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The Former Boss Who Won’t Go Away

Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns. This week: the ex-boss who wants to hang around.

Q. One of my first jobs on the Hill was working for a member who was great; he represented his district well, and we had a great working relationship.

Unfortunately, he lost his seat a few years ago. Meanwhile, my career has moved forward.

Since losing, every two years he talks about running again for Congress or putting his name out for statewide office in his home state.

While he is wistfully talking about making another run for office, he hasn’t been doing much to get himself there — not raising money, not making political connections, not even spending a lot of time in his home district. (He seems to be in D.C. more now than he was when he was a member.)

Every time he decides to float his name, though, he calls me or wants to meet with me, leading up to his asking me to set up meetings for him around the Hill.

Don’t get me wrong, I love him and I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me, but I just don’t think he’s doing what he needs to do to win. And now he’s asking me to spend my own capital to help him, and I don’t feel comfortable doing it — but I don’t know how to tell him.

I understand your view that this is a waste of your political capital, time and resources. A lot of politics involves wasting those very things we have spent years trying to accumulate. So here are two ways I think this could work:

• If you had a great working relationship, rely on that to let him know that the congressional campaign committees and other members of Congress aren’t excited about meeting with a candidate who isn’t raising money or spending time in the district. Even if he was the darling of a wave election or a long-timer who isn’t quite ready for retirement, he still lost, and he has to prove that he can win again. He might receive a few cursory meetings, but until he’s filing a Federal Election Commission report and hiring a finance director, the meetings will stop after round one and you can excuse yourself.

• If you’re confident he doesn’t want your advice and won’t take the hint when the meetings don’t materialize, then you may want to go tongue-in-cheek and let your contacts know you aren’t realistically expecting much from them. Other staffers might sympathize with the particular brand of entitlement bestowed on former members and also-rans. They also might appreciate your frank tone that you don’t expect their boss to take the meeting — but if he has a few minutes, your old boss is willing to talk — even if it’s just to say “hello” and reminisce about the good old days, however brief they were.

As long as your former boss still graces your résumé, he may rely on you to do his bidding. But even the most dogged former members will bow out after a few unrequited rounds of this. And then you’ll be off the hook for good.

Q. I have been looking for a job on the Hill for a while. I know networking is important, but does anyone ever get a job [from] those job banks?

A. The job banks are an urban legend on Capitol Hill. Someone always knows someone who got an interview or a position using the placement services, but the best way to get a job on Capitol Hill is good old-fashioned networking.

Meet with your home state representatives and senators. See if you can get an internship — even a few unpaid hours a week will give you some connections. Ask your alumni group for a list of Capitol Hill staffers they know, and ask everyone you meet with to help you arrange more meetings.

Drink lots of coffee. Write thank-you notes. Email your contacts again in a few weeks with any updates — even if there aren’t any.

Keep putting your résumé in the job bank. But unless you’re waiting to be the next miracle hire, you’re better off doing the groundwork yourself.

Q. Every day, sometimes more than once a day, I see this girl who works down the hall from my office. We smile but that is all. I feel like I am in high school! How can I ever make a move while just passing her in the hallway?

A. Easy answer for you: Longworth Cafeteria. Or Dirksen. Or Cups. Surely this mystery girl gets her coffee someplace. Figure it out, get in line, maybe offer to pay for her latte. That should get some reaction. Capitol Hill was designed for such encounters. Good luck!

Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at or submit online at All submissions are treated anonymously.


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