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As thousands of Christian men prepare for their pilgrimage to D.C. this Saturday, Promise Keepers organizers have been grinding out press releases insisting that the event is not political. “No political speeches, no protests, no fireworks,” declares one of the missives. But how exactly is a massive gathering of like-minded people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., not political? It’s just not, huffs Laura Swickard, a PK spokesperson, who says D.C. was chosen not because of its political magnetism but because “quite frankly, it’s really the only place in the country that has the services…to handle it.” And those (notorious) services happen to be free, gee whiz, if you get a “First Amendment permit” from the National Park Service. When PK organizers filled out the permit application last year, they checked the box marked “demonstration”—defined by the park service as including “speeches, picketing, vigils, etc., and all similar activity designed to communicate a message of some kind.” They skipped over the other choice, known as a “special event” permit, which would have forced the evangelical organization to fund the police overtime and other pricey support services. Sure enough, they got the permit, so now the city gets the tab. And Promise Keepers need not dip into the $16 million it grossed in merchandise sales last year. Despite calling the gathering a First Amendment demonstration, PK spokesperson Jim Jewell maintains, “There’s nothing that’s going to be political about the event.” Jewell doesn’t mince words when explaining the apolitical correctness: “Government is inept and is unable to make any discernible difference in the issues that Promise Keepers are addressing.” But thankfully government is still capable of paying your cleanup bills.

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Miss You Much Raymone Bain, Mayor Barry’s long-suffering press secretary, has achieved poetic justice at last, going from representing the man with possibly the worst image in the free world to flacking for a woman with one of the slickest. Bain has taken a leave of absence to serve as Janet Jackson’s publicist, just in time for the release of Miss Jackson’s newest CD. Bain is on “extended vacation,” Barry told reporters last week, adding, “Janet Jackson is much more rich than I am.” Bain herself refuses to say much about her new escapade, not even deigning to comment on which of her clients is the better performer. “I don’t know,” she says. “I can’t answer that.”

Love Thyself Number of times the Washington Times has congratulated itself so far this year using the words “The Washington Times has learned…” in its stories: 35. (Already the paper has lapped last year’s total of 26.)

Cleveland Park, Va. There are still a few die-hards in D.C. who refuse to move out to the suburbs, so developers are bringing a bit of exurban bliss inside the District line. The attendant cultural divide was evident in Cleveland Park the Tuesday before last, however, when Fairfax’s Batal Builders got an earful from residents of the tony streets surrounding their proposed Tregaron development. Keeping his chin up, developer John Batal touted the successful “communities” and spacious “town homes” his family firm builds all across Northern Virginia. Now, said Batal, after heaping similar praise on Cleveland Park, “we want to provide that chance to live in Cleveland Park for people who want these single-family homes, who want these two-car garages…” “But we don’t have that,” interjected a meeting attendee. “That’s not Cleveland Park. That’s Virginia!” To the builder’s eyes, the neighborhood’s detached houses and back yards must have seemed just like the suburban blocks his firm always builds. But to neighbors, Batal’s photos of antiseptic, identical Rosslyn tracts were utterly foreign. “You lost the argument the minute you showed those pictures,” muttered one man.

King of the Court With a little time to kill between ribbon cuttings last week, Mayor Barry clocked in a game of horse with a Washington City Paper reporter a fraction of his age. After much showboating and trash talking (on both sides), Barry crushed our boy flat in a matter of minutes. Although the mayor dribbled as if his hands were giant pancakes, his jump shot proved deadly. “I told you I was good,” he said, shaking hands with the vanquished hack.

Reporting by Jason Cherkis, Amanda Ripley, and Michael Schaffer

Please send your City Desk tips to Amanda Ripley at aripley@washcp.com or call 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.