White House party turned into somber affair
Published: December 21, 2012
IT MAY be difficult to envision a more
lavish and festive setting than a cocktail party in the White
House at Christmastime, but considering the timing of the
celebration — the night of the tragic shootings at an elementary
school in Newtown, Conn. — the evening took on a somber tone
that particularly struck home for Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett,
who is practically famous for doting upon and talking about his
1-year-old son, Sebastian.
Burnett, who was invited by the White House to attend the party with his wife, Mel, became tearful as he recalled President Barack Obama’s words to guests that night.
“It was probably the worst day in the president’s time, given
the tragedy in Connecticut, but he did say that this reminds him
of the fragility of human life and appreciating what we have,”
Burnett told The Pine Cone Thursday. “And the holidays are the
time to recognize the importance of family. This is a further
reminder of the importance of hugging the people that you love.
Let them know that they matter.”
While he resisted engaging in too much networking at the party,
which was mostly attended by VIPs from Southern California, he
took the opportunity to encourage Michelle Obama to visit Carmel
and the Peninsula with her husband for their anniversary next
“I had a chance to talk a bit that evening with the first lady,
and I joked with her that I recognized how she spent their
anniversary this year was maybe not ideal, at a presidential
debate, but fortunately next year, they won’t be spending their
anniversary that way,” Burnett said.
Two decades ago, the First Couple honeymooned on the Central
Coast and in Big Sur, according to Burnett. “They commented
recently that they want to retrace their steps they took on
their honeymoon,” he said. “And we told her how much we’d be
honored if they had the chance to do that.”
Burnett said he also talked with Mrs. Obama about childhood
obesity — another issue close to his heart, as Sebastian’s
generation will be the first in recorded history with a shorter
life expectancy than the previous generation — and the role
California produce growers have in enabling a healthy diet.
“Most of the emphasis has been on encouraging exercise, but
diet is a huge part of that,” he said. “We on the Central Coast
produce much of the food that diet is composed of — it’s
exactly what can be part of a solution toward addressing this
The party part
Burnett said he didn’t know why he had received the invitation,
“although I could speculate — and I’m sure it didn’t hurt that
we hosted the vice president earlier this year.”
The celebration took up the first floor of the White House, and
guests, who underwent background checks in advance and security
screenings at the door, were invited to wander and explore the
first and second floors at their leisure.
“There was a library, and I pulled a book off the shelf and
leafed through it, and that was completely fine,” he recalled.
“We were encouraged to explore and enjoy ourselves.”
Being at the White House at Christmastime was especially
special for the Burnetts, since they met and married in D.C.
Burnett donned a black suit, while his wife wore “a really cute
Kate Spade dress.” Sebastian, meanwhile, was left in the care of
“It was a treat on a professional level as well as on a
personal level for Mel and me, and hopefully it will contribute
to the president and the first lady coming visit the Central
Coast at some point,” he said.