Capitol Hill reporters have been muttering under their breath about one of the new guys in their midst. He's the only one of the 1,350 who marches right onto the floor of the House and chats chummily with the members. m
Otis G. Pike, an unorthodox New York congressman, has been born again as a columnist for Newsday, the Long Island daily, with separte distribution on the the Newhouse News Service wire to more than 125 papers nationwide.
To hear Pike tell it, permanent floor privileges in the House are perhaps the least of the perks of non-office and the delights of non-ambition that he enjoys these days.
A year ago, in one of the Capitol's most public mid-life crises, Pike wrote himself an exit to rival everyone's Rhett Butler fantasy.
"He wants a different career . . . People bug him. He has no privacy. He doesn't like campaigns. He doesn't like fund-raising . . . He's tired of wasting his time on drivel. He'll get a good pension."
That is from the press release the Long Island Democrat wrote to explain why, after 18 years in Congress, he decided not to run again even though, as he said, he could have won.
His image as an uncompromising Yankee maverick remained intact, and he managed to steal the limelight and a spot on CBS' "60 Minutes" program from several dozen other members who went over the wall at the same time.
As a columnist, he writes on a range of issues, but most provocatively about congressional waste, congressional ethics, congressional leaks and other issues that sometimes exposed him to criticism when he was a congressman.
He loves being a newspaperman, he says, but he still doesn't care to appease the establishment.
"Oh, I wandered over to see about joining the Press Gallery, but they told me I'd have to give up my floor privileges, and I said f--- that. I'd much rather sit with my colleagues and hear what they're saying."
One source on the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which runs the House and Senate Press Galleries, noted delicately that former representative Max McCarthy, now with The Buffalo (N.Y.) Evening News, agreed not to use his floor privileges.
"It's sort of a gentleman's agreement, nothing official," the source said. "There was just the feeling it would give his competitors a bad shake."
Pike responds: "I don't abuse the privilege. I think I have a fairly decent regard for the rules of the game."
Pike spends a couple of days a week hunched over a typewriter in his small apartment over a liquor store on Capitol Hill, with a view of the Southeast Freeway.
He divides the rest of his time between his live-aboard 40-foot trawler, Last Love, moored near Annapolis, and his rambling home and a smaller boat on Long Island.
"One of the things I like best about being out of public life is that now I can let fly with my wildest mental passages," he said recently.
For instance, he wrote: "I know that even drunk, Dick Bolling would contribute more to the nation than 10 average congressmen sober."
That was from a compassionate column by Pike about the Missouri Democrat's skill and worth as a public servant and his recent public struggle against alcoholism.
"Now that's the kind of thing you don't say when you're a congressman," Pike said.
In a column titled "The High Price of Political Purity," he wrote critically of the congressional code of ethics, which he called arbitrary and unrealistic. He also said it had "deprived the government of some great human resources."
As a congressman, Pike railed against proposals to place limits on certain outside earned income for members of Congress, but not on the unearned kind, such as stock dividends and capital gains.
"I may have to leave here," Pike said, not long before his retirement, in a House debate on the proposal, . . . I'm sorry I'm not rich enough to be ethical."
Pike's favorite theme is what he sees as a "distressing lack of courage" among legislators, which is caused, he said, by "the terrible, debilitating desire to get reelected."
But, he contends, this is not inevitable. "I think I got braver as I stayed longer," he said.
He praised his former colleagues for their hard work and general intelligence, but he blamed recent reforms for a Congress made up almost exclusively of "two kinds of people -- millionaires and Boy Scouts."
The millionaires are in the clouds and don't know anything about the real world, he said. And the Boy Scouts are "yound kids who never earned a buck anywhere except at the public trough, and have no confidence in their ability to earn a living."
"They will always have no place to go, and therefore they will always be frightened," he said.
Pike showed himself to be among the "saltiest and liveliest writers on public life" in his congressional newsletters, according to Newsday associate editor William Sexton. Hiring him came naturally.
Pike, a young lawyer out of Princeton and Columbia, first came to Washington in 1960. He came not from the chic tip of Long Island known to the beautiful people, but from Riverhead and the fishing villages, potato fields, scallop beds and New England Protestantism that, according to friends, shaped the "rock-ribbed integrity" they admire.
Pike's critics call it stubbornness.
"You've got to go along to get along. You don't have to be a whore, but then again [the Ways and Means Committee, of which Pike was member], hardly the place for a virgin," one House Democrat once told News-day's Myron S. Waldman, who, after covering Pike for years, is now his colleague.
Pike made a name for himself in the 1960s as an offbeat antiwaste gadfly on the Armed Services Committee, even though his district partly depended on the defense industry.
And he remained unbending as chairman of a controversial select committee investigating the nation's intelligence community.
It was the experience, more than any other, that embittered Pike, according to some who have known him for years.
But on a balmy morning recently, he merely gestured expansively and said of his abrupt departure from office: "I had had it. I had done all those things. I had junketed, presided, all the nice things congressmen get to do . . . I don't miss it one damn bit."