Bye-Bye, Birdie

Posted August 13, 2004 at 6:22pm

It was a bitter parting of the ways between Nancy Alexander, wife of overnight party-switching sensation Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), and the Congressman’s staff, all six of whom quit over their boss’s hush-hush decision, which they learned about secondhand.

When half of them, including Chief of Staff Brian

[IMGCAP(1)] Smoot, went to tender their resignations and turn in their keys last Monday morning, they found Mrs. Alexander in the office going through the trash, Smoot told HOH. He said he assumed she was making sure the staff had not disposed of anything important. “Of course we had not,” he said.

Then the boss’s wife asked him about her husband’s dry cleaning. “I told her she should worry about Rodney’s dry cleaning,” recalled the 27-year-old Smoot.

Although he could not remember exactly what she said, Smoot said Mrs. Alexander excoriated the three aides — Smoot, Nell Wilson and Traci Vincent — accusing them of being disloyal and saying they drove her husband to switch parties.

Then, Smoot said, Mrs. Alexander, who has a doctorate in mathematics, followed the aides into the hallway yelling, “Good riddance. Praise the Lord!” before issuing one final silent but universally satisfying expression: the finger!

“Yes, I can confirm it. She flipped us the bird,” Smoot said, still weary with shock from his boss’s party-switch.

But Mrs. Alexander, through her spokesman, told HOH she did not flip off any of the staffers, nor did she yell at them or do anything else they accused her of doing. A statement issued by “Dr. Nancy Alexander,” who is not on Rep. Alexander’s payroll, said, “I have always treated all current and previous staff members with the utmost respect. It is unfortunate that they are accusing me of something that I did not do.”

A former aide to Alexander, who quit long before the party switch, described Nancy Alexander as “incredibly smart” and “bonkers,” adding he was not surprised to hear about the tempestuous good-bye.

All six staffers who quit last week are now being cared for temporarily by another Nancy — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Perhaps they are bonding about being kept in the dark as Alexander was deciding to become a Republican.

Pelosi, who sources say was touched by the Democratic aides’ courage to quit their jobs on principle without knowing what they would do next for work, has put all six on her payroll as they look for jobs.

Smoot said he and the others were “extremely touched” by Pelosi’s support. He said he felt personally hurt by the secretive way in which Alexander went about switching parties, behind the backs of his staff. That is why he decided to resign immediately, Smoot said.

“People in this town respect people who act on their beliefs and principles. It’s good karma,” said press secretary Jennifer Crider.

In the same vein, the House Republican Conference is busy helping Alexander, who said he switched on principle, assemble a new Republican staff.

More Dick Cheney Impersonations. The potty mouth this time around apparently is Dick Wadhams, campaign manager for South Dakota GOP Senate candidate John Thune.

Sen. Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) re-election campaign is demanding that Thune apologize to the Minority Leader and a young campaign aide who the Daschle folks say was “berated” by Wadhams at a candidate forum in Sioux Falls.

As the Daschle camp describes it, Wadhams approached Jeremy Funk, a 25-year-old Daschle staffer, and said to him: “Your boss is a chicken*#it. You know that, right?” And again later, according to the Daschle campaign, Wadhams said to the young man, “Your boss is too chicken*#it to show up, so they sent you here?”

Wadhams refused to respond to the charge from the Daschle campaign. When pressed further, he would not discuss it, saying only that “what is disgraceful” is that seven debates between Thune and Daschle have been proposed for August and “Tom Daschle has declined six.”

That’s because the Senator will be driving around the state campaigning, Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer says. And the Minority Leader has agreed to five debates, one of which will be held next Wednesday.

While refusing to respond to the charges that he berated the young Funk, Wadhams said the aide is a savvy operative who was stopped by state troopers during Thune’s 2002 bid against Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) “for following too close to the Thune campaign bus.”

Wadhams added, “Tom Daschle doesn’t have the guts to show up [at the event]. So he sends this kid to slink around in the shade.”

