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We all make mistakes.
And when staffers make mistakes — like being caught on camera necking with your boss — the fallout is particularly scintillating.
Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., is weathering such a scandal (which broke after a video surfaced showing him kissing one of his employees) in predicable ways. He’s said he’s sorry. He’s skipped votes to avoid the inevitable press gaggle. And he’s dug in his heels and announced he has no plans to resign anytime soon.
“There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness,” McAllister said in the statement Monday. “I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve. Trust is something I know has to be earned whether your a husband, a father, or a congressman. I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I’ve disappointed.”
But Hill Navigator is not here to handle crisis communications or run the latest poll numbers for Louisiana’s 5th District. This is a staffer advice column, after all. So, in honor of the latest staffer fail, here is a staffer fallout guide to help navigate the rough waters ahead.
1) Protect the boss. Whatever you do and whomever you do it with, remember that you are the staffer and your boss’s reputation is yours to protect. Hill Navigator doesn’t condone illegal activities, but barring that, your job is to foresee such situations and cleverly plan to avoid them. Affairs with the boss are generally a bad idea, but if you insist on having one, be savvy enough to pick a time and location without a security camera. Particularly if your boss has political opponents nipping at his heels.
2) Don’t take it out on your colleagues. Sure, they’re miffed that your year-end bonus was bigger (and now they know why) but don’t take your anguish out on them. If your co-workers are standing by you, then apologize for your role and tell them how much their support means to you. Because you will need it.
3) If they turn on you, run. Sometimes even the best of staffers have to fall on their swords. Scooter Libby was convicted of a felony and disbarred. Andrew Young falsely claimed paternity. Kurt Bardella was put on the cover of The New York Times Magazine and not by choice. If your team has decided you are taking the blame — or they’ve hung you out to dry — make a quick and graceful exit while the political maelstrom subsides. There will be some kindhearted (or opportunity-seeking) people who reach out to you. Once the time is right, they can help you with your next steps.
4) Cable news always moves on. There will be more mistakes, and more tearful apologies. The political pundits will find new fodder. Headlines change. And when they do, the staffer can rise again. Libby’s sentence was commuted. Young got a book deal. Even Bardella was hired back by Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif. You, too, can bounce back. Congress is nothing if not for its staffers. And a mistake learned keenly once is likely not to be repeated again.
It’s no news to anyone that Capitol Hill’s close quarters and young staffers produce some intraoffice dating scenarios. It’s only newsworthy when the congressman’s involved, but what happens when it’s just two lonely legislative assistants, quietly getting together after hours? Hill Navigator has some advice for everyone involved — bystanders included.
Q. I recently saw two of my coworkers out at a restaurant … and they were very close, like obviously on a date! They pretended not to see me but I don’t know what to say, if anything. It’s a very awkward position to be in! What do you think? Thank you!
A. Good news. Hill Navigator has a foolproof answer for you. Full story
It’s a well-known fact of life for any Capitol Hill staffer: Getting packages delivered is nearly impossible.
So what does that mean for Valentine’s Day? How will those long-stemmed roses find their way to your intended?
My colleague Hannah Hess reports that once again, Cupid has been barred by the House sergeant-at-arms.
“House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving has requested that staffers advise their sweeties to refrain from sending any crimson roses or romantic gift packages to the offices under his purview.
The delivery policy of the House prohibits commercial couriers and vendors from making deliveries directly to House office buildings and the House wing of the Capitol, Irving warned in a memo to staff obtained by CQ Roll Call.”
But fear not, there is still a way to get those flowers to your Capitol Hill cubicle. Yes, UPS, the Postal Service and FedEx will be thwarted via Pitney Bowes, the off-site Capitol Hill package center. But a courier can still call a congressman’s office, explain they have a delivery and arrange for a staffer with a congressional ID to meet them outside and carry said delivery in (and yes, this includes interns). Use this as an opportunity to connect with your local florist and inquire about their delivery policies. Be sure to include the name, office and phone number of the intended recipient. Tipping helps, too.
Sadly, Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year, which means those flowers will lose quite a bit of their luster come Tuesday (Monday is a holiday, don’t forget!)
Whether you’re celebrating, sulking or boycotting Valentine’s Day, this is one of those rare, longstanding, bipartisan agreements: Every office looks better with flowers.
How has it been one year since Hill Navigator started giving workplace advice? It seems like not that long ago that we started asking for submissions about the concerns and questions Hill staffers have about their jobs. Sure enough, questions came in. People want to get on the Hill or get off the Hill. Staffers want more money or a date or a title change. And sometimes they just want to vent.
It’s tough to pick favorites, so consider this is a list of Hill Navigator columns that are worth a second read. And if you feel differently, let me know. Feedback from readers is one of the best parts of the job (though strangely, I have yet to receive the question about how to find work in a newsroom …)
1. The campaign vs. office debate. There are two sides to every political tale: the campaign and the office. Hill Navigator listed out some ways the congressional office is NOT the campaign trail, and some ways that the campaign trail is NOT your congressional office. Best bet for long-term happiness in congressional politics? Spend some time in both worlds. Just not simultaneously.
2. Interns! Hill Navigator might not have a column if not for people clamoring to work on Capitol Hill or interns trying to find their way to a fully paid position. And should interns be paid? The debate continues.
