The last remnants of Otis Pike are not to be found anywhere on Capitol Hill. Dial the telephone number for the New York Representative who quit this term. Hear the robot sound of a recorded message: "You have reached a non-working number." Call the Capitol Hill operators. At any other time of the year they can find anyone down to the lowliest drone on the lowliest subcommittee. Not This Week. "Have you tried the congressman who will take his place? That office may know." That number is given. And dialed. Again the robot-voice: "You have reached a nonworking number...."
And so it goes, all over capitol Hill, this first week in January, as losers and retirees are swiftly obliterated and winners have not yet settled in.
The day after New Year's: D-Day for the defeated and retirees -- a record number in the House, near-record in the Senate.
This term, 78 left the House and 20 the Senate -- through retirement, defeat, death, running for another office.
Staffers had 24 hours to clear out before going off the payroll. They were three -- amid the boxes and crates and dead Christmas trees lying in the halls. They were taking home plants, frinking champagne, staring at silent typewriters piled on desks and stale Coffeemate and coffee cups stacked unused in Corners. And many were staring into a blank future.
Nothing dramatizes the uniqueness of working on Capitol Hill quite like an election year. It is like death and divorce, not only for the defeated or those who quit, but for those aides -- the often anonymous ego massagers -- who have spent their days cosseting, shoring up and slaving for their bosses. A political aide does not pick this career because of a lust for security or the idea of collecting a pension. Pensions only vest after five years of contributing to the federal retirement system -- that's 2 1/2 congressional terms. It is a career founded on the quicksand of personal interplay; when the politician goes, they all go. Still, "When reality sets in, it's a blow," as Ann O'Brien, office manager for former Sen. Dick Clark of Iowa puts it.
And, for the estimated 1,200 or more displaced staffers roaming the Hill these days, finding another horse to ride is not so easy.
It is hardly a household word, the new name on the new plaque on the Senate door: "Mr. Jepson." Inside the warren of offices, a lone voice on a telephone: "How you doing? Any prospects or anything like that?" And then come the tacky inevitabilities of the end of six years as the office of another senator, Dick Clark, closes. Being dunned by the Library of Congress. "It's library books over the past six years that have not been returned... Well, at least $432." Nail and tape marks on the walls are all that are left of photos and plaques. There is one lone poster, one last remembrance of fun, and the Clark staff is certain the conservative new senator, Rober W. Jepson, will not be pleased by it. Which pleases them. On the wall, looking quizzically at the world, is U.S. Sen. Blutarsky, aka John Belushi of "National Lampoon's Animal House."
The surprise defeat of Sen. Clark, done in in large measure by the bullet votes of Iowa right-to-lifers, is a bitter pill and an omen of dark days politically for the liberals who will be up for election in 1980 -- to say nothing of like-minded staffers.
Clark is at home these days, wondering whether to take offers to stay in the government or go back to teaching. "The pendulum is going so hard in a conservative direction -- it will take at least four or six, maybe 10 years for it to swing back. Unfortunately, this is going to have a sobering effect on those liberals who feel they are going to have to make a compromise in order to survive." As for his staff, seven out of 17 who are still looking for jobs, Clark said, "We built up a relationship and loyalty -- and it's hard to adjust to anything different. It's hard for them and me to turn it all loose."
One of the problems this year is one of simple arithmetic. Six liberal senators either were defeated or retired -- and were replaced by only two of similar ideological bent. "I understand that (Sen. Paul) Tsongas (Mass.) got thousands of applications," said one former staff member to Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota.
Tsongas was one bright hope for those staffers who had worked for someone like Abourezk. The staffer had no idea where he was going to land in the wake of his own boss' retirement.
"At least four of these Senate offices represent a total switch from liberal to conservative," said Clark. "It's going to be difficult for anyone with an ideological concern -- and anyone worth anything does have a concern. There are few plain technicians on the Hill."
Call Your Friends
In Rep. Charles Whalen's office, legislative aide Bill Van Swearingen said, "I don't have anything right now. You try to go for another liberal, but it's not a good time for liberals. I sent resumes to all new members-elect. But it's a numbers game. A machine resume gets a machine response back. I prefer the flesh."
In Newton I. Steers' office, former press secretary David Blee said, "I sent resumes to 70 incoming members, virtually with no success. It's calling-all-your-friends time. A liberal Republican, especially, has no place to go. Conservatives look at us as not one of them and Democrats look at us as dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. The best-off for getting jobs are the case workers, whose political philosophy doesn't enter into it. The new guys are very, very slow in processing their staffs. You've got 435 guys up here and they're gods. It's all up to them as to who they need and when."
The ad got a lot of attention when it appeared in Roll Call on Nov. 23: "Wanted: Super Staff seeks legislator interested in innovative, problem-solving legislation to replace super boss hit from behind Nod. 7." The staff "comes complete" with legislative assistants, case workers and press assistants and beautiful black receptionist, the ad said. "The complete set -- $288,000."
