What a Ride

Posted April 9, 2004 at 4:37pm

After revealing a few inside stories about other people in this column for such a long time, it seems appropriate to let everyone in on a little secret about me as I head out the door.

The guy whose name is at the top of this wonderful institution on the Hill hasn’t really been “writing” the column for the past seven years.

No, I’m not confessing to some kind of journalistic scandal about a phantom byline, although it’s worth noting that House staffer

Christine Pelosi was once overhead at a Democratic leadership meeting saying she thought “Ed Henry” was a composite character,. But I can assure everyone that I’m real (and you will see me in the flesh very soon on CNN).

My point is that I could not possibly claim credit for any success connected to a column that has been such a great ride and never once became a grind despite endless deadlines. So I consider this final column — for me, anyway — a chance to express thanks to the many people who have really been writing this column.

Thank you first to my 535 joke writers (to paraphrase a line from comedian Mark Russell). If you think I have been even a little funny, it’s only because of the 100 Senators and 435 House Members who have given me such rich material on the lighter side of Capitol Hill.

Like the time in 1999 when an intoxicated guest urinated in a potted plant at a swearing-in party for Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) at a swank D.C. restaurant, giving me the chance to dub the restaurant the “Accidental” Grill and write the headline “Yellow Journalism.”

There were more serious items as well, such as the time a Democrat walking through Lafayette Park found a computer disk belonging to White House aide Karl Rove containing a confidential political strategy presentation. The documents wound up on this page and made some national headlines.

And who can forget the night Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) had a few beers at The Dubliner rather than sit in the Capitol for one of President Bush’s State of the Union addresses? The comedy came when an HOH spy noted that a TV crew showed up at the bar to get reaction from average Joes, and Ney kept ducking down so that he wouldn’t get caught on camera.

You could not possibly make this stuff up. In a way, I’ve simply been eavesdropping on the ultimate reality show — and I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the episodes.

Thank yous also go to the talented reporters at Roll Call, who routinely beat the “Big Boys” at much larger media organizations. These dedicated professionals have selflessly given me more great news tips than I could count — and they occasionally put together the prose when I was sick (or on the golf course).

Thank you as well to Roll Call’s longtime publisher, Laurie Battaglia-Skinker, who has been an outstanding leader but an even better friend; Executive Editor Morton M. Kondracke, who is a first-rate journalist but an even better human being; and Editor Tim Curran, who has been a terrific colleague and an even better confidant.

Thank you especially to my parents, Ed and Christine, my in-laws, my wife, Jennifer, our son, Patrick, and our future daughter — who should be arriving around the end of the Democratic National Convention. They all give so much more than they take.

Thank you also to my readers, especially the many Hill aides who work much harder than the public will ever know. I am especially proud of knowing “lifer” staffers like Republican Bob Stevenson and Democrat Jim Manley, to name just two, who have such reverence for the institution.

And thank you to all of the anonymous tipsters. There was a time when such folks would use a pay phone (remember them?) in the Longworth Building to literally drop a dime on someone. Now they just set up a shell e-mail account — like “juicystorytip@hotmail.com” — and dash off a BlackBerry message.

I distinctly remember the moment a few months ago when I got a phone call from a Hill staffer — I still don’t know who you are — who out of the kindness of his heart said simply, “I saw a fender-bender on the way to work this morning and guess who jumped out of the SUV? Congresswoman Katherine Harris [R-Fla.] in a white tae kwon do outfit.” I immediately knew it was going to be a fun day.

Based on the calls and e-mails, some people have been wondering whether HOH will use this occasion to finally publish some of the items that never quite made it into print, and, trust me, there are plenty of them. It’s tantalizing to consider giving some details about the Republican lawmaker who was seen just last week patting an intern’s behind at a House-side bar — or the Democratic lawmaker who was spotted last year doing much the same over a bottle of champagne at a tavern on the Senate side.

But HOH will resist offering a gratuitous tell-all. While this is a “gossip” column, I’d like to think that we have tried to take you inside the cloakrooms and backrooms without going overboard — to poke a little fun without being really mean.

One regular tipster e-mailed this greeting last week: “Seriously, no matter when you called (whether a nightmare was ‘a brewin’ or I could provide some ‘under the beltline’ commentary), it has always been fun, entertaining, and challenging to work with you.” The feeling is mutual.

Here are a few of my all-time favorite HOH items:

Stockpiling Stewardesses. A slip of the tongue by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) provided some of the only comic relief during the tough debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in October 1999.

During a floor speech about the nuclear treaty, Kennedy meant to say the Senate should support continued funding for the federal “Stockpile Stewardship Program.”

Instead, Kennedy accidentally referred to a previously unknown project known as the “Stockpile Stewardess Program.”

Given the Senator’s one-time preoccupation with the nightlife, there were some guffaws among the GOP aides sitting on the other side of the chamber.

Fly on the Wall. Based on Rep. Tom DeLay’s (Texas) behavior at a closed-door GOP leadership meeting, one thing is clear: You can take the man out of the extermination business, but you can’t take the exterminator out of the man.

