DeLay's worried aides are likely to land on their feet, but maybe not for a while

Aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) facing imminent unemployment can expect soft landings, say former Hill staffers who endured similar ordeals.

DeLay and some former aides are mentioned in connection with criminal investigations about congressional ethics, fundraising and lobbying. But the 20-odd staff members he left behind can expect to benefit rather than suffer from ties to their well-connected boss.

“We’ve got some sympathetic friends,” said Chief of Staff Brett Loper.

DeLay was widely regarded as highly effective at promoting the Republican agenda. His staff’s role in that success did not go unnoticed.

“It’s a great team,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who offered special praise for Loper and Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Flynn.

James Dyer, who was staff director of the House Appropriations Committee when Chairman/Speaker-elect Bob Livingston (R-La.) resigned from Congress in 1998, called Loper “one of the finest, most skillful, most honest people I’ve met.”

Mehlman also singled out Communications Director Kevin Madden, who worked for him on President Bush’s reelection campaign. “I know of no more effective communicator anywhere in Washington,” Mehlman said. “He will receive many other opportunities, unless I hire him again first.”

Dyer, a lobbyist with Clark & Weinstock, said, “There is a market in this town — and out of this town” — for people who understand how things get done in Congress. Livingston remade himself as one of Washington’s top lobbyists.

“My experience has always been — and I tried to tell the DeLay people this the other day — [that] they’re going to be OK,” said Wexler & Walker President Jack Howard, who was a top aide to Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) when he stepped down as Speaker and resigned from Congress after a disappointing GOP showing in the 1998 elections.

“There are a lot of places where they can make homes for themselves,” agreed Chuck Pizer, a lobbyist who was legislative director for Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) when the Ways and Means Committee chairman was bounced from office and eventually imprisoned for fraud.

“It will take time, but they are talented people,” Pizer added. “Memories are short”

Lobbyist Chuck Brain, deputy chief of staff of the Ways and Means Committee under Rostenkowski, agreed. “If you do this long enough,” he said, “all your bosses are gone.”

None of these former staffers downplayed the devastating feeling of losing a job under such circumstances. Dyer recalled the atmosphere when Livingston announced his resignation as “like one of those Irish wakes, except that nobody actually died.”

Loper said, “This was certainly not the way anyone wanted to end their tenure.” It is worse for junior staffers, he said, because, unlike those with experience and financial stability, they have a harder time coping with the loss of stature and paycheck.

Loper has encouraged the staff to look ahead and said, “They’ll be spectacular wherever they land.”

Friends from the Texas congressional delegation, the House leadership and Republicans in the House, Senate and private sector have suggested they might be able to hire some of the staff, Loper said.

DeLay will also be expanding his congressional-office staff and is likely to keep three or four people from his leadership contingent for that office, Loper said.

But the initial taint is not negligible. “People in the private sector were not falling all over themselves to hire me,” said James Jaffe, a freelance writer and Chicago Tribune columnist who was the Ways and Means Committee's press secretary during Rostenkowski's finals days.

Pizer viewed his connections to Rostenkowski as an “honor,” but “prospective employers didn’t always see them that way.” But “everybody on the committee landed on their feet … when the dust settled.”

Brain cautioned that aides leaving DeLay’s office should expect to encounter some resistance early on. “There’ll be a pause” for firms considering them, he said.

Lobbying firms, popular destinations for leadership aides looking for lucrative new jobs, in general might not be as hospitable to former congressional aides as they have been in recent years, Jaffe said.

“K Street has a cloud over it right now,” Jaffe added. “The guys there are going to be more interested in holding on to their jobs … than hiring new people.”