Rocky path to the top 50 peak

Letters, e-mails and phone calls have been pouring into The Hill’s offices for the past four months from people saying how beautiful they or their friends are.

The more arrogant among them had no problem talking up their own beauty. There were wives who nominated their husbands, saying that they were still disgusted by last year’s top-50 list and wanted to see men who were truly good-looking. There were husbands who nominated their wives — a testament to their love as much as to their objective judgment.

“Thank you for your consideration,” one husband wrote on a handwritten card about his wife, who works on a House committee, “It’s been a rough couple of months for our family. Even if you don’t pick my wife, is there any way you could let her know she was considered? She could use a little good news. We all could. Thank you again.”

(Obviously, this is a beauty contest that can bring out charm, even sappiness.)

Another husband at first nominated his wife and then decided, hell, why not nominate himself too? “I think it’s fair to say I’m no slouch either,” he wrote. “I’m at least better looking that the U.S. Capitol Police horse that was on our list last year and certainly better looking than Jason Roe, of Rep. Tom Feeney’s (R-Fla.) office.”

In the end, he said, even if he wasn’t picked, please don’t hold it against his lovely wife.

The sheer number of nominations — several hundred — showed that people don’t really believe Sen. Mike DeWine’s (R-Ohio) former aide Jessica Cutler’s assertion that Capitol Hill is so full of wonky, average-looking people that cute passes for hot.

With three times as many nominations as last year, even some striking beauties didn’t make it.

What became clear along the way was that people seized on the contest as a welcome break from the workaholic mentality of Capitol Hill. Campaigns would begin for an individual staffer or lobbyist, and hours later 10, 20, 30 nominations would roll in, describing in long, sometimes graphic, emotional detail why he or she deserved to be on the list.

We had to set up several large photo shoots on both the House and Senate sides of the Capitol just to photograph all of our nominees; they lined up to get in.

This doesn’t even count the surprise contestants we encountered along the way, such as the handsome blond Capitol Police officer we found outside the Cannon Building. Or the many handsome officers manning the Speaker’s Lobby. Or the aides who came along to provide moral support for the nominees and suddenly became captivating nominees themselves.

Like many a beauty pageant, ours wasn’t looking only for pinup qualities; there had to be some inner beauty, too. Arrogance was a turnoff, and at times superficial prettiness combined with a disastrous inner ugliness. At one point I was informed that a staffer (a good-looking one at that) was campaigning to get himself on the list. Once at the shoot, it became clear that he thought he had a clean shot at winning. He didn’t make our list.

Another example involved a male staffer who felt he was at least as handsome as the men on last year’s list. The pictures he sent in were average. In person, he was surprisingly handsome. What ultimately killed his nomination? Self-promotion, and too many other qualified contestants.

In another instance, a woman spent 30 minutes with one of our photographers because it took her that long to approve a photograph. In the end, the photos came out looking unnatural and made her look plastic. Although in person she was quite attractive, our committee couldn’t be convinced; she didn’t make our list.

The experience showed that there is such a thing as being photogenic. Some contestants were beautiful when frozen by the camera, whereas the lens robbed others of their sparkle.

Startlingly, wherever we turned we found celebrity look-alikes, — among them, Catherine Zeta Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Lynda Carter and Christina Aguilera. A staffer version of Lindsay Lohan was once stopped by students and hounded for her autograph while walking up the Longworth steps.

In other cases, nominees were described with an enticing ethnic appeal — one female staffer was nominated for her “Egyptian appeal,” and a female lobbyist was described as a “tall Russian beauty, svelte, graceful, fashionable and intelligent” with “radiant hair” who “resembles supermodels from Eastern Europe.”

At times the nominations made me laugh out loud.

“All the women around here talk about how cute he is,” an aide wrote in. “Frankly it’s sickening. He doesn’t buy into the hype, thank goodness. But I think you should take a pic and consider him for the Hill’s hottest.”

A nomination that stood apart from the rest: “You’ve gotta put Y in the top 50 people,” wrote in a male aide. “He works for Sen. So-and-So. He’s a good friend, and has ultra sassy eyebrows.”

The male subject of the above nomination had his own contribution to the contest: “I would like to nominate X from Sen. So-and-So’s office. X is genuinely adorable, with his endearing Southern accent and charming smile that could disarm the President of North Korea!!! He can be a pretty snappy dresser too.”

Some nominations had a mean streak; “Staffer X in Rep. So-and-So’s office thinks he’s attractive — probably could use the ink.” Another warned, “Watch out for the inflating head if he gets in the paper.”
Others were kinder: “Our office has three: the scheduler, LC and staff assistant. They draw stares walking down the hall together, but, to be clich�, they’re beautiful on the inside too — thoughtful, compassionate and smart.”

Some were confessional, as though this were a venue to get out their secret crushes: “I will confess to having let my eyes linger upon So-and-So. ...”

And this one: “Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) BLANK is Hottttttttttttt ttttttttttttttttttt!”

One legislative assistant working for a Southern House Democrat sent in the following nomination, revealing, perhaps, his secret crush on a co-worker? “I would like to nominate the beautiful, vivacious and scintillating Staffer X. X uses her sweet, innocent smile to disguise her sexy and sometimes mischievous personality. She has entranced our office for more than two years now. We were greatly upset that you overlooked a gem like her last year.”

Other nominations were highly creative, to the point where it became clear that staffers were taking out sizable chunks of their day to make compelling cases for a nominee. One such nomination for a male aide discussed the aide’s “Dutch heritage” and described him as “blond, cute and sweet as Edam cheese.”

The letter went on ... “Y’s elfish good looks make female staffers swoon, no doubt prompting the constant barrage of changes to the BLANK project he deals with daily. He is a true gentleman, always bubbly, cheerful, charming and genuine, as well as being the consummate professional, which is no doubt the reason for his rapid rise up the Hill hierarchy.”

Some grew extremely personal. In one testimonial on the above male aide, a woman wrote, “I always found Y to be professional and passionate, even at midnight with caffeine shakes and tired eyes. And finally, as a friend, who is compassionate and listens, qualities that we often seek in our friends but rarely find. So he is the very essence of beauty in a man, inside and out.”

Look for the 50 Most Beautiful People of Capitol Hill in tomorrow’s edition of Capital Living.