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Hammering the Handicapped?

Democrats have long accused House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) of trying to kill off Medicare to take health care away from the elderly and seeking to exterminate the school lunch program to take food out of kids’ mouths.

So it was probably just a matter of time before someone came forward to allege that DeLay’s security detail mistreated a handicapped woman on a D.C. street as the city was bracing for Hurricane Isabel last week.

Ari Mittleman, a college student living in D.C., told HOH that he saw DeLay emerge from a black SUV outside of 1275 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (DeLay did hold a $1,000-a-head fundraiser there in the offices

of Barbour Griffith & Rogers for his leadership PAC, ARMPAC, last Wednesday night).

Mittleman, who was rollerblading across the street in Freedom Plaza, said the SUV idled in an illegal parking spot at the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest for several minutes. Then a woman in a motorized wheelchair tried to cross 13th Street heading toward Capitol Hill.

But the tail end of the SUV was blocking the handicapped ramp. The woman now found herself in the middle of 13th Street during rush hour, according to Mittleman, with cars coming in every direction, so she tried to get the attention of the driver, a Capitol Police officer.

“She was waving her hand,” recalled Mittleman. “The guy in the car rolled down the window and then he rolled it up.”

The driver didn’t move and the traffic light had changed by now, so the woman struggled to figure out how to get on the sidewalk. She drove the wheelchair onto very busy Pennsylvania Avenue and used another handicapped ramp to finally get out of harm’s way.

He was especially galled when DeLay’s driver finally emerged from the car a few moments later, but not to lend a hand. “He stepped out for a cigarette,” he said.

Mittleman is a Democrat who has volunteered for the presidential campaign of Howard Dean, but he also helped plan the unveiling of The Freedom Quilt, which won praise from Republicans. He said politics had nothing to do with him blowing the whistle.

Sgt. Mike Spochart, an officer in the Capitol Police’s internal affairs division, told HOH that the force is “currently looking into the matter.”

“We investigate all complaints,” Spochart said, adding that he will try to interview Mittleman and the officers on DeLay’s detail to get to the bottom of it.

In an e-mail response, DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella declined to comment on the substance of the complaint. “I don’t know what transpired (or didn’t) and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speak for the security detail,” he said.

Grella, who was out of the office because of the hurricane, then tried to poke fun at any notion that DeLay is a mean guy.

“Gotta go enjoy my time off,” he said. “I have purses to snatch from elderly gals, kids’ lollipops to steal, and my puppy to kick. Don’t tell anyone.”

Hill Wimps? While most Members roll their eyes at the weak-kneed way in which Washingtonians tend to deal with storms — i.e., buy all the milk in town and run like heck — they usually try to keep their criticism somewhat under wraps.

But there was no such luck for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who got caught on C-SPAN2 speaking his mind as Hurricane Isabel inched closer to D.C. last Thursday.

Burns, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, reported to work early that morning and was eager to get his spending bill passed through the chamber.

But the chairman, who was miked for sound as he prepared for floor debate, was privately informed that with the federal government already closed for business a flurry of Senators had already scurried out of town. So there would be no vote.

In a clear and loud voice, Burns — who may have momentarily forgotten about that pesky microphone — was heard barking, “What a bunch of wimps!”

He then formally addressed the chair and said a wee bit more diplomatically, “Mr. President, I think it’s time to go home.”

Asked about the comment on Friday, Burns chuckled about the incident. “Well, I don’t remember saying it,” he began. “But if I did, it was probably to one of my staffers.”

He added that upon reflection, it was probably a “pretty accurate” description of the state of affairs.

Burns spokesman J.P. Donovan, who works out of Montana, noted that he frequently runs into strong gusts of wind in Livingston — a stopping point on the way to Bozeman.

“I’ve seen 80-mile-per-hour gusts that have just about knocked me off my feet,” Donovan told HOH. “And it doesn’t even make the news.”

Donovan stressed that he did not want to “belittle the danger” imposed by fallen power lines and other hazards on the East Coast. But, he added of the winds that frightened D.C. folks so much, “In Montana, that’s kind of a stiff breeze.”

Political Disaster Area. Almost as funny as the Burns quip was the press release sent out by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) last Thursday.

“Senator Edwards Seeks Presidential Disaster Declaration,” screamed the press release.

HOH’s immediate reaction was: Hasn’t the national media already declared that the Senator’s presidential campaign a disaster?

But upon reading more of the release, this was no joking matter. It turned out that Edwards had written a letter urging President Bush to declare a federal disaster in parts of North Carolina ravaged by Hurricane Isabel.

When asked whether the release was nonetheless a commentary on the state of the Edwards presidential campaign, the Senator’s Hill spokesman, Mike Briggs, said, no way.

“Nor,” he added quickly, “the state of the president’s campaign.”

Forever Young. Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) has come up with a new version of whether he gave a powerful House chairman golf lessons in exchange for a $1 million bridge in his district.

After HOH learned from House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young’s (R-Fla.) office that the chairman doesn’t play golf, Baca’s office said the Congressman was just joking when he told a hometown newspaper that his lessons for Young had “paid off” in the form of a pork project.

But then on Tuesday, Baca wrote a letter to the editor of the San Bernardino Sun claiming that he had actually told a reporter for that paper that he gave golf lessons to House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).

“Never at any time did I imply that I played golf with Appropriations Chairman Bill Young,” wrote Baca. “Nor did I mean to imply that we simply received funding because I provided something for the chairman.”

Baca’s office had not previously suggested that there was a case of mistaken identity, though the San Bernardino paper ran a correction. The word is that while he played golf with Don Young a couple of years ago, there were no lessons involved and it hardly had any effect on recent legislation. In addition, the $1 million project in question was news to committee staffers for Don Young, who’s not in a position to appropriate the money anyway.

Steve Hansen, spokesman for Don Young, told HOH, “First of all, Young doesn’t need golf lessons.”

And the chairman who handles authorizing legislation wants to make clear that he doesn’t trade provisions for golf lessons — or anything else.

“I’m sure Congressman Baca was simply joking with the reporter because Chairman Young doesn’t evaluate projects based on anything except the merits,” he said. “All of the projects that are going to be approved in the highway and transit bill are going to be done on a bipartisan basis.”

Baca, who wrote to the local newspaper that he realizes “building relationships is fundamental to passing legislation,” was planning to pen letters to both Youngs in order to patch things up. No word on whether a few putting pointers will be offered as an olive branch.

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