This is the first of an ongoing series of interviews with prominent Forest Hills residents. Because they’re well-known professionally, our interviews are more focused on getting to know them as our neighbors.
By Carolyn Jacobson
Alice Rivlin, who has lived in Forest Hills since 1962, has had a long career in government service. She currently is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, served as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and has served as vice chair of The Federal Reserve. She is an expert on fiscal and monetary policy. In 2010, Alice was appointed by President Barack Obama to his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she also has a PhD from Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard).
Having lived in Forest Hills for almost 50 years, Alice Rivlin has a longer-term perspective on our neighborhood than many of us. To Alice, Forest Hills – especially the single-family homes east of Connecticut Ave. – isn’t all that different today from the way it was when she moved in with her first husband and two children, and pregnant with her third. But she points out that if you look a bit closer, there are many new or expanded houses and the number of younger families has dramatically increased.
She recalls that there were three empty lots at the end of Chesterfield St. (where she lives now), and with steep drop-offs on the property, “it never occurred to me that you could put houses there.” I ask her about what she thinks about the unusual architecture of some of those homes and she very diplomatically describes them as “imaginative, interesting houses.”
Alice and her current husband, Sidney Winter, who’s also an economist, are members of Northwest Neighbors Village (www.nwnv.org), which describes itself as “a community network of support services, enabling residents of northwest DC (Chevy Chase, AU Park and Tenleytown) to remain independent at home.” (Read more about how NNV helps Forest Hills seniors stay in their homes).
“We love our house and we love Forest Hills,” Alice says. “We are self-sufficient at the moment, but really like this idea.”
When I ask her to assess where DC is today – from her unique vantage point – she notes that the city was in “deep trouble” in the mid-90’s “fiscally and in every other way,” saying that it was “near bankruptcy.” The city was losing population, especially the middle class, leaving affluent and low-income populations. Additionally, the city was experiencing declining property values in many areas.
She was in the Clinton Administration, heading up the Office of Management and Budget. The president knew that she had “a strong interest in DC” and asked her, “What should we do?” She went into action, advising him to create a Congressionally-authorized Control Board. Forest Hills’ resident Andrew Brimmer headed it up and she was the federal government’s “point person,” along with Robert Rubin, who was head of Treasury and had a vested interest in keeping the city solvent.
She praises Brimmer’s work, noting that three years later, in 1998, “when Brimmer had had enough – and the job was not quite finished – I took over as chair.” In addition to giving credit to Brimmer for turning the situation around, she also praises former Mayor Tony Williams, citing their work as underpinning the city’s ability to “come through this recession relatively well – much better than most cities.” Credit goes to Alice, as well!
Alice is employed full-time at Brookings, where she describes herself as a “budget wonk” who also focuses on health care and related issues. She also teaches one course a semester at Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute. And she serves on a number of not-for-profit
Boards, including the Association of Chartered Public Schools. She has two sons who live nearby with their families, which includes her granddaughter, who attends Sidwell.
You can find Alice and Sidney most Saturday and Sunday mornings at Politics and Prose, where they reward themselves with lattes after their walks in Rock Creek Park.
Sidney has a very interesting story to tell. Stay tuned to hear more about him.