Feeney aides survive swim from Alcatraz

Pepper Pennington, spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), is glad to be back in Washington safe and sound. Over the recess she and a colleague, Emily Smith, completed the Shark Fest Swim from Alcatraz to the shores of San Francisco.

“We made it back with all of our arms and legs and so we’re happy,” Pennington said. “It was such an amazing experience.”

But it was also harrowing.

Donning newly purchased, full-length wetsuits, the women were taken out to the famous ex-prison in packed boats along with 800 others who dared to brave the rough waters of San Francisco Bay.

“It was a free-for-all,” said Pennington. “When you jump in, your hands and feet freeze. You’re getting hit in the face with waves. You can’t even complete a full stroke. I probably swallowed gallons and gallons of water.”

The Feeney flack also attested that even though she has swum competitively, this was a completely different experience: “Mentally, the bay plays these little mind tricks on you. I never thought I would feel alone in San Francisco Bay. I felt like I was out there and it was just me and the bay — and that’s scary. The waves are so big that you can’t see the swimmers next to you. You sort of get disoriented. You had to really talk yourself down and calm yourself while you’re in the sheer chaos of the waves hitting you and continue to swim.”

While Pennington finished the race in 43 minutes, Smith finished in 41. The duo finished among the top 200. And that’s pretty impressive considering that some “big buff guys” and other swimmers who took so long to complete the race were wrapped in aluminum foil to get warm or were taken away in stretchers.

To distinguish themselves from other swimmers so their families could spot them, Pennington and Smith wrapped hot-pink duct tape around their wrists.

Pennington said she could tell when she was approaching the shore because “the water tastes like diesel fuel. It was pretty nasty.”

Nonetheless, she highly recommends the swim to anyone who isn’t claustrophobic or prone to get anxious quickly — which would eliminate most people on the Hill.

“If you’re a good athlete and you’re pretty calm then you could survive the swim,” she said, adding, “I could definitely see why the prisoners died.”


The coincidence of Rayburn 2413

When Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) was elected to serve out the term of Democrat Tom Lantos after his death in February, she inherited his spacious office in 2413 Rayburn, although she’ll likely have to give it up in January to a more senior colleague chosen by lottery.

And while she probably will have to settle for smaller quarters in the Longworth or Cannon building, Speier may not know how lucky she is that her new office won’t likely have the last digits of 13.

The last three occupants of 2413 Rayburn all died in office. First was 12-term Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.), who died in October 2000, at the age of 60 after a bout with lung cancer.

Then 11-term Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), who had barely settled into Vento’s office, died of a heart attack at age 66 two months later.

Lantos, a native of Hungary and the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, died of esophageal cancer after 27 years in the House. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, last month.

Speier, however, is not superstitious about her office. “I’ve known Jackie for 30 years and I can tell you there is nothing superstitious about her,” said her spokesman, Mike Larsen.

“If we leave it’ll be because some senior member wants this office. We would be happy to stay here.”

Larsen noted that his boss was shot five times nearly 30 years ago in South America.

“I think any superstition attached to this office would roll off her back,” he said.  


Leahy, the Deadhead, still ‘driving that train’

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) bounded out of a Capitol elevator on Tuesday with a smile on his face, singing the Grateful Dead song “Casey Jones” while heading to a lunch for the Democratic Conference.

“Driving that train,” he sang, though he stopped before completing the second part to that lyric, which goes, High on cocaine.

He then put some reporters on the spot by asking them who originally sang the song. After a moment of silence, someone gave the right answer.

“Thank you!” exclaimed Leahy, adding that he was glad “someone around here” could recognize good music.

The senator later told ITK that he’s a huge Grateful Dead fan. His favorite song is not “Casey Jones” but rather “Black Muddy River,” and he plays the band’s songs on every election night. “Truckin’ ” usually opens his election-night appearances, while “Touch of Grey” is his closing song.

Leahy was also a concertgoer.

“I used to sit on stage by the sound guys,” he said.

But the crowning moment with favorite band?

“I brought them all to the Senate Dining Room when [singer and guitarist] Jerry [Garcia] was alive,” Leahy said.


Rep. Bilbray’s 24-hour press secretary

It’s never too late or too early to get a comment from Rep. Brian Bilbray’s (R-Calif.) office.

Darren Pudgil, the congressman’s communications director, boasts of a 24-hour press operation in which he is “always open” and reporters can call at any time of day or night. His voice mail promises as much.

“Maybe once a month I’ll get a call at midnight,” he said, explaining that being on the East Coast and working for a West Coast lawmaker presents the time constraint. “There have been times when I’ve gotten late-night or early-morning calls. My wife isn’t too thrilled about that.”

Pudgil, who has worked for Bilbray since January, said he’s not much of a sleeper anyway, getting an average of four hours of shut-eye each night.

“We may doze, but we never close,” he said.