Lawmakers need love too

Planning a wedding is never easy, but betrothed members of Congress face logistical challenges that their constituents would never dream of confronting: How many foreign dignitaries should be invited? How much access should the local press receive?

And in the case of Rep. Nick Rahall, who tied the knot with software executive Melinda Ross in December 2004, how can a couple avert potential conflicts with the jampacked legislative schedule? The Rahalls already had found their dream location in the Greenbrier resort, a popular congressional retreat located in Rahall’s West Virginia district.

Famous getaway spots such as the Greenbrier are often booked up years in advance, which can make extra space for guests hard to come by and service staff more overextended. In the end, Mrs. Rahall recalled, everything worked out for the best: “Our wedding date fell literally during the week of their lowest rates of the entire calendar year. … Plus, the entire resort was elaborately decorated for the holidays already.”

Family and friends dominated the Rahalls’ 11-person wedding party, but Rahall’s closest aides had significant roles to play. Chief of Staff Kent Keyser was a groomsman, and Jim Zoia, minority chief of staff on the House Resources Committee, where Rahall is the ranking Democrat, played master of ceremonies before 225 guests.

With the help of event producer Freddie Wyatt of Jamestown Entertainment (www.jamestownentertainment.com), the Rahalls put together dual festivities for the eve of their wedding, throwing a colorful tea party for female guests and a tavern outing for the men, complete with cigars and a blackjack table.

In addition to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the Rahalls played host to Farid Abboud, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, and Abboud’s diplomatic counterparts from Syria, Qatar and the Palestinian territory. The ceremony also honored Rahall’s Lebanese heritage, serving the nation’s traditional Arak liqueur and serenading guests with Middle Eastern folk music.

Quite a few of Rahall’s colleagues have taken the plunge during the past 18 months, squeezing wedding receptions in between hearings and conference committees. Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) got hitched to his former chief of staff, Jennifer Laptook, in February 2005, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) took Nancy Bass, owner of New York’s famous Strand bookstore, as his bride in a September beachside ceremony.

June has long been the most popular month for weddings, but July and August are Congress’s prime time to dive into marital bliss. Freshman Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) married sonographer Andrea Heupel last July, affording them a leisurely Bora Bora honeymoon during the congressional recess. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and the British-born Elizabeth Harper, who works in monetary policy for a think tank, wed in August at an outdoor ceremony in Kucinich’s district.

Another newlywed lawmaker, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), married in April 2005 but put off his official honeymoon until the August recess, when he and bride Julia Hart traveled through Italy. The couple spent a weekend in New York City immediately after their reception, which followed a formal ceremony at a Catholic chapel in West Point, N.Y.

Being able to wed at West Point, home of the legendary military academy he attended, was important to Reed, the senator said through spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle. Though Reed recalled many difficult decisions during the planning process, he and Mrs. Reed, who works in the secretary of the Senate’s office, pulled off their wedding without the help of consultants or planners.

While there was no band or disc jockey, a classical ensemble played during the reception, said Lachapelle, who described the wedding as traditional and formal. The 14-person wedding party was peopled mostly by family members, including the bride’s two young nieces, who served as flower girls.

The trend of recess weddings would seem to put the capital’s more impressive destinations at a disadvantage when it comes to booking high-profile congressional ceremonies. But some lawmakers have chosen Washington to host their nuptials: Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and his wife, Jeanne, wed on the steps of the National Cathedral in 2003, and former Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) kissed his bride at the Church of the Ascension on Massachusetts Avenue.

Other Washington luminaries who wed this past year include GOP lobbyist extraordinaire Grover Norquist, who held not one but two wedding receptions — one intimate and private, the other lavish and lawmaker-studded — and Hugh Rodham, brother of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

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