By Ronald KesslerPage Scandal Goes Deeper, Congressmen Stalked ThemWed Oct 11, 2006 13:11
Page Scandal Goes Deeper, Congressmen Stalked Them
By Ronald Kessler
The scandal involving inappropriate e-mail messages by former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., to congressional pages understandably has led to calls for abolishing the page program.
“Even if this scandal taught members of Congress not to hit on teenagers, the page program still wouldn’t be worth paying for,” the Kansas City Star editorialized. “It should be eliminated, as Illinois Republican Rep. Ray LaHood has proposed, for the sake of both Congress and the pages. They need to be spared not just from lustful congressmen but from the chief lesson taught by the program: that success is all about making the right connections.”
Media accounts of Foley’s sordid instant messages inevitably have recounted the previous 1983 scandals involving Rep. Daniel B. Crane, R-Ill. and a 17-year-old female page, and Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass. and a 17-year-old male page.
But the stories rarely mention the reforms instituted after the 1983 scandals. Before the scandals, Congress appointed 14- and 15-year-olds and let them run loose in Washington without any supervision. Pages had no dormitory and no curfews. As long as the pages brought them coffee and delivered their messages, members of Congress did not seem to care if minors entrusted to them became corrupted.
For my book “Inside Congress,” I interviewed Capitol Police officers, pages, and congressional staffers who described conditions back then. Most of the female pages lived in a four-story brick building that was formerly the Young Woman’s Christian Home. It became known as “virgin village.”
Staking Out the Pages
At the beginning of their shifts, Capitol Police officers would make it a practice to “stake out” the building at 235 2nd Street NE.
“It was nicknamed ‘virgin village’ because female pages undressed there without putting down their blinds,” Terry Coons, a former Capitol Police officer, told me. “It was a gathering place for officers for the first hour.”
“They left their blinds open, and undressed,” said Wayne Beckett, another former Capitol Police officer. “The officers watched. They [the female pages] were teases. They knew what they were doing. We would shine flashlights at them, and they would leave the blinds open . . . They totally undressed and pranced around.”
Another favorite pastime was swimming in the nude.
“In the fountains on the House side, you’d catch the pages, females and males, swimming bare-a**,” said former Capitol Police officer George L. Holmes.
Joel C. Raupe, a former congressional page from North Carolina, recalled that at 16, he learned from other pages to smoke marijuana. At 17, with a female page, he had his first sexual experience.
“There was a lot of drug use,” Raupe said. “Marijuana, LSD, cocaine. We took our government paychecks and bought drugs.”
Meanwhile, “A lot of secretaries were enticing a lot of the good-looking pages and teaching them the facts of life really early, up in the attics and places like that,” said Roy L. Elson, the former Senate administrative assistant to Sen. Carl T. Hayden, who headed the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and later the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“The pages were wild, but they hushed it up,” former officer Beckett said. “They were [having sex with] everybody they could.”
When Steven R. “Rick” Valentine became a Senate page in 1970, he was amazed that 14- and 15-year-old pages had no dormitory and basically no supervision. “As long as you showed up for work and dressed well, you were basically on your own,” he said. “It was crazy to have kids of that age turned loose on a city like Washington.”
Valentine returned as a page in the House in 1972. At that time, he learned from two other male pages that Rep. Studds had made passes at them.
“He would take them out for drinks at night,” Valentine said. “They didn’t know what was going on. They thought, ‘Isn’t it great that a Democratic congressman thinks I’m interesting to talk to and wants to take me out for drinks?’”
Once he got them out for drinks, Studds made “unmistakably aggressive sexual moves on them,” Valentine said.
The two pages repelled his advances, but a third had sex with him.
In 1978, Valentine wrote “Each Time a Man,” a book about his Quaker roots. The book mentioned some of Valentine’s experiences as a page. It also referred to some of the incidents involving Studds without naming him.
Valentine went on to become a deputy assistant attorney general during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He is now a partner in Preston, Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, a major lobbying law firm.
In 1982, two pages serving in the House made public allegations about the prevalence of sex and drugs in the page program. The media also picked up some of the allegations in Valentine’s book. The House appointed Joseph A. Califano Jr. to investigate, and he called Valentine to testify in executive session.
The two pages whose allegations led to the investigation ultimately recanted, saying they had made up or exaggerated the charges. Califano found that most of the allegations of misconduct were unfounded. But based on the Califano investigation, the House in 1983 censured Studds and Crane.
“They both should have been expelled,” said Valentine. “A member of Congress trying to have an affair with a teenage page who is an employee — what could be worse? If that doesn’t merit exclusion, what does?”
After the 1983 scandal, Congress raised the minimum ages of pages from 14 to 16. It required pages to live in supervised dormitories and obey curfews — 10 p.m. on week nights.
Pages are basically gofers. The earliest historical mention of congressional “runners” was in 1827, when the House employed three of them. In the Senate, Massachusetts Sen. Daniel Webster hired the first page in 1829.
The term “pages” first appeared in the Congressional Globe, the predecessor of the Congressional Record, in 1839. Back then, no page could be taller than the shortest member.
Pages must have at least a B grade point average. They are nominated by their own members, who choose finalists chosen by congressional leaders. The House has 72 pages, while the Senate has 20.
House pages receive an annual salary of $18,817, and Senate pages are paid $20,491. They reimburse the government $400 a month for housing and meals.
The program introduced several members of Congress to politics, including Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a page.
Keeping Predators at Bay
While supervision of pages has cut down on the problems, there is no way ultimately to ensure that members of Congress will behave themselves with minors they encounter anywhere. But criminal laws pertaining to sex with minors, the threat of exposure, and the possibility of expulsion on the recommendation of the ethics committees should be enough to keep all but the most predatory members of Congress in line.
“I think the page program is an institution that has served Congress well,” said Valentine. “Additional safeguards against abuse can and should be put into place, but to end the program would be an overreaction.”
“The page program has become such a positive experience for so many girls and boys who are interested in government as a career or public service,” said Brad Blakeman, a former Bush White House aide. “Why punish the pages by ending the program?”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com.
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