Newton Steers' administrative assistant, William Grigg, paid $20 for the ad. There were no takers for the package deal. Grigg still thinks some congressman missed the boat. "I did it mainly to express how great the staff was, but I was a little disappointed nobody discussed it seriously." Seven out of 14 staffers are still looking, (not the receptionist, who was one of the first to get a job.) David O'Bryon, sitting on a desk, sipped champagne with Grigg on Tuesday, and said, "Wiat was I? I still am, until tomor row. director of the congressional field office." He was first with (Gilbert) Gude (as was Grigg), then Steers, who lost by a tight 1 percent. "It's always a concern when the paycheck isn't coming in." Like hundreds of others on the Hill who take pride in others on the Hill who take pride in their job or their former boss, O'Bryon doesn't want to wlrk for just anyone. "It's like picking a girl friend," agrees Blee. "You scrutinize it very closely."
Peter Knight, on his way out with his last cactus, said he had one definite plan. "On Jan. 11 I'm filing for unemployment." Steers himself, looking distracted and carrying out boxes of his own, was asked if he was going to file for unemployment.
The unemployment office nearest the Hill has designated 1 p.m. next Thrusday as a time to specially process out-of-work Hill employes. "That ought to be a fairly humiliating moment," said one.
"The House of Representatives is our employer, not the individual congressman, and all you have to do is bring a last paycheck stub," said Blee. "You can get up to 640 tax free bucks a month." Steers stops. "Tax free? WELL. Let us say I have not thought of it yet."
Making the Switch
"Mr. Tsongas" could not be seen on the office door on Tuesday for one simple reason. An outgoing aide to Sen. Edward Brooke taped a blank piece of paper over it. "I couldn't stand looking at it."
Brooke's top staff aides have done well -- one became minority counsel on the energy subcommittee for governmental affairs, several others were picked up by other senators. Sen. Robert Dole took two. Making the switch from moderate Brooke to conservative Dole was not that difficult, says Bob Wait, now Dole's press secretary. "Theyre close personal friends and Dole has a strong record in some of the things Brooke cared about, such as civil rights and health-care areas. I won't deny he's much more conservative in other fields but I feel comfortable with him." The suggestion was made that Dole was perhaps trying to soften his hard-line image with an eye to the 1980 presidential race. His new press secretary was, as press secretaries are about such things, noncommittal. "Oh, I don't know. But it's anexciting period. He's very active senator."
Meanwhile, the Congressional Placement Office is processing about 100 applicants a day, mostly lower-echelon secretarial and case-worker jobs.
This week, it is mostly new applicants, such as college students on holiday break looking for summer intern jobs. The crunch from the offices of the defeated and retired came in Novenber. "Should I take a shorthand test while I'm here.... How do you feel about it?" asked one woman. "I've been a housewife for a while and am ready to do something exciting." The aide encouraged her to do both. Typewriters were going rat-a-tat-tat as five minute typing tests were conducted. Jane MacKay turned hers in -- the aide said her score was good. "I love it up here on the Hill." She worked for the Standards of Official Conduct Committee investigating the Korean scandal. "That was quite a committee," she said. It folded last month.
Her chances of getting a job are good. According to one placement office official, "90 percent who apply here are generally placed -- eventually. These new congressmen don't know what they want yet. They'll bring people from back home who'll leave a lot of times. Within 90 days anyone with experience who is worthwhile -- and not political -- makes it."
"It's the top-level administrative assistants and specialists with an ideological bond who are in trouble. We place office managers and case workers and typists."
For many, it will not be over when the new members are sworn in; the uncertainty will just begin. These are the members of committees and subcommittees whose defeated bosses will be replaced by new chairmen. "No one has any idea what the hell will happen on some of those committees, who will go, who will stay. You don't even know who the new chairman will be, so you don't even know who to butter up," said one.
'Getting the Hell Out'
And just where, you may finally be asking, is Otis Pike? He is vacationing in Florida. It was Pike who made the papers when he resigned saying, "It's the little things that take some of the joy from the job." In a radio broadcast he said, "I've dragged myself to vote when I was sick... My motivation to do those things is slipping... It may be just a sign of old, or at least upper middle age, but people bug me more than they used to. They are asking their government to do more for them..."
Then he talked of how he would miss it. "Lord, yes, I'll miss it." Congressmen are treated, he said, "like little tin Jesuses. Seven employes are their to give me a cup of coffee, get me a hamburger, look up things, take dictation, pamper me, flatter me, remind me to get a haircut and generally ease my way through life..."
In a few weeks Pike will make the supreme switch. He will be looking down from the press gallery at his equally pampered former colleagues in the House pit below -- as a columnist for the Long Island newspaper Newsday.
As for some of the pamperers, those staffers who generally eased their bosses through life, it will be a cold winter.
"What am I doing?" asked one former aide to Abourezk. "I've got the best solution -- at least for me -- i'm getting the hell out of this place."
For many activists in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements who bet their lives on the '60s lasting forever, there is nothing left on Capitol Hill.