Beltway Beat: Suits and beads

Posted: Jun 14, 2002 12:00 AM
Given that Monday, June 17, marks the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, who better to turn to than Margaret Shannon, senior historian for Washington Historical Research? After all, the day of the break-in in 1972, Shannon was working in the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee. In an interview for this column, the former staff director of the Democratic Policy Council reflects on the botched burglary of her Watergate office and how it doomed a president - not because he masterminded the break-in, but because he attempted to lie and cover up for his lieutenants who did. "I was actually in St. Louis that weekend conducting health care and elderly hearings with (Sen.) Ted Kennedy and (Rep.) Wilbur Mills - how's that for a combination?" Shannon said. "After the hearings, I went home to see my parents in Lincoln, Neb., and got a phone call that the FBI wanted to talk to me." It never dawned on the young DNC staffer that something extraordinarily historic was brewing, even after she returned home to Washington and found a wadded-up piece of paper stuck in her apartment door saying, "Call the FBI at this number." "In many ways, we were naive about this," she says of fellow DNC workers, most young party faithful like herself. "We were very committed to what we were doing, working for slave wages. The DNC was always struggling for money, running on a shoestring budget. Sometimes payroll was so dicey we were asked to wait until the end of the day." In fact, Shannon recalls that Metropolitan Police investigators arrived "in my office and thought things had been ransacked because they were scattered all around in boxes. But they were in boxes because the DNC could not even afford file cabinets." She remembers being amazed that anyone would want to burglarize an office that on some days didn't have a working typewriter. Even her boss, she said, had to "constantly remind himself who the good guys were: Burglars were dressed in suits; the cops who arrested them looked like hippies." "Even then, I don't think that we understood the White House was behind this at the highest levels," she says. "We just went about our business. We nominated George McGovern in the middle of the night, and then we were all thrown out onto our ears the day after the convention and had to find jobs. "None of us got movie contracts," notes Shannon, marveling to this day at the irony of convicted Watergate figures later commanding huge speaking fees. "But none of us went to jail, either." BUYING A RUDY Ask former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for his autograph and it will cost you. Ten bucks. That's just one demand said to be inserted into the speaking contract for the ex-mayor, who addressed the National Association of Broadcasters' Education Foundation awards ceremony on Monday (June 10) in Washington. Admired worldwide for rallying his city and the nation after the unconscionable loss of Sept. 11, Giuliani, represented exclusively by the Washington Speakers Bureau, was paid $100,000 in return for his remarks that recognized local broadcasters for their outstanding community service during these difficult months. Apart from the $10 per "Rudy" (apparently to be tallied and tacked on to Giuliani's final bill), an additional clause reportedly said no more than 30 posed photographs could be taken of the former mayor and guests. The daylong NAB event featured a keynote address by Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge - who, unlike the newly "privatized" Giuliani, speaks for free. EXPLODING ELEPHANTS Who snatched the 4½-by-5-foot blue elephant sculpture parked outside the U.S. Marine Corps commandant's house in Washington? One of 200 brightly-decorated elephants and donkeys - so-called "Party Animals" - revealed in recent months by first lady Laura Bush and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the blue elephant's demise has residents of Capitol Hill abuzz with conspiracy theories. Some speculate that the elephant was ordered removed by Marine Commandant Gen. James L. Jones because it was painted light blue and featured a U.S. Army airborne paratrooper on its side. "This is the fun speculation," one city official tells this column. "After all, it's painted light blue, an Army color, and has the airborne insignia, and the Army airborne is not the Marines." The more realistic story? "The story I have been told is that the commandant himself called the mayor and had it removed for security reasons. He doesn't want anything sitting there," the official explains, referring to the threat of terrorists packing the plastic beast with explosives. The colorfully painted animals, mascots of the Democrat and Republican parties, were positioned along Washington's avenues as part of an art project. Each animal was to have remained in place until this fall.