Photo by John Shore

Susan Perry

Susan Perry is a long-time Hill resident who joined the early efforts to establish the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District, using her extensive background in public transportation issues to the benefit of her neighborhood.

She calls herself the Bus Lady and has focused on bringing the DC Circulator bus to the Hill. Her transportation career included congressional staff positions and serving as Director of Government Services for the American Public Transit Association and as Senior Vice President for the American Bus Association. At the time of the interview in 2023, she continued to be a member of the Board for the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District.  

Read Transcript
Interview Date
July 20, 2023
Ken Jarboe
Betsy Barnett
Elizabeth Lewis

Full Directory

Interview with Susan Perry
Interview Date: July 20, 2023
Interviewer: Ken Jarboe
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis

Photo by John Shore

This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

JARBOE: Okay. We should be recording. Okay. This is Ken Jarboe. I am interviewing Susan Perry for the Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project, specifically about the formation of the Capitol Hill BID [Business Improvement District]. It is—what’s the date? The 20th?
PERRY: 20th.
JARBOE: July 20, 2023, and the time is about 9:50. Okay. And we’re meeting at my house at 911 East Capitol Street SE. So, Susan, start off—a little bit of background.
JARBOE: How long have you been on the Hill?
PERRY: Since the early 60s, I think. Maybe 1965 technically.
JARBOE: Okay. So you’ve been here a long, long time.
PERRY: Yeah, a long, long time.
JARBOE: How did you first hear about the BID?
PERRY: George Didden.
JARBOE: Through George Didden?
PERRY: Through George Didden. And George was then, I always say, in charge of my volunteer work. Because I asked him to be. And he kept finding things for me to do. And he said, “I want you to come to meetings I’ve been having about the BID.”
JARBOE: Okay. Now, were those CHAMPS [Capitol Hill Area Merchants and Professionals] meetings? Do you remember?
PERRY: It was whatever George’s group was at that point and it might have just been George’s group.
JARBOE: And do you remember some of the people who were there? I assume Don Denton was probably there.
PERRY: Yes. See if I can think of any others. Maybe Paul …
JARBOE: Paul Pascal?
PERRY: Paul Pascal. I think he was there. Beyond that I don’t remember.
JARBOE: Okay. And do you remember roughly when those meetings were?
JARBOE: I note that I’ve looked up a little bit of the history here and George kind of put a group together in 1999.
PERRY: Right. And I was not part of that.
JARBOE: You were not part of that group.
PERRY: No. But this was the outgrowth, I think, of that group. Or he just added me.
JARBOE: Okay. [More discussion of timing.] [Documents show that Susan joined the BID Steering Committee sometime in 2000] And what did George tell you he wanted you to do?
PERRY: “I have a job for you to do.” [Interviewer laughs.]
JARBOE: And do you remember what he said that job was? Or he just said come to this meeting?
PERRY: I think it was come to this meeting. Yes.
JARBOE: Okay. And what did you do after you went to that meeting?
PERRY: I’m not clear how quickly it started. You weren’t even doing the stuff you were doing on paper by then, were you? [Jarboe was creating a data base of all properties in the proposed BID boundaries.]
JARBOE: No, no. [More discussion of timing.] Well, I went back and looked at some of the documents. I saw there was a story from Voice of the Hill —Do you remember the Voice of the Hill, Bruce Robey’s paper?
