Heard on the Hill: Help Me, Harry Reid, You’re My Only Hope

Posted April 17, 2009 at 5:26pm

It’s not your typical constituent request: A woman who makes her unlikely living impersonating singer Toni Braxton (who knew that was a viable career option?) is appealing to Nevada Democrats Rep. Shelley Berkley and Sen. Harry Reid for help.

[IMGCAP(1)]Las Vegas resident Trina Johnson-Finn is being held in a Surinamese jail after a concert that she performed went awry — and she’s looking to Capitol Hill for assistance. According to reports, the Surinamese audience members watching the concert became angry when they realized that she wasn’t the real Toni Braxton (of “Unbreak My Heart— fame), but a look-alike.

Fingers are flying over who is to blame (Johnson-Finn said she thought the audience knew she was a fake, although the concert promoters hyped it as the real thing), but the Nevadan ultimately was charged with fraud and tossed in the slammer.

David Cherry, spokesman for Berkley, said Johnson-Finn’s supporters attended an open house in the Congresswoman’s district office April 1. “Most people come in with problems with their mortgage or Medicare, or those kinds of things,— he tells us. For now Berkley’s office is just sifting through the facts in the case and taking it all in stride. “For others, it might be unusual to have constituents who are impersonators … but, hey, that’s Vegas,— he said.

Still, the faux Toni Braxton might want to take heart — Berkley’s got a track record of helping constituents out of foreign prisons, Cherry said. Last year, she helped a Nevandan who was being held in Kazakhstan get his case heard, and eventually he was vindicated and freed.

Dead End. Staffers’ therapist bills may be going up now that a forum used by frustrated Hill types to vent their workaday spleen is no more. Visitors to the Web site thecapitolist.com, a message board where Hill staffers could post anonymous comments, now get an error message, indicating the once-lively site is defunct.

The site had been a hodgepodge of typical gripes, including whining about constituents and the cafeterias as well as partisan bickering. It was also the font of a few Hill urban legends, including a long-running rumor that sandwich chain Potbelly was opening a location on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.

The identities of the staffers who ran the site remained anonymous, just like the identities of those posting on it, and it looks like it might stay that way now that the site has faded to black. HOH, though, hears that at least one of the people behind the board has left the Hill entirely.

Looks like staffers needing to bellyache on the cheap will have to do it the old-fashioned way — by G-chatting with their friends.

All the World’s a Stage. When President Barack Obama came into office, the city’s culture vultures hoped his youthful administration would boost Washington, D.C.’s burgeoning artsy scene.

With that in mind, the thespians at the Shakespeare Theatre Company are doing their part to ensure Obama’s team is well-versed in local theater, hosting VIP members of the administration (and new Members of Congress) at its “Welcome to Washington— event Tuesday night.

Shakespeare officials invited neighboring theater groups to put on an eclectic show at Sidney Harman Hall, featuring performances such as a reading of “Othello— and a dance scene from an adaptation of the epic poem “Dante,— spokeswoman Amy Scott-Douglass tells HOH.

Performers from the Arena Stage, Signature Theater, Synetic Theater, the Washington Ballet, the Washington National Opera, Step Afrika! and the Washington Performing Arts Society are slated to perform, she added.

“We just want to celebrate the importance of the artists to our community,— she said.

Scott-Douglass wouldn’t reveal who’s on the guest list, but she did say that officials expect “a strong presence from the administration.—

Event chairpersons include Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy also are chairing the event.

A Place in the Sun. With the sun finally making its spring debut, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is reminding everyone of the importance of wearing sunscreen — but some of her constituents are feeling burned by her message.

Derek Newton, a contributing writer for the Miami Democrat Examiner, posted a column Thursday lambasting the Florida Republican for a recent e-mail sent out by her office touting the importance of sun block.

In her e-mail, Ros-Lehtinen noted that skin cancer rates have risen rapidly in recent years. Applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and monitoring sun exposure are preventive steps Floridians should take from an early age to prevent cancer.

But Newton doesn’t seem to get why Ros-Lehtinen is bothering with the e-mail.

“Congresswoman, we’re your constituents — we live here. In places like Miami and Key West,— Newton writes in his piece, titled “Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has lost it.— “We’ve heard of this sun’ thing. We’ve dealt with it before.—

Newton also pokes fun at an online poll posted on Ros-Lehtinen’s Web site asking “how good— visitors are at applying sunscreen.

“Since the options include I always use sun block’ to I never use sun block’ I conclude she doesn’t really mean how good.’ She means how often,’— he writes. “Which is a shame because the answers to how good’ would have been far more entertaining. I, for example, always forget to put it on my ears. And sometimes I don’t rub it in all the way and walk around with a bright white blotch on my cheek. So I’d have to say I’m not that good.—

Overheard on the Hill. “I may not be able to tell you who paints them or I may be charged with an ethics violation or something.—

— Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, quoted in the New York Times last week, responding to an admirer who complimented her chic-for-Alaska “hand-painted clogs.— The Times said Palin was “alluding to a recent dust-up over being seen wearing the logo of her husband’s snow machine sponsor.— Stay classy, Alaska!

Submit your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments here.