Ann Haldeman grew up when Watergate was becoming a household word, particularly at her own Georgetown home where, one day in the kitchen, her father said he'd be resigning as Richard Nixon's chief of staff. He was a public villain in one of the biggest political scandals in American history. It was 1973. She was 14.
"I was crushed because I didn't want to move," she says now. "To be honest, that was my main thing at the time, although I feel like I should be saying that I was crushed for my parents. I wasn't supposed to tell anybody. I had to hold it in. I remember looking at the clock in school and thinking -- it's being released right now."
Nearly a decade later, as a 23-year-old doorkeeper for the U.S. Senate, she's back in Washington. After her father, H.R. Haldeman, was convicted and sent to prison as one of the chief conspirators in the Watergate cover-up? Wasn't that enough Washington for a lifetime?
"When I think of D.C., I don't think of it in terms of, 'This is the city that crucified my father,' " she says. "And with the new administration, my name isn't quite the blackball it was." A little later, she adds: "The way to deal with those things isn't to carry any bitterness or hatred around with you. That's self-destructive. That just feeds on itself, and takes you under with it." She pauses. "God, I must sound like such a Pollyanna. God, how disgusting."
Ann Haldeman has been in Washington since July, 1981, shortly after she graduated from Stanford. In September she got the $16,000-a-year doorkeeper's job through Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a family friend. For nearly a year she has greeted visitors to the Senate galleries, telling them they can't take pictures or put their feet up on the seats.
She talks about it over a Tab in the House restaurant, dressed in a pink skirt, blue blazer and white ruffled blouse with a pink bow at her neck. She has long blond hair that she keeps pinned back from her face with barrettes. She is fresh and cheerful, but also shows a savviness that many young women in Washington take several years to develop. Asked if she has a boyfriend, she says "sort of," then amends: "When you talk about your social life in print, it always looks stupid. You'll say, 'Yeah, we go into Georgetown.' Well, it sounds . . . young."
Asked what she thinks of Richard Nixon, she pauses a long time, unembarrassed by the silence. "I'm not trying to avoid a negative, volatile answer," she says, finally. "I'm just trying to think of a noncommittal, positive answer. I wish I had thought this out. I think he was a very good president, and I think what happened to upset that presidency was extremely unfortunate."
Watergate, she says, "basically went over my head. That's a real selfish time in your life. My parents are very, very solid people--and very consistent. So with the ups and downs that Watergate brought, there was no difference in the behavior patterns of my parents. With that home stability, it didn't work its way down to me . . . I'm sure I grew from it in some way or another."
It's suggested that many people in her situation might have spent the rest of their lives on a psychiatrist's couch. "I guess I seem like a fool," she says, "living in my own little idiotic world of bliss. Well, I guess I'm normal . . . but my handling of it is not at all matter-of-fact. I've just learned how to deal with it."
"She was young," says her mother, Jo Haldeman, from California. "And there was no reason to keep pouring things into her that were negative. Watergate was about 10 years ago. All the way through it, we've tried to look ahead."
Ann Haldeman is doing that right now. After almost a year, she's a little tired of her job, and wants something more serious. Maybe television news, she thinks.
Television news? "I've been on one end of the camera," she says. "It'd be kind of interesting to see what goes on at the other end." She remembers how the reporters used to wait on the sidewalk outside the house, playing frisbee to pass the time. She'd leave for school and they'd ask her questions. She learned how to say "no comment."
"Although the fame or notoriety wasn't because of glamor," she says, "when you're that young, it's still kind of exciting in some sort of perverse way."
She came back to Washington, after leaving nine years ago, because a high-school friend from California asked her to room with her. "I like the seasons, I like the architecture and I think I'm drawn to people who want to accomplish things, who have ideas," she says. Now she lives on Reservoir Road with three roommates, including the high school friend, Kim Borcherdt. (She's the daughter of Wendy Borcherdt, who was recently removed from her job as White House liaison for women's issues; administration officials have said she was clashing with presidential assistant Elizabeth Dole.) Ann Haldeman's parents live in Los Angeles, where her father is vice president of a real estate development corporation.
How does she feel about his conviction?
"For us, in our family, he has always maintained his innocence of never being aware--at any time--of wrongdoing. And that's what I hold onto. I can't help but believe him." She says she doesn't know the hard-nosed H.R. Haldeman of Watergate fame. "At home," she says, "he's just Dad. He's got a great sense of humor and is very protective of the family."
Since she's been in Washington, Ann Haldeman hasn't talked to many reporters, although she did appear once on the "Today" show, where she promptly got too nervous to talk. Chris Wallace, who was interviewing her, grabbed her hand and told her it was all right. "I'm frozen," she says she told him quietly. Now, she says, still mortified, "you can hear it on the tape!" Her parents have told her it's up to her to decide on the interviews. Her father has also advised her of a trick frequently used by Washington politicians. If somebody asks her a question she doesn't want to answer, she says he instructed, then she should simply ignore it and respond with whatever she wants to say--however unrelated to the subject at hand.
She says she has vivid memories from Watergate, the worst of them her father's trial, which ran through Christmas 1974, then hearing about his conviction on television on Jan. 1, 1975. She was watching the Rose Bowl with her grandparents in Palm Springs when they broke into the game with the announcement. Her parents hadn't had a chance to call. "That wasn't easy," she says.
But seeing her father in prison was worse. "The hardest time, probably, was the day he left," she says, "and any time going to visit him, and having to leave him there, behind this little area he wasn't supposed to step out of."
The best memory was Camp David. "I remember getting to know the place like the back of my hand," she says. "The movies. I think that was the highlight. And fresh popcorn. I loved going to Camp David."
More recently, she remembers one day this summer when Kim Borcherdt was trying to handle all the phone calls after her mother left the White House. Ann Haldeman, the wise Watergate hand, simply told her:
"Welcome to Washington."