3. Best Flack Ever. I’ve been lucky enough to play for both sides of the reporter/flack ballgame. All too often, I receive pitches from people who haven’t done their due diligence to research my beat or newspaper. A little intelligence goes a long way toward getting your newsworthy item noticed.
4. You’re Not that Busy. At least, you shouldn’t be. I was inspired to write this after speaking with a dear friend who lamented not being able to get all of her work done. Hill staffers are hard-wired to say “yes” to any assignment, but putting some limits on what you can and can’t do might be the answer to finding time to relax and unwind — which, in turn, can make you more productive.
5. Maternity Leave. How is there not more written on the topic of the inconsistent and often abysmal leave policies for new parents? Hill Navigator explored what Capitol Hill offers for maternity and paternity leave. Spoiler alert: Hill Navigator is not yet done proselytizing on this topic. Expect a few more working-parent columns next year. And a baby picture thrown in for good measure.
Hill Navigator wishes you a wonderful holiday season. See you in January.
Q. I recently switched offices and still have a crush on a former colleague from my old office. I think he feels the same way, but we are both afraid of what people will think if we started dating. Will people assume we were dating while in the office? The Hill is so judgmental and gossipy, and the delegation I worked for knows us both. Do you think we can make the transition from former colleagues to a couple?
A. Yes I do. You’re both professionals, and you’re certainly not the first couple to come from the same Capitol Hill office. A few things to keep in mind:
The small town world of Washington, D.C., rings especially true on Capitol Hill, arguably more than any other place in the District. This means the friendships you form, the co-workers you have and even your romantic relationships are likely to follow you, on and off the Hill. But what happens when your job responsibilities put you directly in your ex’s path? Hill Navigator offers some advice on how to grin and bear it as the consummate office professional.
Q. I am a lobbyist and I have to lobby my ex-boyfriend’s office! The relationship did not end well and I dread going there. I can’t avoid it, but I can’t tell my boss my personal problems either. Any thoughts on how to gracefully sit this one out?
A. I don’t think you can sit this one out, and I don’t think you want to, either. You’re a lobbyist who presumably cares about the nature of your work. The dread you feel in going to his office will be much easier to face than the self-pity you will wallow in if you miss out on a professional opportunity because of a relationship gone sour.
My advice: Swallow your pride and be the professional lobbyist that you are. It’s only part of your day, and overcoming your personal dislike of the situation in favor of doing what is best for your client/organization will be a win for you and your career development.
But let’s say you have a boss who knows that your split was less than amicable, or you have a situation in which you can divide office visits. You can simply say that you’re happy to continue lobbying that office, but you would also be amenable to someone else taking over as the primary contact. Without delving into the details of the split, you can take a neutral stance on how you think it is best to proceed. And if you have a boss who has any inkling of your personal life, he or she may decide it is for the best to change your office visit lineup. But that decision needs to come from the boss, without any dramatic hints or complaints on your end.
We’ve all done things at work that we’ve dreaded. Or met with people we’d prefer not to see face to face. The small town of D.C. means such encounters are inevitable, so the sooner you and your ex are more comfortable in the same room, the sooner you can move on to focusing your energy elsewhere. Like your clients.
Intern season has started, and already a debate as to the merits of paid vs. unpaid interns is under way. Today’s question is a bit more straightforward though:
Q. It is intern season! My office has a strict no-hooking-up-with-interns policy. But is it wrong to hook up with interns from other offices?
A. Hill Navigator doesn’t judge your dating life and I’ll make the assumption that everyone is a consenting adult of legal age. Assuming that, whatever you do on your private time should be confined to your private life.
The golden rule of dating on Capitol Hill is simple, no matter whether you’re dating an intern or a senator: Keep the details to yourself — your back office doesn’t need to know.
CQ Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns. This week: how to fend off office-induced weight gain.
Q. I moved to D.C. about a year ago and am a runner. With my Hill and networking schedules, it is really hard to get a work-out in. I have been packing on what my friends and I call the “D.C. 15” pounds. Any advice on a work-life balance or gyms that are open late night around the Hill that other staffers go to?
Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns. This week: the ex-boss who wants to hang around.
Q. One of my first jobs on the Hill was working for a member who was great; he represented his district well, and we had a great working relationship.
Unfortunately, he lost his seat a few years ago. Meanwhile, my career has moved forward.
Since losing, every two years he talks about running again for Congress or putting his name out for statewide office in his home state.
While he is wistfully talking about making another run for office, he hasn’t been doing much to get himself there — not raising money, not making political connections, not even spending a lot of time in his home district. (He seems to be in D.C. more now than he was when he was a member.)
Every time he decides to float his name, though, he calls me or wants to meet with me, leading up to his asking me to set up meetings for him around the Hill.
Don’t get me wrong, I love him and I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me, but I just don’t think he’s doing what he needs to do to win. And now he’s asking me to spend my own capital to help him, and I don’t feel comfortable doing it — but I don’t know how to tell him.
CQ Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. This week, love is in the air.
Q. For the past three years, I have worked for an organization with the sole purpose of winning elections for a specific party. A year and a half ago, I started dating a legislative staffer from the other party. For the most part, we have been able to lay low, but recently, more people are aware of the situation. My immediate boss knows, and is not happy with my decision — and is convinced I am doing this to make her life more difficult. Any advice on how to navigate this situation?