The saga of Anthony Weiner is almost over . . . but not quite. Larry Flynt has offered him a job, “Entourage” wants him to make a cameo and pundits are handicapping his marriage’s survival. But the disgraced serial tweeter is, technically, still a member of Congress: Though he announced his resignation Thursday, it doesn’t become official until he submits letters to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and House Speaker John Boehner to be read aloud on the House floor — no sooner than Tuesday.
Left behind: His staff, now living in that political limbo that occurs when a member resigns, dies or is expelled from office.
Weiner acknowledged them at his stepping-down press conference: “They are young people who are not paid very much. They are people who have worked very hard and very long hours.” But he had kept most of them out of the loop, reports the New York Post: Many believed the erstwhile rising star would ride out the scandal, and they were stunned when he resigned. On Friday, no one from the office answered the phones or returned e-mails.
“I really feel for them. Their world really got turned upside down in a matter of hours,” said John Hess, former chief of staff to Rep. Jane Harman. A two-decade Hill veteran, Hess told us that working as a congressional staffer is inherently fraught with unexpected defeats, shifts and uncertainty. “It’s not paranoia,” he said. “It’s just the very dynamic, volatile political environment.” Hess was lucky: Harman, who resigned in late February to head the Woodrow Wilson Center, gave her staff a month’s notice.
But staffers for Reps. Chris Lee and Eric Massa lost their bosses overnight; those working for Sen. John Ensign hung on for two years after he was implicated in an affair with an aide’s wife until he finally resigned last month. None of the veterans of those offices we contacted would talk; most didn’t return calls or e-mails.
Losing a boss doesn’t automatically mean losing a job — at least, not immediately. Both the House and Senate have provisions that keep paychecks coming for a little while.
The minute a representative leaves office, the staff begins working for the district and answers to the Clerk of the House, Karen Haas. The nameplate comes off the door; the office phone is answered generically. (“Twenty-sixth District of New York,” in Lee’s case.) Staffers provide constituent services in the D.C. and district offices, but there’s no voting power. The arrangement lasts until the swearing-in of a new member — who then has power to retain or fire any of the old staffers. From an employee standpoint, the House is like 435 small businesses constantly facing takeovers, hostile or benign.
Weiner will be the fourth House member to resign this year, following Lee and Harman in February and Dean Heller, who quit his seat about an hour before he was sworn in as Ensign’s appointed successor in the Senate.
From Harman’s old staff, a few employees joined her at her new job; some started job-hunting on the Hill, while others, including Hess, are staying on to see what happens in the district’s special election, called for July 12 — although rules largely prohibit them from hitting up the candidates for a future job. After Lee’s exit, several staffers joined the campaign of Jane Corwin, the GOP candidate for his seat — only to lose again when she was beaten by Democrat Kathy Hochul. When Hochul’s staff showed up at the D.C. office, there was no sign of Lee’s remaining team. “It’s kind of sad,” her spokesman said.
In the Senate, staffers who lose their boss keep their jobs for only up to 60 days as employees of the Secretary of the Senate — no matter whom they worked for or how long. “I was out of a job,” a staffer for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy told us. “The job that you had ends with the member.”