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Washington Insight

August 25, 1994|From The Times Washington Bureau

DUMP DEE DEE?--A shake-up may be coming shortly in the White House communications shop. President Clinton's new chief of staff, former California congressman Leon E. Panetta, is planning a number of White House personnel changes to take effect around Labor Day. Among the rumored shifts are the replacement of Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers and the transfer of Communications Director Mark D. Gearan back to the chief of staff's office, where he served at the beginning of the Clinton Administration. Panetta has been quietly sounding out a number of Washington media types about top communications jobs. Many believe that his longtime spokesman, Barry Toiv, could be moving to the White House. Well-regarded State Department spokesman Michael McCurry is also frequently mentioned as a possible new White House press secretary. Myers is generally liked by White House reporters but is thought to lack the authoritative voice expected from the chief mouthpiece for the U.S. government. Top White House aides, including presidential intimate George Stephanopoulos, are said to be fighting to keep Myers in her position.

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DISNEY BLUES--Virginians and the Walt Disney Co. are at odds once again over the fuzzy line between fact and entertainment. As debate over the historical authenticity of Disney's proposed theme park, "America," rages outside Washington, the entertainment giant finds itself facing similar complaints from Virginians about a film it is helping finance titled "Jefferson in Paris." The loyal opposition, led by Virginia developer Baghman Batmanghelidj, complain that the movie embraces the scurrilous and often repeated claims that Thomas Jefferson had a slave mistress, Sally Hemings. Batmanghelidj has enlisted the support of eminent historians and others who discredit the claims, noting that they have never been supported by more than hearsay. The developer has grown so agitated that he has reversed his earlier support for the "America" project, which he claims would benefit him financially by leading an economic boom in the region. Asked by the Washington Post about the controversy, "Jefferson in Paris" producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory issued a single-sentence response: "The whole Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings liaison, if there was one, is, after nearly 200 years, a romantic legend, just as his love affair with Maria Cosway is, though the latter is more substantiated."

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EMPTY SHOES--With the Brady law's waiting period for handgun purchases already on the books and with the assault weapons ban tantalizingly close to adoption, there is no sign of a letup by anti-gun forces. On Sept. 20, a "silent march" to protest gun violence is planned to the steps of the Capitol. An estimated 38,000 pairs of shoes will be laid out on the steps, one for every person killed by guns annually in the United States--based on 1991 data. There will be more shoes for California than any other state, because it leads in the number of gun homicides--2,949--and suicides--1,956. But its 159 accidental or undetermined gun deaths run second to Texas, which had 195. The march coordinators, who are unpaid volunteers working out of their homes, say they are not endorsing legislation but are just trying to build grass-roots support for combatting what they contend is an epidemic of handgun violence.

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