Quick — Hide the chicken fingers!

While some Hill staffers may grab a donut from a communal office box without giving it much thought, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s (D-Mo.) aides face a more complicated decision.

“The congressman sets very high standards for his staff, on anything from … treating other people how you’d want to be treated to eating healthy foods,” says legislative aide Mary Petrovic, 20.

The problem? Cleaver brings in donuts for his staff on a nearly biweekly basis.

Another one of his staffers, legislative assistant Sam Burnett, explains the congressman’s seemingly contradictory message:

“On the days when he’ll bring us a tray of donuts, it’s kind of like, ‘I wouldn’t eat these things, but I can’t make that decision for you,’ ” says the 22-year-old. “If you sneak that donut, he’s not going to look down on you. Or that second donut, or that third donut.”

Petrovic and Burnett, promoted last month from intern and staff assistant, respectively, will continue to enjoy the donuts. They are joined by Alysson Vogt, 27, promoted from legislative assistant to senior legislative assistant; Cassandra Young, 27, also promoted from legislative assistant to senior legislative assistant; Emma Wischusen, 21, promoted from intern to legislative aide; and Jennifer Shapiro, 26, hired from Rep. Michael McNulty’s (D-N.Y.) office to be a legislative assistant and counsel.   

Despite tempting his staff with donuts, Cleaver leads by example. Whenever the congressman, whose district includes parts of Kansas City, has a batch of the city’s famed barbecue food shipped to the Capitol for a special event, he steers clear of the fatty dishes and instead eats the grilled vegetables, Young explains. Most of his aides, however, indulge in the barbecue not only because of how good it is but also because it reminds Petrovic, Young and Burnett — all from the Kansas City area — of home.

Those moments aside, Cleaver’s message on healthy eating does seem to be getting through.

“You’ll be eating french fries or something, and he’ll be like, ‘Mary!’ ” says Petrovic, a Georgetown University undergraduate who works part-time for Cleaver.

One time, she says, “Emma made me hide her chicken fingers” because she thought the congressman was headed to her desk.

(Emma Wischusen, also a Georgetown University student who shares her job with Petrovic, isn’t present to defend her lunch choice.)

Aside from the congressman, Burnett is the lone male in an office of all women, a situation he describes as “wonderful.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says, making it clear that he’s comfortable being subjected to teasing from his female colleagues. (During the donut conversation, Petrovic says that the tall and thin Burnett is “watching his figure.”)

“The congressman and I do have to stick together,” he jokes. “Otherwise we might be overrun.”

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