Heard on the Hill: Kohl Won’t Stimulate Economy

Posted January 12, 2009 at 6:27pm

Sen. Herb Kohl is one of the wealthiest Members of Congress, with more than $200 million in assets, including the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team. One wouldn’t think a guy with that many zeros on his bank statement would need to borrow a staffer’s coat to wear to the presidential inauguration — but that’s just what the Wisconsin Democrat is hoping to do.

[IMGCAP(1)]Kohl’s scheduler sent out a staff-wide missive this week searching for a loaner. “Does anyone have a dark — ie blue or black — plain winter coat which might fit HK,” the e-mail read.

Kohl, whose family founded the department-store chain Kohl’s (which, last we checked, sells some lovely and toasty winter jackets) has worn a coat belonging to his scheduler’s late father for the past four presidential inaugurations.

But that coat was stolen, according to the e-mail, at a club in New York on New Year’s Eve. A Kohl staffer explains that the scheduler’s son, not Kohl himself, had borrowed it that night.

The e-mail had HOH scratching her head as to why such a wealthy guy wouldn’t just swing by a store — heck, with that kind of money, we’d send an assistant and make it Brooks Brothers — for a new jacket he could call his very own.

But Kohl’s communications director, Lynn Becker, explained that her boss isn’t exactly the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” type. Think less Cristal Brut and more Milwaukee’s Best.

“Sen. Kohl is generous with his scholarships and charities but notoriously uninterested in spending money on himself — that’s why he drives a Chevy Lumina, eats in diners and will be borrowing a winter coat,” she told us.

Maybe those of us who’ve been known to blow our meager paychecks on a single item of clothing (but those boots were sooo cute!) should take a few lessons in frugality from someone for whom it has obviously paid off.

A Chaotic, but Nostalgic, Second City Reunion. Sen.-in-waiting Roland Burris’ arrival on Capitol Hill a week ago might have generated a bit of a frenzy, but for the man charged with protecting him, it also provided a chance to see an old friend.

And what did the longtime buddies chat about? Why, baseball, of course.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who served as director of the Illinois State Police when Burris served as Illinois attorney general, personally escorted the next Senator from Illinois through the media herd when he attempted to submit his credentials for office. And while reporters swarmed Burris on Tuesday, a far tamer second visit gave the former Capitol Police chief a chance to show his old friend around his potential new workplace.

Aside from dishing on where to pick up the Senate subway, Gainer told HOH that the longtime colleagues chatted about their old Chicago neighborhoods, mutual friends and hometown sports. “They’re getting ready to sell the Cubs, and we were trying to figure out who’s going to buy them,” Gainer said.

Gainer remembered Burris as a fair, decisive leader who was very community- oriented and “a friend to law enforcement.” When Burris arrived on Capitol Hill, he seemed eager to learn about life in Washington, not unlike the other freshman Senators who actually got to be sworn in last week, Gainer said.

“It was all kind of nice, given that I’ve known him some, gosh, 25 years or so,” Gainer said of the reunion. “It was good to catch up.”

Respecting Their Elders? Old people: Not only are they founts of wisdom and witnesses to history, but they make for a pretty great photo op, too.

Two Members of Congress have invited to the presidential inauguration constituents who are 100-plus years old — both African-American women for whom the swearing-in of the first black president carries a special meaning — but inaugural planners are worried that the event might be too much for the elderly guests.

A staffer involved in the inaugural planning blasted the offices of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) for inviting centenarians, saying they’re putting the lure of a great photo op and heart-warming story ahead of safety. With chilly temperatures, long walks and even longer waits, attending the inaugural isn’t for the faint of heart.

Last month, Brown invited Clevelander Ella Mae Johnson, who will celebrate her 105th birthday on Inauguration Day, to the festivities. That garnered a few nice stories in the local press.

Then Moran’s office informed inaugural officials that they were inviting a 106-year-old Virginia woman.

But the warm and fuzzy gesture didn’t sit so well with one staffer. “This is so clearly about PR and ‘our-old-woman-is-older-than-yours,’” the staffer said. “It completely disregards what a grueling event this could be to attend.”

The elderly guests could cause a major disruption to the proceedings if there’s a medical emergency, some planners fear. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies last month issued a warning to would-be attendees about the long waits and physical demands of attending the festivities that was so dire that the Web site Gawker ran the news under the tongue-in-cheek headline “Obama Inaugural Will Probably Kill You, Congress Promises.”

Moran Communications Director Austin Durrer told HOH that the office spoke to the elderly woman’s caretaker who would attend the event with her and explained the risks — but the office isn’t rescinding the invite. “I can’t think of a more fitting event for this woman to attend,” he said. “I can understand the concerns, but at the same time, if they want to attend, we’re not going to stop them.”

And Brown’s spokeswoman said the Senator extended the invite to his elderly constituent on the suggestion of her nursing home, and that the office is working with the home on logistics. “We’re figuring out how to make sure she stays comfortable and safe on Inauguration Day,” she said.

If You Ignore It, It’s Not Happening. An HOH spy spotted Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley on Saturday afternoon at the Thunder Grill in Union Station (who knew it was a hot spot?), grabbing drinks with his comely wife, former Redskins cheerleader Christy Oglevee. The pair sipped on libations just as the Redskins’ local rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, stunned the Tennessee Titans in a 13-10 playoff victory — a win that likely wasn’t easy for Cooley, since the Redskins missed the playoffs this year. Our spy says the couple stayed for only about 30 minutes before departing the bar, and Cooley had his back to the television sets the entire time.

The Thank-You Card’s in the Mail. The presidential inauguration is a lot like a wedding. It involves months of preparation and painstaking seating arrangements — and expensive crystal is a mandatory gift.

On Monday, American-based fine china maker Lenox Inc. presented Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) with two handcrafted, personalized crystal bowls, which will be given to President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden at the inaugural luncheon on Jan. 20. Lenox has given similar pieces to the incoming president and vice president at the past six inaugurations, and the pieces are considered the American people’s official gift to the next White House occupants.

Designed by artist Peter O’Rourke, Obama’s bowl features a sketch of the White House, while Biden’s contains a sketch of the Capitol. Feinstein, who received the gifts as chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, called the bowls “really a thing of beauty” and suggested to Timothy Carder, Lenox’s vice president of design, that the company sell replicas.

“I think they would be a very hot item,” she said. “Although probably very expensive.”

We can’t wait to see Biden do the Chicken Dance.

K Street Kiddie. With two lobbying reporters for parents, little Madelyn Grace Zeller’s destiny seems pre-ordained. Roll Call reporter Kate Ackley and her husband, CQ Weekly senior writer Shawn Zeller, welcomed the baby girl, their first child, on Monday. Mom and baby are “perfect,” the proud dad said. “Like any good lobbyist, she’s already schmoozing her mom and dad!”

Note to the new parents: Lobbying- disclosure filings make for great bedtime stories.

Overheard on the Hill. “See you on YouTube.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), inviting the kids to check out Congress on the Internets. YouTube on Monday launched destinations for the Senate and the House.

Tom Williams contributed to this report.

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