JARBOE: He did a couple of stories. One is that they actually started doing the work on the BID in 1999 and the first organizational meeting [to kick off the petition campaign] was May of 2001. I’m sorry, the first organizational meeting [of the BID itself] was April of 2003.
PERRY: It was going, it was in motion when I joined it.
JARBOE: Okay. You were brought in, I remember. You were helping do the paperwork for the elections.
PERRY: Exactly.
JARBOE:  Correct?
PERRY: Yes. But I had been around and I guess listening at the meetings for a little while by then.
PERRY: So, I don’t know when that started.
JARBOE: That started basically around ’01. That early, yeah, I know. It’s …
PERRY: I think you were doing whatever you were doing before I started what I was doing.
JARBOE: I was trying to figure out the boundaries.
PERRY: What it looked like, right. Right.
JARBOE: You know, the specific lots and squares, so we could compile a list of owners.
PERRY: Right. And that list of owners was what I worked off of.
JARBOE: Okay. And what were you doing? [Documents show that Susan headed the Campaign Drive committee to round up enough yes votes from property owners including sending out mailing with proxy ballots]
PERRY: I remember talking to a lot of people. And what I basically was talking to them about was would these people who owned property—some who owned and I think we also had some renters, because we had to have both ... I was talking to them and trying to get them onboard to endorse it.
JARBOE: You were out talking to people. Because I know we did a parallel of ... We had to send things out and then people like you had to go out and convince people to send their ballots back, to sign up.
PERRY: That’s right.
JARBOE: Essentially. Okay. Now, I know at the same time [that] I was working on trying to figure out the list, we were sending people out to do physical verification that a building was in fact a commercial building and not a residence. Do you remember doing any of that?
PERRY: I don’t remember doing any of that. I think some historian is going to figure out that I wasn’t there quite that early. But I’m not sure.
JARBOE: Okay. Now, I do have a list of what I labeled in my files “the steering committee.”
PERRY: I don’t think I was on that.
JARBOE: And you’re listed on that.
PERRY: Oh, I am? Oh, okay. [More discussion of date.]
JARBOE: The date that I have on the file, I believe, is ’03. [More discussion of dates.]
PERRY: Well, I just don’t want one of these people saying, “She wasn’t there then.”
JARBOE: I think you were there then.
PERRY: Okay.
JARBOE: Yeah. I don’t think that’ll be a problem … [More discussion of date.]
Now [looking at an early committee roster], do you remember what any of these other people were doing at the time?
JARBOE: Okay. Other than Don Denton and Patty [Brosmer], any of these folks you think we need to talk to as well?
PERRY: I don’t know where Dennis [Bourgault]—some of them are gone.
JARBOE: Yeah. Long gone.
PERRY: I think Dennis ... Oh, my goodness. John Boyle, Bob Braunohler  ...  [Pause.] I don’t know. Do you think Dale Lowery would have anything to … I don’t even know where he is these days. Is he in Louisiana or …
JARBOE: Yeah, yeah. He comes back and forth between here and New Orleans.
PERRY: Yeah, okay. Well, he might be a good one. Mark Holler. I don’t think … Ken Golding. [Pause.] Boy, a lot of these people are dead and gone. Phil Truluck, Penny, Marge [Francess]. Oh, “Marge in Charge.” Ken, Bill McLeod. Bill McLeod maybe might remember something.
JARBOE: I’m sorry, who?
PERRY: Bill McLeod.
JARBOE: Oh, okay. Yeah.
PERRY: If he has a good memory, he’d be a good person ... Why isn’t that dated? See, my theory is every paper should be dated.
JARBOE: [Laughs.] It should be. I thought I had the date, the file name, up on top of this. Now, you were there though from when they hired Patty [Brosmer], correct?
PERRY: Yes. I remember the day Patty came in.
JARBOE: Okay. Tell me about when you first met Patty.

