Clay had earned his degree in government and politics after seven years of study. Carrying the load of a full-time job while attending school gave Clay a greater appreciation for his academic accomplishment and served as a professional epiphany as he recognized he was capable of performing the duties associated with being a Member of Congress.
“I realized that working with the Members that they were human like me and that it was something I could do, too,” he said.
To establish his own political career, Clay ditched Washington, D.C., for Jefferson City.
He won his first race for the Missouri House in 1983. Though his experience as a legislator was nonexistent, Clay “hit the ground running” in his home state, buoyed by the fundamentals he had witnessed on the floor of the House and, naturally, abetted by his famous family name.
“[I] had never been in a legislative body, but it was being exposed to Congress in the way that I was that helped me understand coalitions, it helped me understand reaching across the political divide, reaching across the aisle and working with Members of the opposite party in order to pass meaningful legislation,” Clay said.
Elected to the House in 2000, Clay joined the political class that he had once opened doors for. He now serves alongside some of the familiar faces he had greeted as a young doorman, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who returned to the House in 2005.
Equally enjoyable was running into fellow doormen whom he had served with years earlier. Although the Office of the Doorkeeper was eliminated as a solo entity in 1995, there remained a cadre of colleagues from Clay’s time in the position. Seeing his fellow doormen brought back favorable memories of his more youthful days in the nation’s capital.
“After 17 years of me spending that time in Missouri, in the state Legislature, I was able to come back and reconnect with these people, so it was like a homecoming for me,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.