When Roll Call editors asked me to write a guest column reflecting on my tenure as the reigning gossip queen of Capitol Hill, I immediately flashed back to a conversation I once had with Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
[IMGCAP(1)]On a Friday in the summer of 2004, I got a tip from a well-placed source that Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) minivan had somehow plowed into the back of then-Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pa.) Mercedes — and possibly other cars. Pure gold as far as tips go.
Naturally, I called Manley, who was Kennedy’s spokesman then. Manley knew nothing about the alleged crash but made clear through his sighs and groans of anxiety that he would check it out and get back to me. (“Oh God,— he muttered as he hung up the phone.)
After about an hour he called back and joked, “Akers, how drunk can I get you to drop this story?—
Not drunk enough, Manley! Of course we wrote the item (Kennedy’s Runaway Car, June 28, 2004), which was pretty funny: Kennedy wasn’t even driving. His 20-something driver had forgotten to put the vehicle in park before hopping out to chase after the Senator.)
Nor was anyone able to get HOH drunk enough to drop the countless other juicy morsels that fell onto our plate. My all-time favorite exclusive was the one I wrote about Montanans Gone Wild on a Congressional delegation in Kazakhstan.
That’s when Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) drank half a dozen shots of vodka, jumped on a horse, fell off, got trampled by another horse, broke a rib and allegedly called the locals “cone heads.— Initially Rehberg’s spokesman told us the Congressman had no shots of vodka. Then the Congressman admitted he had “two or three.— And later, a Marine colonel who was on the trip told us Rehberg really had six shots. See related items: Rehberg, Horsing Around? (June 10, 2004), Now Who’s Horsing Around? (June 23, 2004), Montana Republicans: Sober in Kazakhstan (July 14, 2004).
Some Members of Congress were simply walking gifts to HOH.
Such as the unforgettable former Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). She offered up one zany outburst after another — including the time she was locked out of her Capitol Hill town house, in stocking feet without shoes, banging on the door and shouting through the mail slot for someone to let her in (Barefoot and Locked Out, May 22, 2006).
Or the time she summoned an intern to deliver her special designer heels to her on the House floor (Shoeless Katherine, Redux, June 19, 2006), while another young staffer wrecked her BMW. Also a classic: the time Harris was caught on C-SPAN cameras “canoodling— with then-Rep. Rick Renzi (R) of Arizona. The video came to be known as “the Canoodle.— (The Canoodle Cabal, Oct. 28, 2004)
Hands down, the most gaffe-prone Senator during my time writing HOH was Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), whose foot-in-mouth syndrome led to his Senate demise. When an aide to another Senator once asked how his day was going, Burns replied, “I’m ready to go get knee-walking drunk!—
Which is about as drunk as you’d expect to be after doing six shots of vodka. (Now That’s Drunk!, March 13, 2006)
With the cast of characters we were blessed with then, there was never a shortage of material.
My column featured the scandals of former Reps. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who took corruption to new heights; Mark Foley (R-Fla.), the House page villain; Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who took a free trip to Scotland with Jack Abramoff even though he didn’t play golf; and William Jefferson (D-La.), who hoped the feds would never find the $90,000 in cash that he hid in Boca burger boxes in his freezer. All of them are gone, of course, while others, including Rep. Patrick “Crash— Kennedy (D-R.I.), have survived their scandals and embarrassments.
The weirder tidbits about life in the seedy underbelly of Capitol Hill were the best ones. Like the totally bizarre story of Rob Woodall, chief of staff to Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), whom I discovered lived in a 5-foot-by-10-foot storage closet — a cage, really — on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building (Sleeping With the Rats, July 26, 2006).
Special recognition goes to Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), who amazed us with his ability to walk and floss his teeth at the same time as he navigated basement walkways (A Goode Flossing, June 14, 2005); to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who showed up at his office’s whitewater tubing field trip wearing what is universally known as a weenie bikini (Beach Blanket Bingo, Sept. 6, 2005); and — speaking of which — to Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who wound up at the gay bar Cobalt judging a “best package contest— two years ago (Linda Sánchez: Package Inspector, Jan. 8, 2007).
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the former Senator from Delaware who now lives at the Naval Observatory.
When I asked him in December 2004 what he was giving his wife, Jill, for Christmas, then-Sen. Joseph Biden (D) replied, “My wife’s view is you cannot give anything that has utilitarian value. You cannot give anything that is not a surprise. It has to be shiny, sexy or soft.— (Ho Ho Ho, Dec. 13, 2004)
What a fun ride. Thanks for the memories, everybody.
Mary Ann Akers penned Heard on the Hill from 2004 to 2007. She is now known as “the Sleuth,— the title of her blog at the Washington Post.