PERRY: That’s easy. I can picture George sitting at the head table, up there. And she was sitting up there. And he said that she was going to help do this. Getting all this business started that you were doing and I was doing.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: And that she came from a real estate background. And I had no idea who she was or why she was there
JARBOE: And this would have been at a meeting of the board or of the committee?
PERRY: I guess. I think so.
JARBOE:  Okay.
PERRY: That’s all I ever went to is meetings of the committee.
JARBOE: And were you involved at all in the creation of [Ready, Willing, and Working]?
JARBOE: Okay. I know you were at a number of the fundraisers for them, for the BID.
PERRY: Oh, yeah. But I didn’t create them. The people from New York ... McDonalds. I think they were the McDonalds.
PERRY: The people from New York. I knew them but only as part of the group but I never did anything actively. But I was with it. I was listening and watching from the beginning.
JARBOE: Right, right. Okay. Do you have any impressions or thoughts about what the process was like? You know, just basically going out and talking to a lot of people, were you getting positive feedback? Did you have to do a lot of convincing?
PERRY: Both. Both. Yes. My lobbying came in handy. Oh, I was lobbying then. Well, anyway it came in handy. Yeah, I don’t remember how it worked. I don’t remember if you sent me papers or somehow … I remember being in person with people, I remember being on the phone a lot.
I have one memory that stands out of someone who owned property—there were several people who owned property, but [this person] lived in Miami. And I had no idea then who they were and I have no idea now who they were. But I thought that was interesting that I had to talk to people in Miami to try to convince them that we hope it’s going to cost them money to participate around here. [Interviewer laughs.]
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: So, I do remember those out of towners. And that was kind of tricky because I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me and it was all so vague. But I guess we got them. Both renters, because we had to ... I’m sure I had a big spiel because we had to explain. You would know this better than I, how many categories there were. And you’d be in this category because you’re a renter. Or you’d be in this category because you’re an owner. And we need X percentage of one and X numbers of another. I thought it was all, you know, a lot of arithmetic. But my job really was to catch the fish. And then you guys fry them. [Interviewer laughs.]
JARBOE: Now, did you work with Judy Wood at all? Or did she …
PERRY: I knew her.
JARBOE: You met her through the BID?
PERRY: I’m not sure if I met her through the BID. I knew her very early on because she used to have art shows in her house.
JARBOE: Mm. Right.
PERRY: I adored the stuff. It was jewelry and art and other art, you know. I always went and usually helped her. So yes, I knew Judy well.
JARBOE: You were off doing your phone calls and she was off doing the …
PERRY: I was thinking of that this morning––to whom was I even nominally reporting? It probably would have been George, I guess. George was, you know, my sponsor.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: I think nobody else knew why the hell I was there. But, you know, my answer would have been, “Ask him. I do whatever George tells me to do.” [Both laugh.] [Documents show that Susan headed up the committee in charge of the of the Campaign Drive. Judy Wood was part of that committee working on mailing ballots to property owners and tenants and tabulating the results.]
JARBOE: So, somebody would get you contact information [of someone you could get] in touch with to go talk to.
PERRY: Right.
JARBOE: Yeah. So, you weren’t just going out talking. You actually had …
PERRY: Names.
JARBOE: Names.
PERRY: I had names.
JARBOE: Target names.
PERRY: I was taking names, I was taking names. Yep.
JARBOE: Yep. Okay. And did you ever follow up with them?
PERRY: Once I caught the fish?
JARBOE: Yeah. Well, how did you know you caught the fish?
PERRY: They would tell me.
JARBOE: They would tell you. Okay. They would say, “No, I’m not going to sign this” or “Yes, I’ll sign it.”
JARBOE: I mean, you would get a definitive answer from them.
PERRY: I think so. I think so. I think it would be awfully frustrating if the damn thing was still wiggling.
JARBOE: Mm-hmm.
PERRY: Yeah.
JARBOE: And you don’t think you had to do lots of follow-up calls, kind of “maybes” and haven’t sent in their …
PERRY: Yes, sure, there were a lot of calls.
