18 April, 2006

Fran O'Brien's: The Inner Circle Speaks

[Update below]

After my post about the Italians helping Fran O'Brien's with the Friday dinners, I received an email from Shoshana Bryan, Director of Special Projects for the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs:

My organization, JINSA, has been responsible for coordinating gifts to Fran O"Briens, and Finmeccanica's was the largest, but not the only corporate donation. We have provided the administration for about 90% of the money [donated for the dinners].

Hilton DID NOT CALL JINSA OR FINMECCANICA, so I don't know who they're talking to when they say they're talking to "sponsors."

Thanks for following this.

Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen
Director of Special Projects
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 515
Washington, DC 20036
[Originally, Fran's shouldered the cost alone, but recently much of it has been covered by donations from sponsors. Hilton has said in the last few days that they've been talking to sponsors of the dinners to continue the dinners after Fran O'Brien's leaves.]

Obviously Ms. Bryen has been working closely with Fran O'Brien's and is aware of the issues involved in their lease. Today I found an opinion column by Ms. Bryen at National Review Online. As has been published elsewhere, she affirms that Fran's was repeatedly reassured they would be offered a new lease for their consideration, but that they never received an offer. She also makes the following accusations:
...the hotel is in violation of Americans With Disabilities Act. Hilton has not made the basement restaurant ADA compliant — part of the lease negotiation was to have been for the replacement of a non-working escalator in the Hilton lobby with an ADA-compliant elevator. Since there were no negotiations, there is no elevator.
Fran's supporters have long claimed that Fran's says there were no negotiations despite reassurances from Hilton. I'd say Fran's is now staking out this position as fact as far as they're concerned. Ms. Bryen goes on to make some serious speculation, but I think it's more a "shot across the bow" than it is a true accusation, as it's judging intentions which are hard to prove:
ADA noncompliance is illegal, but more importantly, it is shameful when the chief victims are veterans who have been injured in service to our country. But the compliance issue is the better of the two possibilities.

Scenario number two is that Hilton is uncomfortable with so many wounded soldiers passing through its lobby on the way to the restaurant and worries about the impact it will have on the hotel guests.

Based on some things I've read publicly inferred by those who are "in the know," I wouldn't be surprised to see a lawsuit against Hilton pop up in the next couple of days. This column in NRO--a forum that bristles with powerful supporters of the military--is another warning shot to Hilton. They should've gotten the message from the overwhelming volume of emails and phone calls they received, as well as the national media coverage. But any Hilton executive reading this now knows Fran's and their inner circle aren't going to go quietly. I'd be starting to worry if I were the Hilton, and I'd be asking my Capital Hilton hotel about the wisdom of their "just business" decisions.

Update: Shoshana Bryen's column has been picked up by CBS. The sidebar "popout" quote is, "ADA noncompliance is illegal, but more importantly, it is shameful when the chief victims are veterans who have been injured in service to our country." Very nice!

[Background on the Fran O'Brien's story here.]