After living in Washington for nearly a year, President Donald Trump has yet to enjoy a single non-working meal at a restaurant that doesn’t pay him rent. He hasn’t taken in a performance at the Kennedy Center, hasn’t been to a sporting event and hasn’t toured most of the sights.
It’s one of the peculiarities of the Trump presidency and one of a long list of ways in which he’s changing the office—as well as its relationship with Washington.
“I would say that Trump has been the least present of any of the most recent presidents,” said Phil Mendelson, Democratic chairman of the Washington, D.C., City Council and a member since 1999.
It’s not just restaurants, says Mendelson. Trump has been less engaged on the local charity circuit than other recent presidents, with no stops at local food banks or to help elementary school reading drives. First lady Melania Trump has been venturing out more often, appearing with Jordan’s Queen Rania at a girls’ charter school, attending a holiday toy drive sponsored by the military, and visiting with patients and staff at Children’s National hospital.
But the homebody president rarely goes out—and when he does it’s almost always to properties that bear his name.
Trump has spent at least part of more than 100 days of his presidency at properties he owns—taking winter weekends at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and summer weekends in Bedminster, New Jersey, or at his Virginia golf club.
Those weekends that he does spend in Washington, Trump has dined at just one restaurant: BLT Prime in the Trump International Hotel, which opened last year just a few blocks from the White House.
Trump’s visits have thrilled the tourists who flock to the hotel, building buzz and earning revenue. But most often, Trump, who is known to prefer well-done steaks with ketchup to snootier fare, chooses to eat in.
“I love the food in the White House. The White House is the greatest restaurant, it’s the most beautiful,” he told the Larry O’Connor radio show last month. “They do such a beautiful job.”
Trump took office as arguably the most prepared of recent presidents for the constraints of living and working in the White House and its Secret Service-enforced security bubble, having spent decades ensconced at Trump Tower in New York.
“The reason my hair looks so neat all the time is because I don’t have to deal with the elements. I live in the building where I work. I take an elevator from my bedroom to my office. The rest of the time, I’m either in my stretch limousine, my private jet, my helicopter, or my private club in Palm Beach Florida,” he once wrote.
Not much has changed—though the house, plane and helicopter are now taxpayer-paid.
Trump’s homebody ways mark a dramatic shift from his predecessor, who relished the renaissance in the D.C. dining scene. The Obamas embraced Washington, sampling its hottest restaurants, from high-end to low brow, and providing coveted buzz to eateries like celebrity chef José Andrés’ small plates restaurant Oyamel Cocina Mexicana and Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack.
During the 2014 government shutdown, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made a run to Taylor Gourmet sandwich shop, which was offering discounts for government workers. And when it was time to signal an attempted reset in relations with Russia, Obama treated Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to burgers and fries at Ray’s Hell Burger in nearby Arlington, Virginia.
Even before Obama’s inauguration, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty welcomed the soon-to-be president to the city with lunch at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl.
“It is actually tragic that the current administration hasn’t taken the time yet to go out to the different restaurants to see how vibrant and delicious the current dining scene in D.C. actually is,” said Nycci Safier Nellis, publisher of TheListAreYouOnIt.com, which tracks the local food scene.
Obama also embraced the city in other ways, celebrating Small Business Saturday, for instance, with a trip to Kramerbooks with his daughters. Michelle Obama was often spotted at SoulCycle.
The Trumps have kept a much lower profile, with no known first lady shopping trips or presidential visits to son Barron’s soccer games. Trump did visit the Smithsonian’s new black history museum last February during Black History Month.
Trump recently suggested he might venture out of his comfort zone more often.
“In Washington you do have some great restaurants, and I’m going to start going to ’em,” he said in the radio interview last month. “I was accused the other day, well, when I leave the White House, which is seldom, I always go to my hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and they say, ‘He should go to other places.’ And I never thought of it, and I’m going to start doing that. I’m going to go around.”
Jessica Sidman, food editor at Washingtonian magazine, said Trump could face resistance in a diverse and overwhelmingly Democratic city where he won just 4 percent of the vote.
“I’m sure there are places that would welcome him, but I think there are a lot of places that might be reluctant to serve him, even though restaurants kind of have this idea of hospitality and we welcome everyone,” she said.
“It’s good to show respect to your community” by giving them business, she said, “but I’m just not sure to what extent he’s welcome in the community.”
Reporters write hundreds of stories in a year.
Many of them are breaking or timely news: accidents, shootings, city budgets, court decisions, business transactions.
But stories that reporters pick as their favorites often don’t involve breaking news.
They’re about people.
Some of those people need help. Others face challenges that test them. Still others inspire the reporter simply by the way they live.
Those types of stories make good reading, and they dominated among our reporters’ favorites for 2017.
Date published: May 14
Synopsis: Police officer Lindsey Bittorf donated a kidney to 8-year-old Jackson Arneson, whom she did not know prior to offering the kidney.
The story was one of my favorites because it highlights the best of human nature. In a year filled with mass shootings and bitter political divisions, the story of a mother who reached out to another mother to save her son’s life was uplifting and inspirational. Officer Bittorf modeled an example of what love looks like in its truest form.
Date published: July 16
Synopsis: Apartment renters and city officials discuss problematic landlords who don’t address problems at their properties, leading to poor living conditions for tenants.
I received a call over the summer from a Janesville resident who complained about a landlord who refused to fix problems in his apartment. Little did I know I was starting what would turn into weeks of interviews, research and data crunching. It produced a story people talked about for days.
