Olga’s gallery job makes her come back every day for more

When ABC’s Charlie Gibson interviewed Olga Ramirez Kornacki for a position in the House Radio-TV Gallery in 1985, he grilled her about how she would handle downtime on the job.

Gibson wanted to know how she would spend the recess, when things are typically slow on the Hill. After she listed all possible options, from organizing the office to preparing for the weeks ahead, Gibson asked Kornacki again how she would spend her time.

Finally, Kornacki told Gibson that she would get up from her desk and “wave at all of the cute men in the courtyard,” she recalls, laughing heartily.

Twenty-two years later, Kornacki still employs that same sense of humor as the new director of the House Radio-TV Gallery, one of three newsrooms available to media on the House side. She oversees journalists from 18 news organizations and serves as a liaison between congressional offices and the electronic media.

Until about a month ago, Kornacki served as acting director to Tina Tate, but her newfound responsibilities didn’t set in until Memorial Day — just as the Capitol was alerted to a possible terrorist threat.

“‘My God,’” Kornacki remembers thinking, “‘I am now responsible for everyone in this office. I’m responsible for not only my staff but also the reporters that work here.’ The reality sort of hit me.”

Over the years, Kornacki has had four “run-for-your-life” experiences. Now she has to ensure that other journalists can continue telling the public the story.

Kornacki, the first Hispanic female to head the gallery, recalls the day of Ronald Reagan’s funeral, when a plane accidentally flew into restricted airspace. WTOP’s Dave McConnell took his microphone with him as he moved out of the building.

“You hear the shuffling, you hear the panic in the voice of the police and you just hear the pandemonium,” Kornacki says, getting wrapped up in the situation all over again. “It was one of the best pieces of tape I’ve ever heard, because not only did I live it, but you can imagine what it was like.”

Prior to joining the gallery staff, Kornacki worked for RKO Radio Networks, now known as Unistar, which put a “zip and a spin” on its news.  

Kornacki, a brunette with shoulder-length hair, is the daughter of a former U.S. Capitol Police officer. She has the sort of soothing radio voice that one could listen to for hours. She’s got the sort of energy that makes her seem ageless; her smile and laugh are similarly infectious. You feel as though you’ve known her for years. She loves to tell stories and watch the Food Network.

A native Washingtonian with Spanish and Mexican roots, Kornacki grew up in Silver Spring, Md., with her parents and brothers. She’s “celebrating the first anniversary of her 49th year,” she says coyly.

Kornacki and her husband, an adjunct political science professor at George Washington University, were married in a room in the Capitol that has sometimes been used as a holding room for the president — a spot now at the top of an escalator in the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC).

Theirs is a mixed marriage: they don’t share the same political beliefs. At the same time, she’s mum about her affiliation because of the nature of her job. The couple asked both Democratic and GOP leaders to approve the Capitol wedding, which they called a “discourse in family values,” she recalls, smiling.

Kornacki has three stepsons who attend rival schools, Michigan State and the University of Michigan. But her time now is mostly occupied by her two German shepherds at her home in Ashburn, Va.

A bona fide news and politics junkie, Kornacki shows off pictures of historical events she has witnessed, which include five presidents lying in state, the Waco tragedy, and hearings for the Keating Five and the Clinton impeachment process. Out her office window, she has front-row tickets to the construction of the CVC.

Kornacki’s most important tasks include credentialing members of the media for the Democratic and Republican conventions.

But what she enjoys most about the job are the “incredible, amazing professionals” with whom she works every day.

“You’ve got reporters and producers working upstairs [in the gallery] who are on top of their game. They are the best of the best,” Kornacki says emphatically. “You hear these amazing behind-the-scenes [stories] that are so delicious and so yummy that it makes you come back every day for more.”