CRITICS WANT TO REOPEN 'AMERICA'S MAIN STREET' PROTECTED WHITE HOUSE CALLED 'CASTLE'
WashingtonTimes, June 8, 1996
By M. Cherie Black Washington Times Staff Writer
Critics yesterday challenged the White House to reopen
Pennsylvania Avenue, calling the security concerns that prompted
the Secret Service to close the road an overreaction to an
The closing has clogged downtown traffic, cost the District
money from lost parking meters and left "America's Main Street" a
deserted stretch in front of the White House.
Speakers told the House Government Reform and Oversight
subcommittee on the District that if the Secret Service will not
relent, President Clinton needs to tell the agency to "get real"
and get rid of the barricades that threaten to turn the White
House into a fortress.
Sen. Rod Grams, Minnesota Republican, called the decision to
close the street May 20, 1995 less than six weeks after the
Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 persons -- "knee-jerk" and
"We'll dig up Pennsylvania Avenue, fill it with water and maybe
a few imported alligators and ring it with guards clad in armor
and brandishing spears." said Mr. Grams, who is leading the
opposition to the closing. "Kings live in castles ... presidents
But Secret Service Director Eljay Bowron insisted that the
threat to the president`is as real now as it was when the street
was ordered closed.
"The only thing that is preventing the terrorist or extremist
from mounting an attack like in Oklahoma is the lack of access."
Mr. Bowron told a skeptical subcommittee. "It's not a matter of
if, but when someone will enter the White House."
He said all other alternatives have been exhausted, and that
keeping the street closed is the only way to protect the White
That was echoed by Dennis Galvin, associate director for
professional services for the National Park Service.
"The· potential for large-scale destruction exists even within
our borders, therefore, we must preserve and protect our most
important symbols." he said.
It is the symbolism of a barricaded White House that has
galvanized an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and
conservative Republicans to push for a reopening of the road.
Mayor Marion Barry called Mr. Clinton "one of our most
gregarious presidents" and urged him to come to the front lines
like his predecessors and not try to hide fran the consequences
of the job he chose to run for.
White House officials said Mr. Clinton accepted the Secret
Services recommendation to close the road only reluctantly.
Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat and
a member of the subcommittee, attacked the Secret Service for its
efforts to keep the road closed permanently, calling it
"President Clinton needs to tell [the Secret Service] to 'get
real,'" said Mrs. Norton. "He exposed himself to assassination
every day -- it comes with the territory. The irony of putting
him behind barricades is uncanny'."
She said the attention the Secret Service is creating about this
issue only raises the profile of the Whit House, making it even
more of a target.
John J. Strauchs, chief executive officer for Systech, an
engineering firm that specializes in security, noted that closing
one means of entrance to the White House will only force would-be
terrorists to use another.
"How much sense would it be to install a steel door in the front
of your house and a cardboard door in the back!" he asked.
Mrs. Norton also attacked the street-closing for the traffic
problems it has created in downtown Washington.
The Department of Transportation estimates that the District
has lost nearly $100,000 in revenue from 49 fewer parking meters
in the closed area. Metro has also spent an additional $315,000
as buses are forced to travel around the closed-off area, the
The study said east-west traffic downtown has increased
dramatically since the closing of the avenue, which carried about
26,000 vehicles a day. Traffic on Constitution Avenue has
increased 50 percent, while H Street traffic went up by 34
percent and I Street had a 31 percent increase.
The National Park Service is beginning a renovation, costing $40
million or more, that would turn the closed section of street
into a permanent pedestrian mall.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of
the subcommittee, called that "a preposterous and extravagant
Chris Whitley contributed to this article, which is based in
part on wire service reports
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