Foley's Staff Left in Limbo

An unidentified U.S. Capitol Police officer changes the lock on Mark Foley's former office on Capitol Hill.
An unidentified U.S. Capitol Police officer changes the lock on Mark Foley's former office on Capitol Hill. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One minute you're a congressional aide with a corridor reputation as a rising star. Then, in the space of hours, you're locked out, at least temporarily, of the opportunities you worked long hours for little pay to earn.

That's what is happening to the 16 men and women working in Republican Mark Foley's offices in Washington and in Florida's 16th District.

On Sept. 29, Foley's staff, half of them in Washington, began what they thought would be a routine Friday morning. They took calls, greeted visitors, and in Florida, worked on Foley's reelection bid. All business as usual, until the afternoon, when salacious online messages their boss sent to underage pages appeared on TV. In the space of "oh, 20 minutes," says one staffer, all 16 were cast adrift.

"We have tried to be there for each other," said Jason Kello, Foley's spokesman. "Everyone's just now able to pop their heads up and see what the next steps are going to be."

It happens. A member of Congress dies, resigns, loses an election, and staffers must start anew. But over the past year or so, scandal and legal problems have chewed deeply into the beehive of Hill offices, leaving about 100 mostly Republican staffers at least temporarily unemployed.

If they are not tainted by trouble, aides usually move on to other political jobs. But many say the sense of betrayal by a boss they admired can be tough to overcome.

When a member of Congress fails to finish the term, states decide whether and when to hold a special election. Foley's resignation came so close to the Nov. 7 elections that a special election was not seen as necessary.

Today, Foley's Washington office operates as a nonpartisan office, without a vote in Congress. His staff reports to the House of Representatives' Office of the Clerk.

"They stay on for the remainder of the [term] because there are still constituents who need to be served," said Salley Collins, press secretary for the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the clerk's office. "The office of the clerk oversees daily operations to ensure constituents get answers to their questions and things continue on pace."

But it is a different pace. Foley staffers have been told not to delete e-mails or destroy any records, because of investigations. For the same reason, they are leery of reporters' calls, or certain questions. They worry about their futures amid daily revelations about a man whom most have served for years.

All the while, they field scores of calls from constituents left without a voice in Congress. By law, they must continue all this until a new Congress is convened in January, when the scandal surrounding their boss is likely to consume their jobs as well.

Kello -- now a spokesman with no one to speak for -- says he will not discuss what any of them might do next. What is sure, he says, is that when a member of Congress departs suddenly, "staff are usually the ones who are left having to deal with it."

On Sept. 29, Kello was in Florida working on Foley's reelection campaign when he got a call from ABC News, which had the e-mails written by Foley. "It was my job to get a response," Kello said. "Prior to that no one knew that these were going to be the allegations made."

No one, that is, except Foley, who apparently concealed his troubles from his staff. Within two hours, Foley was gone, and so, essentially, were they.

"The average person has been here for five years. We have a lot of longevity," Kello said. "When you work in an office like this it's close quarters, it's long hours, and there's a sense of family that gets built among the staff."

It is doubtful any will stay past January. If, as is likely, the Democrat defeats the candidate the Republicans put forward to replace Foley, he will bring his own hires on board.

Several of Foley's employees had a year or less to serve before they could qualify for a retirement plan. That has left colleagues scrambling to find them a place, either in Washington or Florida, to work until they are vested.

Kello said staffers try to stay optimistic. "The number of people who have called expressing concern for the staff has been tremendous," he said. "This office had a good reputation beforehand. I would imagine there are going to be some good people who will go on to bigger and better things."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company