Night on the Town
In his dark suit, knotted tie and official congressional ID pin on his lapel, Republican House member Mike Ferguson looked out of place at the Rhino Bar and Pumphouse, a Georgetown saloon popular with college kids.
"He shouldn't have even been at the bar," 21-year-old Georgetown University junior Michelle Mezoe told us. "He and his group" -- two unidentified staffers, also wearing dark suits -- "stuck out like sore thumbs."
Yesterday Mezoe accused the congressman, a 32-year-old married father of three representing New Jersey's 7th District, of grabbing her in the wee hours Wednesday morning. She said Ferguson removed his ID pin and handed it to her, saying she could keep it if she would "come back and have a drink with me." Mezoe said she refused to return it unless Ferguson apologized for his "disrespectful" behavior. An apology was not forthcoming.
Ferguson's chief of staff, Chris Jones, countered: "What I can tell you is this is absolutely ridiculous and false. . . . The congressman emphatically denies this."
Jones, who wasn't at the bar, told us he based his comments on his conversations with the congressman and his staff members about events at the Rhino Bar. "What we have here is a woman who took the congressman's pin and then refused to give it back, and then walked away," Jones said. "Finally the restaurant manager called the police, and only then did she give the congressman his pin back." Jones refused to name the staffers and added that Ferguson wouldn't speak to us.
Mezoe said the incident began around 1 a.m. as she strolled past Ferguson, who was leaning against the bar on the second floor. She said Ferguson, a Georgetown alum, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward him, introducing himself as a member of Congress. He pulled out his congressional ID card, she said, and pointed to his pin. "That's special," she said sarcastically. "Yes, it is special," he replied earnestly, she said.
"He came across as very arrogant, as though he was invincible," Mezoe said. "He appeared older, slightly balding, not someone I wanted to talk to. . . . It was very obvious I was a student and not someone to sit down and talk politics with over a late-night drink. I don't think he was interested in my political views."
Mezoe told us that as last call was announced, Ferguson gave her the pin -- which she attached to her shirt. When she declined Ferguson's offer to "come back" for a drink, Mezoe continued, Ferguson demanded his pin back. According to Mezoe and other witnesses, she refused to return it unless he apologized, and walked away.
A Ferguson staffer tried to change her mind. "This guy in a suit came up and said, 'I'm sorry, it's my fault. I brought him here and got him drunk, and that's why he's behaving like this.' He asked for the pin and started stroking my hand. I told him, 'If you think you're helping the situation, you are sadly mistaken.' "
Then, Mezoe added, a young jeans-wearing woman, who seemed to be with Ferguson's group, approached and tried to remove the pin by force, grabbing at her chest. The attempt was unsuccessful. Finally, Mezoe said, she was granted a brief audience with the congressman as his aides stood close by. "What is your perspective on what happened here?" she asked. "You stole my pin and you won't give it back," he answered. To which Mezoe replied: "How old are your children, Congressman Ferguson?"
Mezoe said the staffers immediately interposed themselves between her and their boss. "You have offended the congressman," one informed her, she said.
Ferguson's chief of staff yesterday insisted that no such words were ever uttered, that no hand-stroking occurred, and that no young woman with the congressman's party ever approached Mezoe and grabbed at her.
But everyone agrees that Mezoe stood her ground, even after manager Dave Nelson offered her a $50 gift certificate to return the pin. "I won't be bribed, it's the principle of the thing," Mezoe responded, continuing to insist on an apology. Nelson then called the police, and after 2nd District D.C. Police Officer Robert Ferretti arrived and cuffed one of her wrists, Mezoe said she returned the trinket. No charges were filed, and the police department's public affairs office declined to make Ferretti available for an interview.
Oprah's Maya Gala
Philosopher-poet Maya Angelou turns 75 today, so her friend Oprah Winfrey is hosting a huge weekend bash in Winston-Salem, N.C., inviting scores of friends and admirers, including a delegation from Washington.
We hear that among the guests -- who received a handsome box marked "O" and filled with jigsaw puzzle pieces to be assembled into an invitation -- are former labor secretary Alexis Herman, pundit Julianne Malveaux, former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry, civil rights activist Dorothy Height and former D.C. control board official Constance Newman. "There will be black-tie dinners, cocktails and fun things of all kinds," one lucky invitee told us yesterday.