Heard on the Hill: Dumpster-Diving With Broke Staffers

Posted December 5, 2008 at 6:16pm

Need some new file folders? How about an old picture of the Capitol? Or perhaps you’re in the market for a roll of toilet paper?

[IMGCAP(1)]Then join the throngs of House staffers who are snapping up all those goodies — for free.

Here’s how: Employees for the Green the Capitol Initiative have set up large, Dumpster-style bins in the House office buildings, where staffers from

outgoing Member offices can drop off unwanted copy paper, books, binders, computer equipment, and yes, even toilet paper. There, other staffers can then dig through the fray to snatch up the unwanted (but otherwise usable) stuff for the next session, said Summer Montacute, who is overseeing the project.

And while the (unused) toilet paper might be among the grosser items staffers have, um, shared with the Congressional community, there’s been an abundance of other oddities up for grabs, Montacute tells HOH. Antique and just plain outdated office supplies are abundant, from ancient envelope brushes to funny-looking hole punchers, along with food items such as cans of soda and containers of salt.

But it seems even the weirdest stuff is finding a new home.

“Stuff is disappearing really quickly,” Montacute said. “People are taking the initiative.”

There is a recession going on, after all.

Burgers From Heaven, Holy Cow! Reporters, in typical gallows-humor fashion, have been joking about needing a bailout of their own, since Congress seems to be in the mood to dole out dough to troubled industries. Someone was apparently listening.

Chef Spike Mendelsohn, owner of the popular House-side burger joint Good Stuff Eatery, delivered bags of burgers to harried (and hungry) scribes covering the Senate auto-bailout hearings on Thursday. Mendelsohn, a former contestant on the reality show “Top Chef,” tells HOH he had been watching the hearings on TV and felt sorry for the poor reporters stuck for hours on end in the hearing room.

So he threw about 30 of his Bailout Burgers — traditional bacon cheeseburgers minus the pickles (“we can’t afford them,” joked Mendelsohn) — into a bag and hopped over to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing had ended, according to one of the lucky burger recipients, but a gaggle of reporters and staffers feasted on the freebies proffered by Mendelsohn, who was wearing his signature fedora and a pair of bright-orange Crocs. “Delicious,” our source informed us, “although honestly after a six-hour hearing I think I would have eaten anything!”

Mendelsohn also generously offered an on-the-house meal to the auto executives who had testified during the hearing — and who promised to take $1 annual salaries.

He said he’s been having fun dabbling in politics since opening the restaurant this summer. “So many of my customers are staffers … so I’m just doing my part as part of this community,” he said. “And I don’t have to take any of it too seriously.”

Lip-Tickling for Charity. Things are getting hairier on Capitol Hill these days. Some staffers have found a reason to grow mustaches, beyond the burning desire to resemble a ’70s porn star or to better fit in with the much-mustachioed Obama administration gang: helping sick kids.

Several Hill aides, including Patrick Brenner, a legislative assistant for Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), Isaiah Akin, legislative assistant to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Michael Babyak, a staffer for Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), are growing lip fringes under the auspices of Mustaches for Kids. The effort, in which fellows (although ladies aren’t technically excluded) take pledged donations in exchange for forgoing their Mach 3’s for a month, benefits the Children’s National Medical Center.

Brenner told HOH that his own growth is “decent” but that it pales in comparison to that of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), Brenner’s personal Congressional ’stache hero. The fuzz gets attention in the usually clean-shaven halls of Congress, he said, which offers ’stache-growers the perfect entree to make a pitch for the charity.

For more information or to donate, visit m4kdc.net.

Having a Ball. The Inauguration Chronicles, in which HOH brings you notable events celebrating the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20, continues.

Ball: The Hill Ball

Date: Jan. 20

Time: 8:30-11:30 p.m.

Place: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE

Sponsor: Capitol Hill Community Foundation

Attire: Festive, but comfy — there’s going to be swing dancing!

Cause: The foundation raises money to fund a slew of community-based initiatives, including the ongoing effort to rebuild Eastern Market.

Cost: $85, but note that there is a cash bar.

Notable guests: It’s a community-focused event, so expect to see lots of local government VIPs on hand.

Briefly Quoted. “The No. 1 cause of unemployment is job loss.”

— Keith Hall, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sounding an awful lot like the always-quotable Yogi Berra during testimony on Friday before the Joint Economic Committee.

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