By Jeff Dufour - 05/25/06 12:00 AM EDT
After more than a year and a half of filming and post-production, a documentary window into the life and work of Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and his staff is nearly ready for its curtain.
Called “The Hill” (great title, no?), the six-part series on the Sundance Channel gets up close and personal with Wexler, Chief of Staff Eric Johnson, foreign-affairs Legislative Assistant Halie Soifer, Legislative Director Jonathan Katz and Press Secretary Lale Mamaux.
Filming began in late 2004, in the run-up to the elections, and continued into late last year, said Mamaux, who noted that everyone still works for Wexler. “There’s not a lot of turnover in Wexler’s office,” she said.
“One of the things you’ll notice, running around Capitol Hill, is that this place is run by very young people,” Johnson says at the outset of the first episode. Indeed, one of the themes of each half-hour episode is the importance — and occasional self-importance — of twenty- and thirty-something aides.
The first two episodes take the uninitiated from the campaign trail in Florida (where Wexler gets a big hug from Mandy Patinkin) to a Darfur press event to a markup on the Patriot Act to cable TV studios. Meanwhile, the staffers write speeches, argue over message — and rearrange the photos on Wexler’s “me wall.”
“They pretty much had all access to everything we did,” said Mamaux, who has seen the finished product along with her colleagues. “It’s an accurate reflection of how we do things in the Wexler office.”
Part reality show, it also focuses on their social lives, from which we see the folly of interparty dating, a spirited round of the Bush-Kerry-debate drinking game — based on when the nominees uttered certain phrases — and tears shed over the results on election night.
The series is the work of director Ivy Meeropol, a five-year aide to former Rep. Harry Johnston (D-Fla.). Her previous work was “Heir to an Execution,” a feature-length documentary that explored the legacy of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who also happen to be her grandparents.
Meeropol doesn’t censor much (it’s premium cable, right?). Thus we get to hear Soifer’s opinion that Bush has “f—-ed up the world” and Johnson describing how Mamaux is “like the typical wife”: “She fights and screams at me and tells me what to do and doesn’t have sex with me.”
Sundance expects to hold a Washington premiere event in July, and the first episode will air Aug. 23, continuing on Wednesdays through the fall.
What a long, strange fundraiser it’s been
“I really don’t like fundraisers, but I like fun parties,” Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said Tuesday night.
He got both at the Renaissance Hotel as he rolled out a caravan of hippie nostalgia for a performance by ex-Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, backed by the Flying Other Brothers and the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Introducing Leahy, Dead historian and publicist Dennis McNally recalled always seeing Leahy in a suit until he finally “came to a Grateful Dead concert wearing the rowdiest tie-dye I have ever seen and a pair of shorts. And when I saw him dancing I knew he was our senator.”
The event drew some 500 Leahy/Dead supporters, some unlikelier than others, such as Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “It’s a target-rich environment,” he joked.
He didn’t know the half of it. As Hart and Weir — who flew in from California specially for the event — worked the crowd at the pre-show reception, McNally came to usher them backstage so the music could begin. To which Hart abruptly cut off his conversation by saying, “OK, I gotta go smoke some pot.” No, he didn’t really say it; it would be too obvious. OK, yes he did.
By night’s end, about half of the crowd was in possession of a “Deadheads for Leahy 2006” tie-dye ($20 to Leahy’s PAC) and sipping Vermont’s own Magic Hat beer ($4 to Leahy’s PAC).
Aides even passed out glow sticks and ’60s-style concert posters for the crowd.
The only thing missing (besides maybe a tapers’ section) was Jammin’ Jim McDermott. But, it turns out, the Seattle Democrat was only delayed by the evening’s votes, and he arrived just in time for Weir and Hart’s set.
No bad trips were reported.
Hutchison’s all-star visitor
In town for a four-game set with the Nationals, Houston Astros all-star third baseman Morgan Ensberg paid a short visit to his senior senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), outside her office yesterday.
The day before, Ensberg, about a dozen of his teammates and Astros owner Drayton McLane visited with wounded troops at Walter Reed hospital.
“I met my representative” at Walter Reed, Ensberg said.
“Which one is he?” came a reporter’s inevitable follow-up.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
Later on Tuesday, Ensberg accounted for the ’Stros only run against the Nats. In case anyone was wondering, “It was a slider I hit out the park,” he said. The pitcher “left it up.”
Hutchison had planned to attend last night’s game, for which Ensberg made a plea. “We were winning, then we were losing, now we’re going to try to win again,” he said. “We need more Texans there.”
Clean out that closet
“We’re in a town of suits,” says Dave Wenhold of Miller Wenhold Capitol Strategies. And yet he laments the fact that too many local residents trying to reenter the work force can’t get their hands on the proper attire.
“They need those first impressions,” he said.
That disconnect led him three years ago to create the Capitol PurSuit Drive, an effort to collect used suits and other business attire from members, staff and lobbyists. This year’s event, the third annual, takes place at the Rayburn foyer June 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The past two years, the drive has collected 7,000 and 6,500 suits and other articles of clothing, respectively, which were then distributed through Suited for Change, Gospel Rescue Ministries and other local charities.
This year he hopes to get even more. He knows there isn’t a shortage in the closets of Washingtonians.
“All my suits seem to shrink at the dry cleaners,” he joked. “It couldn’t be those lunches at the Capital Grille.”
He said the White House is holding a suit drive of its own June 5, the proceeds of which will be given to the Capitol PurSuit Drive. Last year, the White House contributed 400 suits.
Wenhold said there may even be a contest in the offing among lobby shops for who can rustle up the most suits. Stay tuned.
Boehner roots for ‘the girl’
Asked whom he would vote for in Tuesday’s “American Idol” finale, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he had no idea.
Told the final showdown was between a boy and a girl, Boehner said, “Oh, I root for the girl.”
The girl in question is Katharine McPhee. She was neck-and-neck with Taylor Hicks going into last night’s coronation show.
Patrick O’Connor contributed to this page.