Opinion

Black Thursday in Georgetown

Bill Regardie Founder, Regardie's Magazine

When the U.S. Senate passed its vast financial overhaul bill last Thursday, suddenly the lights went out in Georgetown and across the river in equally tony McLean, Va. The area’s inhabitants, an incredible 3,000 lobbyists and lawyers, plus their army of foot soldiers—caterers, public relation pros, pollsters, plus secretaries and receptionists—were heading for the unemployment lines.

Over the next 72 hours, the economy in these hermetically sealed villages was devastated. Not a single shopper stopped by Mercedes of McLean. The Jimmy Choo store in McLean Square offered 75 percent off but didn’t sell a single pair. The Apple store in Georgetown closed in solidarity. Escada Dresses in Georgetown stayed opened until midnight Sunday, but not even a shoplifter showed up.

Realtors in both villages were flooded with hundreds of new listings by Saturday noon which, naturally, forced down prices 50 percent. Shock and awe drove shoppers from the market. One agent said that the few prospects on Sunday expected prices to drop even more.

And It wasn’t just business that was hit hard. At Langley High School in McLean, where the teen talk typically covered such pressing questions as “what kind of jet does your daddy have?”, they had to close the school at noon on Friday because they couldn’t find enough grief councilors. At Georgetown Day School, classes were canceled for the remainder of the term—10 days early!

On Monday, the downtown headhunter stopped taking called by 10 a.m. Shrinks turned away new clients. Luxury German auto dealers opened to find dozens of returned leased cars with notes on the front seat that read: “Sue Me.”

It was the kind of horror story that we had often read about happening in the rust belt, not the rich belt.

But though the Senate had voted, there was still the critical issue of derivatives trading—those complex contracts which are essentially bets on the on the prices of stocks, commodities, etc. This provision could still be inserted back in the bill. The banks wanted it bad. But it would be difficult, if not impossible fight.

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“So whatya going to do?”, I asked Senator Bob, as we sat in his plush K Street office on Monday morning. He was an old pal, a former two-termer from a Midwest state, who had made millions since joining the dark side.

“Hell, boy, we’ll fight ’em in conference committee, we’ll fight after passage, we’ll fight ’em in court, hell, we’ll fight ’em in the court of public of opinion.”

“But, Senator Bob, that’s where you lost the fight. The country hates the banks and they hate Washington. You spent nearly $2 billion and 3,000 jobs, and you still lost. Public opinion just blew you away.”

Just then, his phone rang: “Sure, Vicky, I’ll take his call.”

I offered to excuse myself but he waved for me to stay put.

“Larry, you old SOB. You boys sure got your selves in a one helluva mess. Anything I can do to help?

“Why, sure, I got some time now. Lunch today? Fine. Palm, 12:30? Good, see you there.” And he hung up.

“That was BP. I guess I just picked me up another client. God, I love this town.

Bill Regardie is publisher of Regardie’s magazine.