Gov't Reform room a fan-free zone

After an employee of the Architect of the Capitol’s (AoC) Office was seen asking baseball great Mark McGwire for an autograph last week, word was quickly handed down from on high that such fanlike behavior was a serious no-no.

After an employee of the Architect of the Capitol’s (AoC) Office was seen asking baseball great Mark McGwire for an autograph last week, word was quickly handed down from on high that such fanlike behavior was a serious no-no.

Several AoC electricians were working last Wednesday to prepare the House Government Reform Committee room in Rayburn for the media event that was the steroid hearing. At the same time, some staffers were showing McGwire around the room. According to sources familiar with the situation, one worker asked the slugger for his autograph, and he happily scrawled his name for the fan.

The sources said that a staffer mentioned it to committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), who sent word of his displeasure to the architect’s office. A committee spokesman would not comment, but a copy of an e-mail obtained by The Hill and sent by Bob Gleich of the architect’s office to AoC department supervisors on Thursday morning bears this out.

It reads: “Corrine from Gov’t Reform called to say that the Chairman was extremely upset that some of our electricians solicited autographs from baseball players today. … [S]he is very concerned that it may happen again.”

AoC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said the “e-mail was intended to inform managers of the chairman’s request … and give them the information they needed to inform our employees of the committee’s wishes.”

According to one source, some AoC departments had employees sign the memo and told them “there would be repercussions if they were caught even on their own time trying to get an autograph.”

Which has several blue-collar AoC employees seeing red. “They call the Capitol ‘the last plantation’ in the architect’s office,” said one employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his job. “They pretty much treat us like redheaded stepchildren.”

“It’s a public building,” he said, adding that when there’s excitement on the Hill, he and his colleagues like to “check it out.” He suggested that blame for the dust-up falls on jealous staffers who didn’t want the trade workers cutting in on their own schmooze time with the ballplayers.

Former Byrd aide suggests throwback campaign

After eight terms in the Senate and dozens of pork projects that bear his name, just how popular is Robert Byrd (D) in his home state of West Virginia?

Mike Willard, a former top aide to Byrd in the 1980s, thinks the senator should answer that question if he attempts to run for a ninth (and likely final) term in 2006. In an op-ed in The Charleston Gazette last week, Willard, who now runs a public relations conglomerate out of Ukraine, exhorts Byrd to “hold spending down to the exact amount he and the late Sen. Jennings Randolph [D] spent the year they ran in tandem: 1958. That was, if memory serves, $50,000.”

Why? Willard contrasts the “waste” of $33 million spent by Sen. John Thune (R) and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D) in their tight South Dakota race last year, with the relatively cheap and effective campaign run by Victor Yuschenko in Ukraine.

Not that Byrd shouldn’t raise money, Willard argues. He just shouldn’t spend it on the campaign, directing it instead toward a “good West Virginia cause.”

Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, wasn’t so sure: “In today’s real world of politics, I don’t think it’s viable for a Senate candidate to run on a budget from 50 years ago. We’ve already seen the vicious attacks that Republicans are trying to throw at Senator Byrd.”

Byrd’s office did not return calls seeking comment, but Willard told The Hill in an e-mail that he heard from the senator’s people. “I will put it this way: Getting out-of-the-box advice from across the pond is not something that is generally accepted or, in fact, wanted in the land of high-priced political consultants, fundraisers and the like,” he wrote.

Mellencamp plays it straight at Leukemia Ball

The local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society again scored a huge entertainment coup by landing John Mellencamp to play its benefit last Saturday at the Washington Convention Center.
The city’s largest annual non-political fundraiser, the Leukemia Ball raised $3.4 million from its 2,500 attendees.

Despite being on the roster of performers for the anti-Bush “Vote for Change” tour last year, Mellencamp refrained from making any political statements or even playing any of his more overtly political songs. Given the black-tie garb on his audience, he evidently knew better.

Since 1988, the ball has earned a reputation for its A-list entertainment, from Jerry Seinfeld to Bill Cosby to the Blues Brothers. Kevin Fay, a lobbyist with Alcalde & Fay, has been on the executive committee for 12 years. He said planning for next year’s ball starts “immediately after the ball concludes. … It’s fun sitting around and debating, ‘OK, who do we go after now?’” It’s a big decision, however, because they “don’t come for free.”

Fay oversees the Congressional Honors Committee of the ball, along with Joe Kelley, the chief lobbyist for Eli Lilly, who lost his wife to leukemia three years ago.

Fay and Kelley designed the Congressional Honors to recognize the legislative efforts of certain members — Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) were honored earlier this month — and to drum up interest among staffers and lobbyists.

Is the NRCC trigger-happy with releases?

After the House passed the FY2006 budget on Thursday, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) issued a press release Friday targeting freshman Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) for voting “like a tax-and-spend liberal.” Bean had made her fiscal conservatism a major issue last year in her campaign to defeat longtime Rep. Phil Crane (R).

The release accuses Bean of voting “in favor of a budget that would raise taxes and cut defense and homeland security spending,” and then goes on to enumerate the odious provisions within the budget she supported.

Only one problem: She didn’t support it. In fact, Bean voted against every budget proposal that came to the floor, including Democratic alternatives.

About two and a half hours later, the NRCC e-mailed a revised release with all references to what Bean voted for excised and focusing only on her vote against the Republican bill.

“There was an error when it went out; it was corrected,” the NRCC’s Carl Forti said.

But Brian Herman, spokesman for Bean, suspects something else is at work. “They wrote the thing before she voted,” he said. “They wrote it based on how they wanted to portray her.”
Not so, Forti said. “The release was sent out after the vote occurred,” he said. “The fact remains she voted against the budget.”

John Tierney set to fill William Safire’s shoes

The New York Times this month answered the question posed by this page on Jan. 26 — “Is John Tierney the new William Safire?” — with an emphatic yes.

Tierney was chosen as the Times’s newest op-ed columnist from a list of a dozen candidates, some of whom didn’t know they were being considered. Like the right-leaning Safire whom he replaces, Tierney told The Hill that he considers himself a “libertarian” with an independent streak. While he did vote for president in 2004, he won’t say who got his vote.

Tierney, 51, will write two 700-word columns a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays beginning April 12.
But he won’t inherit Safire’s spacious corner office, which fellow op-ed columnist Tom Friedman will take over while giving Tierney his smaller office.

Tierney joined the Times in 1990 and moved from New York to the Washington bureau in 2002. He wrote the weekly “Political Points” column during the 2004 presidential campaign and reported from Iraq for several months in 2003.

Surgery for the Globe’s Tom Oliphant

Tom Oliphant, Washington-based columnist for the Boston Globe and a regular on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” underwent surgery last week after suffering a brain aneurysm.

A source said that when Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a longtime friend of Oliphant, heard the news, he called his health policy staff in and told them to find the best medical care they could for him. Fortunately, a Kennedy spokeswoman said, “it turns out that [Oliphant] had it” all along. He was checked in at the well-regarded Inova Hospital in Fairfax.

Oliphant, who is married to CBS News’s Susan Spencer, is said to be doing well.