Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Posted March 8, 2004 at 7:02pm

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who prides himself on being conservative on spending issues, might want to give Amtrak a jingle the next time he needs to get from Philadelphia to New York in a jiffy.

DeLay had Integrated Device Technology Inc. pick up a $3,595 tab for round-trip transportation between Philly and NYC on Jan. 29, according to a travel disclosure form filed with the House.

The pricey expenditure stemmed from the fact that DeLay wanted to continue his charm offensive on the Jewish community. The Majority Leader, who was attending the Republican legislative retreat in Pennsylvania, needed to take a quick hop to the Empire State to deliver a speech at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event honoring IDT Corp. Chairman Howard Jonas and then get back to the retreat.

Jonas gave $2,000 to DeLay’s campaign last May, so this was a priority meeting. But $3,595 to get from Philly to New York, which is only about 100 miles apart? It turns out that DeLay had to travel by helicopter, hence the high price.

It was worth checking with on Monday to see whether DeLay should have explored other options. Presuming that the Majority Leader had at least seven days’ notice for such an important trip, HOH found a round-trip flight for $384 for a hypothetical one-day excursion between the two cities next Tuesday. (Even with only a one-day advance on flights for today, there was a nonstop for just $552 as well.)

According to Orbitz, one could rent a car — and an SUV, at that, for travels with a posse — in Philly for just $66.79 a day. That includes taxes and fees, plus unlimited mileage, from Avis.

Then there was Amtrak, which takes a VIP from Philly to New York on an Acela Express in just one hour and 14 minutes. Even with first-class accommodations, it came to a grand total of $209.

But DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella told HOH that a helicopter ride was the best option to accommodate the leader’s tough schedule.

“Air Wolf helped us attend major events in Philly, NYC, and back in Philly in the same evening,” he said. “Shuttle diplomacy at its swiftest.”

At Your Service. Serving as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee is a pretty powerful post for Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) on most days.

But on some occasions, he must feel like a glorified bellhop.

Witness the letter that Reynolds fired off to GOP colleagues last Thursday offering himself up as a concierge who could help facilitate landing everything from New York Yankees baseball tickets to restaurant reservations during the Republican National Convention in New York City this summer.

“Our concierge service, operated out of the NRCC’s Headquarters hotel, the Sheraton New York and Towers, will offer Members and their families access to Broadway show tickets and dinner reservations, special VIP tours of New York’s most famous sites, as well as an information center tailored towards helping you negotiate your way through the city,” wrote Reynolds. “Our goal is to help you with all your New York City needs!”

Reynolds attached a survey for lawmakers to fill out and fax back to the NRCC after answering questions about whether they are bringing children or will be “hosting other friends and family” at the convention.

Members then have to put check marks next to the activities they would enjoy in New York, ranging from tours of the Bronx Zoo and Ellis Island or tickets to the Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians series or the New York Mets vs. the Florida Marlins series.

“I wonder if Mr. Reynolds will be leading the ‘private shopping tour’ himself?” one GOP aide joked.

Giving Kerry the Boot? NASCAR dads will be out in full force when White House senior adviser Karl Rove headlines a “Boots & Bush-Cheney ’04” fundraiser at the Birchmere.

Tickets are $1,000 to snap a photo with Rove and stick around for a rousing show from the Wil Gravatt Band at the legendary music hall in Alexandria, Va. Guests are being strongly encouraged to wear Western attire, according to an invite circulating around Capitol Hill.

Breaking the (News) Bank. There were plenty of journalists in attendance at CNN yakker Larry King’s annual black-tie gala for his cardiac foundation on Friday night.

But it was left to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to unveil the biggest scoop of the night: His off-season spending spree is now focused on landing a tight end.

Before presenting an award named for his late father to FedEx founder Fred Smith, Snyder apologized and said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs wanted to be in attendance. Noting that he had just snuck out of the ballroom to chat with Gibbs on a cellphone, Snyder revealed that the coach had a good excuse for skipping the dinner.

“He’s at an airport right now trying to recruit a tight end. He said, ‘I think we’re going to have to break the bank,’” recalled Snyder, adding that he had given Gibbs the go-ahead. The team would later announce the signing of veteran tight end Walter Rasby to a deal.

Press Dinners on the Menu. ’Tis the season for press dinners, culminating with the vaunted White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on May 1.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will be honored this Thursday with leadership awards when the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation throws its 14th Annual First Amendment Awards Dinner.

Grassley, an outspoken supporter of whistleblowers in government, is being cited for his dogged efforts to protect freedom of the press. Leahy, meanwhile, is getting kudos for his attempts to protect civil liberties during the 2001 debate over the USA Patriot Act.

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News will also be honored at the dinner, along with Walter Ulloa of Entravision Communications Corporation.

Still on deck: the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner set for March 24.