The congressman’s empty office. (CNS photo by Christopher Weaver)
Newspapers and mail still waited outside Rep. Wayne Gilchrest’s office at noon Friday. Inside, boxes and moving dollies had replaced his staff, and the desks in the bullpen were as impersonal as an OfficeMax display. A sign taped to the white board read, “Remember: Mary needs to take boxes in Wayne’s office.”
On Tuesday morning, all offices except Gilchrest’s Centreville headquarters were reported closed by an aide to the Republican from Kennedyville. A voice message there beseeched callers not to leave messages and referred them to Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats.
“On behalf of Congressman Gilchrest, I would like to thank each of you for your support over the last 18 years,” the message concluded.
After losing the Republican primary, Gilchrest is packing up early, vacating office space, releasing staffers and sending constituents — and their problems — down the line to the state’s senators. The 1st District’s next congressman, Democrat Frank Kratovil, was in Washington last week for a new members’ orientation, but he won’t take over the office until Jan. 6.
Kratovil has sought advice from Gilchrest, after the two men became friendly on the campaign trail. The veteran congressman said, “Our conversations have centered around what he will experience in his orientation, as simple as where his office might be, how he can bring his family into the process, to the Democratic leadership races,” which were settled, with the party’s leaders retaining their positions unchallenged.
In the meantime, the district will be on its own for the next 43 days. When congressmen aren’t voting on new laws, debating policy in their committees, campaigning for re-election, flattering fundraisers and attending to their various other legislative duties, they help their voters resolve the many problems implicit in dealing with the federal government.
Congress is on recess now, and the elections are over, but residents of the 1st District may still need a push from Washington allies to glide through the bureaucracy.
Congressmen typically offer constituents help with immigration, Medicare, passports, Social Security, veterans’ benefits, federal retirement benefits, the Internal Revenue Service, small business loans, federal housing aid and service academy nominations, to name a few. Many members of Gilchrest’s staff have been on those beats for 18 years, the exiting congressman said. “That’s 18 years of experience with a myriad of state and federal agencies.”
Constituents who relied on the 1st District team all those years will have to look to Mikulski and Cardin to cut through the red tape until Kratovil takes office.
“That’s pretty standard that when a congressman is about to leave office, they start to send their casework to the senators,” said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin.
The office has noticed an increase in constituent requests, though staffers don’t track the thousands of phone calls and letters received each month by district. Many of the complaints and requests — like requests for presidential greetings or congressional page nominations — can wait.
Others can’t, Sullam said. “Say it’s someone who’s totally dependent on their Social Security and their check’s gone missing.”
- By Capital News Service’s Christopher Weaver