DeLay watched in amusement as an enormous and annoying fly terrorized senior lawmakers and staffers for nearly 45 minutes at a super-serious meeting about Iraq in Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) office.

The fly then landed on Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), who tried in vain to swat the insect. Then the fly decided to dive-bomb into the food, followed by a full landing on another lawmaker’s arm. Then the miscreant made the grave mistake of landing on the table between Hastert and DeLay, who seemed to feel a rush of nostalgia.

DeLay “got this look,” said one eyewitness. “His eyes kind of squinted. Then he reached slowly, slowly and caught the fly in mid-air.”

Then DeLay showed his colleagues a thing or two. “He stood up and flung the fly against the fireplace,” said the source. “It falls to the ground and wham — he stomps all over it.”

When the meeting broke up, DeLay was heard mumbling on his way out the door, “The Democrats are next.”

Sex and the City. Just as the saga of then-Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) was starting to calm down in 2001, copies of a titillating story in Vanity Fair magazine started humming through fax machines all around the Capitol.

Written as a post-Condit survey of the social scene on the Hill, the explosive story featured a minute-by-minute account of House GOP aide Diana Davis’ sexual conquests and relentless networking into the wee hours of the morning.

Davis, a blonde who boasted about her “fake ‘n’ bake” tan, revealed that she had a one-night stand with a 29-year-old staffer whose sex appeal revolved around one thing.

“He was powerful,” said Davis. “He knew Tom DeLay.” They had dinner at the Capital Grille, with Davis ordering lobster.

“I slept with him that night,” she said. “I wish I hadn’t, it was too fast. He stopped e-mailing me.”

The most sensational part of the Vanity Fair story, which forced the 22-year-old Davis to resign from her job with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), involved a “rowdy get-together” at the Capital Grille with several Democratic Members just two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

There were even photos of Davis and her girlfriends posing with jovial-looking Democratic Reps. John Baldacci (Maine), Robert Brady (Pa.), Mike Doyle (Pa.), John Larson (Conn.) and Bill Pascrell (N.J.).

The lawmakers told HOH that they went home alone; they even sang “God Bless America” with the ladies. Pascrell said he wasn’t sweating the bad publicity.

“I’m happily married,” he said. “I told my wife about what happened. In Washington, appearances are four-fifths of the game.”

Indeed.

You’re Fired. Long before Donald Trump’s reality show, there was the tale of a young GOP staffer named George Uribe.

Some top House GOP aides were a little surprised when Uribe, spokesman for Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.), sent around an 18-page packet (in a glossy folder) with tips on how to be a good press secretary. After all, Uribe hadn’t been on the Hill for that long and Radanovich isn’t a fixture on the national scene.

The surprise turned to shock, however, when leadership aides noticed a prominent entry on the rather-presumptuous list of “George Uribe’s Rules of Engagement.”

“Never trust party leadership, but ALWAYS be a team player,” Uribe wrote as No. 5 on the list of 20 rules for flacks. That irritated GOP leaders.

And reporters were surprised to read this broadside: “Weekly newspapers — will print a press release verbatim.” (That one didn’t go over real well with some of the folks who cover Radanovich.)

Uribe stressed to HOH that the whole matter had been misunderstood. He said he put together the package for a speech he delivered to conservative students interested in breaking into the business. He thought it would be a good resource for new press secretaries on the Hill.

As to why he took a potshot at leadership, however, Uribe gave several answers over the course of a few days. He finally settled on saying that he “meant” to say flacks can’t trust the leadership “to get press for your boss” — so you have to work hard on your own.

In reference to the overall brouhaha, Uribe acknowledged, “I hope to stay more low-key in the future.”

But then he broke an unwritten rule for press secretaries in trying to stop HOH from running an item: He sent HOH a bottle of 1994 Zinfandel from Radanovich Vineyard. (The Congressman is a vintner.)

The bottle came with a note on House stationery, signed by Uribe, saying, “Please don’t run the story!”

The closed bottle of wine was returned to Radanovich’s office later that day. HOH published the item, along with a photo of the wine and the note.

After the item was published, Uribe was fired.

When Interns Attack. Any discussion about gossip in 2003 has to start with one Paul Kelly Tripplehorn Jr., whose infamous “You Suck” e-mail to a colleague was first reported by HOH and ricocheted around the Internet.

Young Tripplehorn was pushed out of his internship in the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) after penning a nasty e-mail to a female intern about their failed romance. The missive, which was forwarded thousands of times around the Hill during the summer lull, revealed how ugly things can get when preppy love flames out.

“I will always have more friends than you just because I don’t care about beating people and lying to get to the top,” Tripplehorn wrote in the long missive. “(You are an absolute hipocrit [sic] in everything that you do, I am not going to go into details why you are because that would be a waste of my time and yours but I can assure you if you were to ever meet yourself you would hate your twin).”

Proving once again that chivalry is dead and buried, he added to the young lady, “good luck being miserable for the rest of your life.”