True, he was stopped by troopers. But Pfeiffer says that’s because Thune and his aides “in a frat boy-style prank, called the cops” on Funk and then sat in the back of the bus and laughed when the troopers showed up.

Wadhams, although he is widely regarded to be the crème de la crème of GOP campaign operatives, has a reputation as a foul-mouthed pit bull.

Roll Call Staff Writer Chris Cillizza, in a profile written last year, described Wadhams as a “sharp-elbowed and masterfully effective tactician” who — although he has never actually come to blows with rival campaign operatives — “has come close.”

Wadhams once called the 2000 Democratic opponent against Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) a “smart-ass thug.” And he referred to a rival Democratic operative in another campaign as a “goon.”

But, hey, whatever works, right?

Poor Guy. The communications director for Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) is the butt of office jokes these days — for being cash-poor when he was robbed at gunpoint in Boston during the Democratic convention. Geez. Tough crowd, that office!

After the acceptance speech by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Craig Rasmussen and a colleague went to dinner. Afterward, Rasmussen, low on cash, borrowed a $5 bill from John Young, senior legislative aide to Millender-McDonald, to take a cab back to the bed and breakfast where he was staying.

Rasmussen told HOH he got out of the cab around 1 a.m. in the South End, walked about 40 feet toward the B&B, when all of a sudden two guys came out of nowhere and one of them pointed a gun in Rasmussen’s face. “Give me everything you’ve got,” Rasmussen says the robber told him.

But all Rasmussen had left was $3, which he says angered his assailants and scared him half to death. “It was scary … the guy seemed very nervous, which made me more nervous,” Rasmussen says. Although Rasmussen was carrying a bag, which had a brand new digital camera in it, the robbers only took the three one dollars bills and Rasmussen’s cell phone.

Then they ran, hopped in a car with two people in it, and sped off, Rasmussen said. He got the license plate number and ran inside and called the police, who picked him up and took him on a high-speed chase through Boston. “We were flying down the streets. It was wild — like an episode of ‘Cops.’”

Given that there was a cop on every block of Boston during the convention, it didn’t take long to catch the robbers who, it turns out, had robbed other people that night.

The Boston Globe reported that four young men, ranging from 17 to 20, were arrested and charged with armed robbery and receiving stolen property in connection with Rasmussen’s robbery. Rasmussen, who has been in close touch with prosecutors, says detectives told him that the four suspects were connected to three other robberies during the Democratic convention, including one at knifepoint in Cambridge.

It sounds like Millender-McDonald needs to give her staff a raise: When poor Craig called the rest of the staff to let them know he’d been mugged at gunpoint, the first thing he says Young asked him was, “Did you get my money back?”

Surrey With a Moore on Top. Republicans are going to have a tough time escaping Michael Moore at their own convention. His mug will be smiling at them from the tops of 100 New York taxis during the Republican National Convention starting Aug. 30.

Warner Books rented the taxi-tops to tout the paperback version of Moore’s runaway bestseller, “Dude Where’s My Country,” an inspiration for his blockbuster film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

No one is laughing harder about the prospect of GOP delegates riding in Moore-topped taxis than Warner Publisher Jamie Rabb.

“We just thought everything is going to be Republican, Republican, Republican that week,” Rabb told HOH. So … why not give ‘em a little liberal Bush-bashing, eh?

Laughing, she said, “Some people just won’t take the cabs.” Amid the sea of Republicanism, Rabb said Warner realized that “there will be a lot of people in town who are protesters, and we wanted to offer something to them.” (So many protesters that the New York Daily News has been reporting that the better story at the GOP convention will be outside Madison Square Garden, not inside.)

Of course Rabb would be laughing. She’s one of countless New Yorkers who plan to get out of Dodge while their town turns into a code-orange traffic jam. “Me, I’m leaving town. I’m one of those people.”

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.