

The show was for the congressional staff members who field calls daily from Americans eager to see the city that’s been called ″everybody’s home town.″

Some feel it’s the worst parts of everybody’s home town, especially politicians who would walk over their grandmothers’ backs to get here and then tell the home folks that it’s every bit as rotten as they thought.

As a countermeasure, the Chamber of Commerce and the city’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, put on an ″Ask me about Washington,″ fair. Free box lunches may have helped swell the crowd.

As people milled around from table to table gathering brochures, a reporter asked these staffers about the questions they get.

Question most asked: ″Is it safe?″

Second most asked: ″Is that really true?″

″I get so tired of hearing people talk about the crime,″ said Katie Hemmer, a representative of Old Town Trolleys. ″I feel safe here. I get so angry with the press for harping on crime.″

There was no hard sell at the two-hour fair, no speeches, no ceremony.

Shayne Gill, who handles tourist inquiries in the office of Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., a first termer, said he is often asked ″where is a safe place to say?″ and ″what’s affordable?″ One prospective visitor even asked whether there were taxis to take from the Union Station to his hotel.

When constituents come to call, most congressional offices like to have a barrage of material available so the tourists will have a good time.

Sam LeBlanc works for a company that provides free maps to offices around town, paid for by advertisers.

″We’re like any big city,″ he said, ″no worse, no better.″

Many potential tourists don’t realize there is more to the city than the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian museums and the White House.

″They don’t think of this as a theater town, but we are; they don’t think of this as a shopping town, but we are,″ said Nancy Riker of DC Accommodations, which has a toll-free number to provide information. ″We let them know what the city has to offer,″ she said.

Most of the congressional staffers at the fair were fairly new to the city and enthusiastic tourists themselves.

″Everyone requests a White House tour and tours of Congress and the Capitol,″ said Hilary Hibbeln who works for Rep. Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho. Her office has 10 tickets a week to give away for White House visits.

Ken Morton, who works for Rep. Ronald Machtley, R-R.I., said one constituent wanted to meet President Clinton and Vice President Gore.

″I told them I would try my best,″ he said.

Can he arrange it? ″You can try,″ he said diplomatically.

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