They say James Brown was the hardest working man in showbiz. This one here is trying to go down as the hardest working person on The Hill.”
I knew Madame Senator’s legendary work ethic. In school I did Black History Month research papers on her. She was my main subject for Women’s History Month, too. I had seen news articles of her back in our home state at block parties and ribbon cuttings. She seemed to genuinely care about the people she represented. I do, too.
Octavia and I grabbed pastries and looked around for a table. Octavia’s Blackberry buzzed. She checked it and said Madame Senator got a request for an interview about Obama, and another request for an interview about HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
“We better get back to the office,” she said.
Back at the desk, we checked the Internet for the latest news on both interview topics to see if there were new angles needing to be discussed. Nia buzzed us and said a camera crew had arrived for an interview with Madame Senator. They were there to discuss pending contracts to a British Company that would provide parts to the corporation that operates the main trains in the U.S. That interview was on the schedule and Madame Senator was already prepared with all the background information she needed.
I followed Octavia into Madame Senator’s office to take notes during the interview. After the interview, we rushed back to the desk and Octavia continued telling me everything she thought I’d need to know.
Madame Senator has a “night pack,” which is a folder she takes home at the end of the day to take care of tasks she didn’t get to during the day. I could put media requests for the next day in her night pack, as well as drafts of press releases for upcoming events, speeches, and opening statements. I’ll need to get a log-on for the lap-top she was turning over to me and get a pass code for the BlackBerry the next day because Madame Senator was likely to call at night when she’s home working on something. I’ll need to register for orientation and ethics training for new staffers, and order business cards. Octavia gave me a list of phone numbers to contact the contracted Webmaster and the in-house Web support team, and phone numbers to call to reserve a congressional hearing room or another location on the Capitol grounds for a press conference.
At the end of the day, Sandra sashayed to each of our desks and handed out copies of Madame Senator’s updated weekly schedule showing all her meetings, legislative meetings, hearings, and planned media interviews. Every half hour of the day, every day of the week, clear through the weekend, is accounted for on the schedule. A staffer’s name is listed with each posting.
“Oh yeah, in addition to doing all the media, you’ll also handle certain issue areas,” Octavia told me. “Make sure you go over the schedule and see what you’re assigned to. If she has a meeting with a lobbyist or an organization and you’re assigned as the staffer, make sure you go to her the day before to find out what background material she wants.”
I marveled at all the pending activity. This woman does more in a day than most people do all week! I noticed that Octavia’s name was listed under a scheduled interview with a Black Entertainment Television reporter.
“What’s this interview with BET about?” I asked.
“They’re doing a documentary on the impact sub-prime lending has had on the African-American community,” she explained. “Madame Senator already issued statements on that and she’s held a couple of hearings on sub-prime lending. So, you can pull the press releases on those and ask her what else she wants. She’ll probably want you to pull the latest stats and a few editorials or columns on it to help her get her thoughts together.”
I overheard Michelle cut in on a meeting Garrett was having with a lobbyist and I couldn’t help but smile at her comment.
“Sir you need to do your homework,” Michelle told the middle-aged White man seated across from Garrett. The man fumbled through glossy folders filled with research and promotional materials for legislation he was seeking, but couldn’t answer all the questions Garrett posed. I vaguely heard something about this man’s client needing Madame Senator’s approval to pass a bill requiring all cell phones to carry an FM radio receiver.
Octavia said I also would meet with lobbyists and representatives from organizations on legislation. I will have to determine if it is legislation Madame Senator should support. If it is, I can sign her on as a co-sponsor and put a memo in her night pack explaining the details.
“Staff signs her onto bills? Does she have to approve first?” I asked, sitting in a chair next to Octavia at the computer.
“Use your own judgment. Look through the files to see where she has stood on the issue, then use your own judgment,” she said. “But you better be ready to explain all the ins and outs of why you signed her onto something. She’ll test you when you least expect it. She’s not about to be left open to some bullshit embarrassment because her staff didn’t cover all the basis.”
Staffers zipped back and forth between their desks and Madame Senator’s office. Lunch time had passed without a lunch break. The day had gone fast. It was going well, too. Then I heard Madame Senator fussing at Sandra.
“I’m not going!” I never said I would speak! I told you to tell them I would drop by! This was your error, not mine, and you damn sure better make that clear when you call her back!”
I looked up at Octavia, who was still directing me to information on the office server.
“You’ll hear a lot of that, unfortunately,” she said, shaking her head, her face tightening. “Sometimes she forgets what she tells you to do, and sometimes she thinks she told you something when she didn’t.”
- Describe a time when you had to accept that a person you considered super-human – a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, your celebrity role model, a lover, a sibling, a spouse – was as human, as vulnerable and flawed as anyone. (If you never put anyone on a pedestal explain why.)
- Have you ever felt put on a pedestal and found yourself explaining that you’re only human?
- What are the pros and cons of idolizing others?