I love this story because it’s the result of dozens of hours of work, and I think it shows. I spoke to several tenants in their homes, and they showed me the problems their landlords would not correct. I spoke to landlords and the city officials responsible for making sure they took care of their properties. I gathered plenty of statistics and data to back up my story.
The result is a powerful exposé of a somewhat-hidden issue that affects hundreds of local residents.
Headline: “Vinnie gets his birthday swagger”
Date published: Aug. 26
Synopsis: A young boy with a congenital disorder gets a birthday party at his favorite place: Target.
When I watched 4-year-old Vinnie Natale racing toward the toy aisles during a birthday party his parents threw for him at Janesville’s Target store, I found myself bursting with pride for somebody I had never even met.
Vinnie, who has a congenital bone disease called arthrogryposis, had a tough time learning to walk. On his birthday, he was in his all-time favorite place: Target. It’s where Vinnie’s folks liked to take him after scores of painful rehab treatments for his rare disorder. Target is where he first learned to walk.
During a treasure hunt at the party, Vinnie practically ran through the aisles, leaving his friends and family in the dust. Vinnie’s doctors weren’t sure he’d ever walk. I wish they could have seen him move on his birthday.
Vinnie’s catch-phrase is “I love you to Target and back.” Well, I loved this story to Vinnie and back.
Date published: Sept. 19
Synopsis: The story is about Angie Johnson, who suffers from mental health issues after being abused by her father, and her healing process through NAMI.
Things that are important to talk about are often difficult to talk about. That was the case with Angie’s story. Issues surrounding mental health can weigh heavy on the heart. People who are suffering in this way rarely want to discuss their struggles, especially with a reporter.
The story stands out to me because it wasn’t just a story, it was part of Angie’s healing process. She wanted to share her story to help others fight similar battles and help herself move forward.
Journalists rarely get to see their work affect people in real time. But sitting in that room with Angie, I watched her face turn from solemn to smiling. I saw the relief in her eyes as she talked about her progress, and I saw the hope she had when we talked about how her story could make a difference.
I wish we didn’t need to talk about abuse and mental illness, but we do, and that need can’t be ignored, which is why Angie’s story is my favorite from 2017.
Date published: Oct. 1
Synopsis: Thousands enjoyed loud music, warm sunshine, fellowship and joy at the JJO Sonic Boom heavy-metal festival at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville.
I mostly write about the cruel things people do to each other in Rock County. Journalists call it the cops and courts beat. This was a hellish year for that—so bad that covering thorny political news was almost a relief.
So I was in no mood when I was ordered to go to the airport in Janesville to cover a rock concert. I’ve never been a heavy-metal fan.
But the fans won me over with their joyous celebration of liberty to do just about whatever pleased them. And they were kind and gracious to an older man who was clearly not one of them.
Date published: Nov. 5
Synopsis: Three generations of the Templeton family work together during harvest season on their joint dairy and crop farm.
This was my favorite story because it was my first opportunity to spend several weeks with one source for the same story.
I saw the Templetons periodically for about a month, culminating in a 12-hour visit that began before sunrise. I gained more appreciation for what farmers must go through during the harvest season: The Templetons were still working when I left after my 12-hour day.
More important, I got to learn about their family outside of farming. I had to leave out many good conversations to keep the final piece cohesive, but those conversations helped me understand the Templetons far better than if I had visited only once, asked my questions and left.
I had wanted to find a family who had a midsize farm without much glitz or glamour. I knew the Templetons would be a good fit when I first visited and saw their rustic, century-old barn with the family name written on its side. None of the farm’s buildings were shabby by any means, but they weren’t glittering with modern extravagance, either. The photos and video taken by Gazette photographer Angela Major reflected this tenacious beauty.
I will always remember my month with the Templetons, and I hope the final story allowed readers to see what I did.
Headline: Series of stories about outstanding Janesville high school students
Dates published: June 5, 6, 8 and 9
Synopsis: I don’t have a single favorite story. Instead, I have a favorite series of stories, each one about a standout senior at Janesville high schools.
Duncan Leckey of Rock University, Autumn Breuer of Parker High School, Uriah Williams of Craig High School and Jaz Kennedy of TAGOS Leadership Academy were all students who amazed me with their resilience and courage.
When I was 18, I was an unholy mess—I think most of us are at that age. All of these students had faced serious challenges in their lives. Not just one tough spot to overcome, not one battle, but numerous times when they had to summon all their strength just to get through. And those experiences, while difficult, helped mold them into the extraordinary people they are today.
Date published: Aug. 27
Synopsis: This story examines how Daysi Mckay grew up and went on to attend college—a goal she achieved despite bouncing between six foster homes and nine schools. Her family life was anything but normal: Her dad died in a car accident, and her mother was addicted to drugs, eventually dying of a heroin overdose.
This story is my favorite because Daysi is the most remarkable person I’ve interviewed in this job. I am grateful she opened up her life to me so she could tell an important story about what a parent’s drug addiction can do to a child.
Daysi’s mother, Mary T. Lefaive, was in and out of jail, drug addiction and Daysi’s life. I could not interview Mary, but I still got a glimpse into her life after spending hours reading letters she sent Daysi from jail and prison. It’s a story that’s all too common in the current heroin and opioid crises.
After the story was published, Daysi said a few people reached out to her about donating money for her college expenses. One person gave her $500.