JARBOE: Okay. Because I kind of remember, you know, we’d get a kind of a “maybe” from them and, you know, we sent out the ballots to everybody. And someone, I knew, was following up. So, that must have been you that was then …
PERRY: Well, I knew how many of everything I needed to get.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: And I knew how many percent, you know … some of them were numbers as I recall.
JARBOE: Yeah. I think that’s right.
PERRY: Yeah. So many of one thing and such a percentage of one thing and then numbers of buildings was the other thing. You had to have both actually.
JARBOE: Right. Yeah.
PERRY: So, yeah. I was involved in that.
JARBOE: Okay. And, since then, what have you been doing on the BID?
PERRY: Oh, I’ve been on the board ever since.
JARBOE: Okay. And the transportation committee?
PERRY: Yes, yes. I became the transportation committee with you and Dale. Well, Dale Lowery. And you were on it early, weren’t you?
JARBOE: Yeah. Now I know why you were logically chosen for the transportation committee because …
PERRY: Because I worked for transportation.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: So I supposedly knew about buses, which is what … Oh, wait a minute. Yeah. Because then we got involved with that big deal about getting the …
JARBOE: The Circulator?
PERRY: The Circulator bus to come to the Hill.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: So, I was in on that very early. And, yes, I can remember sitting in meetings and chairing meetings. And, yeah, to do all that we worked with some nice guy over at the Navy Yard.
JARBOE: Mm-hmm. Maybe John Imparato?
PERRY: Indeed. Definitely.
JARBOE: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, John was kind of the community resource person dealing with development around the area and kind of keeping the neighborhood happy. [John Imparato and the Navy Yard had a strong interest in better bus service to the area around the Navy Yard]
PERRY: Right. Yes. I spent a lot of time with him.
JARBOE: Okay. The transportation committee. Was that one of the things that, again, was kind of George said you should do this?
PERRY: No, because I was already in on it ... Well, everyone knew I worked for transportation. I don’t know how it came about but people knew that.
JARBOE: But everybody knew it [of your background in the transportation industry].
PERRY: And buses in particular. I was the Bus Lady.
JARBOE: Okay. So you were the logical choice. It just kind of happened since you were already there.
PERRY: Since I was the one who knew it. I understood it.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: And I’m not sure if it [the proposal about the Circulator] was already in action and I just jumped in. what I remember working on was getting that damn bus [the Circulator] to the Hill.
JARBOE: Right.
PERRY: And we’re still working on it.
JARBOE: [Laughs.] Yeah.
PERRY: As you well know.
JARBOE: Yeah. I kind of remember you just kind of appearing as chair of the transportation. I mean, you were on the board but, you know, at one point [someone] says, “Oh, and we’ve got a transportation committee and Susan Perry is chairing it.” And I thought, “You know, I’ll help out.”
PERRY: Well, that’s because she’s “the Transportation Person.”
JARBOE: Yeah. So, “The Bus Lady’s in charge of this …”
PERRY: Yeah, yeah. But Imparato was very, very much in charge. I remember some little dark room that we met in. Do you remember that? Over on Pennsylvania Avenue in one of those store fronts, I think. Maybe in the 600 block.
PERRY: I don’t know. We moved to … Oop. [Pause for equipment adjustment.]
JARBOE: I’m trying to think. The transportation committee, you know, started with the Circulator. And it’s still working on the issue of the Circulator.
PERRY: And I wish Imparato was still around.
JARBOE: [Laughs.] Well, I don’t know if the Navy Yard would be that much more helpful because … But that’s okay. Do you have any other impressions of the beginnings of the BID or the transportation committee?
PERRY: I’m not sure I do. Certainly not—well, no, I shouldn’t say that. I’m not sure. I think I’ve pretty much given you what I remember.
PERRY: It took a while to get my part done. And I did some of it with you and I did some of it with George and Patty. I don’t know what she was working on at that point.
JARBOE: Yeah. I think she was working on the organizational stuff.
PERRY: Right.
JARBOE: The bylaws and the operations and ...
PERRY: And that was with the McDonalds.
PERRY: Yeah. And I didn’t do anything with them. I knew them but I didn’t do anything with them. I was just the Bus Lady.
JARBOE: [Laughs.] Well, that’s an important role. Okay. Thank you.
PERRY: You’re very welcome.
JARBOE: I’m going to stop the tape now.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project
Susan Perry Interview, July 20, 2023

page 2