Of course Schock doesn’t watch TV. He’s too busy succeeding at everything. But there’s some irony to this apparently innocuous admission. Years ago, as The Washington Post’s Ben Terris reported, Schock was reading a magazine when he came across the work of an interior designer.
Her name was Annie Brahler. She was the one behind Schock’s infamous “Downton Abbey” office on Capitol Hill, on which he spent $40,000 — and inspired a crush of negative attention that led to his resignation.
Brahler today bristles at the “Downton Abbey” comparison. “The design of the office is MY DESIGN,” Brahler huffed in an e-mail Tuesday night to The Post. “I was in no way inspired, asked to replicate, or even remotely influenced by the show ‘Downton Abbey.’ ” She nonetheless praised “Aaron’s open mind in agreeing to a vibrant color.”
Schock’s choice of that vibrant color underscored his lifelong determination to go big and brash. According to a review of newspaper clippings going back to when he was a teenager in Peoria, Ill., Schock always pushed for more, more, more — and to be the youngest to ever have it.
It’s a characteristic that propelled Schock to be the youngest school board member, the youngest Illinois state legislator, one of the youngest members of Congress. It pushed him to work out so hard it looked painful, to clog his Instagram profile with action-star theatrics, to get into business hot and early because that’s what Aaron Schock does. He wins. He takes risks. He’s bold, like his bright-red office.
By the fifth grade, according to Schock, he was already planning big things. He did database management for a Peoria book chain, he told the Daily Caller. Then after a stint of online trading, he got in with a ticket brokerage firm called VIP Tours and — while in middle school, mind you — reportedly started running four lines into the family home to facilitate his many business calls. But that wasn’t enough for Aaron Schock, age 12.
“So I went up to four phone lines in my house,” which AT&T informed him was the limit, he told the Daily Caller. “… But my neighbor had two lines and so I’d use their portable phones. So when I was in sixth and seventh grade, I had six phone lines and 13 credit cards and I’d buy these tickets every weekend, usually a couple hundred tickets for everything.”
Schock, who started his own IRA at 14, was keen to graduate high school early. He wanted out in three years. But the Peoria school board, according to a 2004 Chicago Sun-Times clip, rejected the idea. He had to graduate in four years like everyone else. So he did, grudgingly, but then he ran for the Peoria school board.
And this is where the myth that would become Aaron Schock kicks in. According to the Sun-Times, “the bureaucracy took him as a threat” and removed him from the ballot, so Schock organized a massive write-in campaign and got elected to the board that way at the age of 19. By age 22, he was the school board president.
“There he was: a CEO of the third-largest employer — the public schools — in Peoria,” the Sun-Times raved, calling him a “brilliant young school board president.” At the same time, Schock was looking to be brilliant in other areas.
While getting through Bradley University in two years flat, he bought 107 acres for $63,000 and sold them two years later for $170,850. Then he got some other scores by purchasing properties and selling them back to Bradley University. In all, he pocketed more than $230,000 profit in four years, the Journal Star noted.
“When other kids in high school were buying toys,” Schock boasted, “I was buying real estate.”
All of this can be interpreted in several ways. At 23, Schock’s drive and ambition would make him one of the youngest people to ever serve in the Illinois legislature, sealing his status as a “rock star,” as the Chicago Tribune called him. “He’s a great symbol for the restarting of our Republican Party,” state Rep. Tom Cross said. “He is the new breed.”
But looking back at Schock’s history, his preternatural drive is unsettling, even for a politician. Schock didn’t want two phone lines. He wanted six. He didn’t want one credit card in middle school. He wanted 13. He wasn’t satisfied graduating high school in four years. He didn’t want to just sit on the school board — he wanted to be its president. He wanted to be the youngest everything. Health wasn’t enough. He needed a six-pack. He didn’t want his office to be beige. He wanted it red.
Washington is filled with young people oozing ambition. But Schock’s rush to the top turned out to be hazardous. Terry Bibo, a Peoria Journal Star columnist, sensed something early on. It was 2008, and President George W. Bush had come to Peoria to campaign for Schock’s election to Congress. The cost of attendance at the fundraising event was high — as were costs to the city, which had to provide security. Schock at first tried to walk away from the bill, until it generated bad publicity.
Bibo described this as one of the first “missteps in a charmed career.”
“Relatively, the average guy can’t afford $500 to meet the president, much less $5,000 for a photo with him,” Bibo wrote. “Relatively, the average guy thinks $38,000 of extra cost to Peoria taxpayers for a private fundraiser they can’t afford to attend is an outrage. Relatively, the average guy thinks if Schock’s campaign received $700,000 from that fundraiser, the potential congressman should have ponied up gladly to the city.”
But, she wrote: “Aaron Schock is not the average guy. In the end, he did the right thing, but it wasn’t his first instinct. Going forward on the national stage, it will take more than luck to balance the politics of finance with the finance of politics.”
That synopsis now seems prescient, given Schock’s lavish office decorations, his use of private charter planes, his concert ticket purchases, his trips overseas and other travel. On Monday night, Politico questioned him about what appeared to be his overbilling of the federal government and his political campaign for miles traveled in his car throughout his sprawling district.
Then The Post’s Paul Kane reported that congressional ethics officials were looking into Schock’s office, an inquiry that had the potential to generate at the very least troublesome publicity and at worst a formal rebuke. With Schock’s quitting, the probe by the Office of Congressional Ethics automatically disappears. But so, perhaps, do Schock’s political ambitions.
But he’s still the youngest something. According to The Post’s Philip Bump, he’s the youngest member of Congress to have resigned in the middle of a term.