Maryland Democratic Rep. Glenn F. Ivey started on Capitol Hill talking jazz. Ivey interviewed with Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, after sending his resume to members. Music replaced politics.
It was an immediate connection and the start of a legislative career that would span both houses and bring Ivey to the Senate Whitewater inquiry into President Bill Clinton’s Arkansas real estate activities.
Ivey worked for Conyers, the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Ivey, elected to Congress in the fall, has been in touch with his legislative director from the 1980s.
Ivey advises Hill staffers to keep in touch because “you simply never know where folks are going to wind up.”
Why work on the Hill?
A: After law school, I worked at a Baltimore law firm and was invited to a Kathleen Kennedy Townsend fundraiser. I never met her, but I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Kennedys were political celebrities, especially in the African American community.
My Princeton classmate opens the door when I knock. What are you doing here? “I’m the campaign manager.”
I get so thrilled as we chat. I depart that night for a Capitol Hill job.
I hand-wrote a fresh resume and hired a typist to show how long ago this was. I typed over 20 and mailed one to each Congressional Black Caucus member. Only Conyers’ office responded.
How did you originally perceive Conyers?
A: A hilarious interview. He talked about jazz because my résumé said I liked it. He exited the room after 30 minutes.
He probably did interviews that way. We never discussed money or status. He just spoke to me.
Q: Does Hillwork meet your expectations?
A: I didn’t know anything about Congress, so everything was new. Political writing differs much from law school writing.
It mattered because Conyers was famous. I worked with him after seeing him on TV. He co-founded the CBC and marched alongside Dr. King in Washington.
He understood arts and cultural symbolism beyond the legislative aspect. He was such a champion that D.C. had a jazz club. named HR-57 since his jazz national treasure bill was HR-57.
When James Baldwin died, he had to give a eulogy in New York on my first day at work. He said, “Write the eulogy,” remembering I liked James Baldwin. The plane departs at 2.”
Q: Sexual harassment allegations forced his resignation years later. How did you react?
I was shocked. While I worked for him, he was unmarried and dated, but I don’t remember who. I didn’t see it affect his work or workplace. As far as I know, he didn’t harass any staff ladies. I was extremely surprised.
Q: You left the Hill two years later but returned in the early 1990s. You returned—why?
A: My Senate Banking Committee buddy left as the Whitewater hearings began.
I started on the Banking Committee and worked on redlining, but it rapidly turned into the Democrats’ initial Whitewater hearings.
After 1994, what changed?
A: The Gingrich tsunami changed things. We didn’t realize it was the start of the Republican Party’s conservative, aggressive side that led to Donald Trump.
Al D’Amato chaired the Senate Whitewater hearings. Mike Chertoff was a great lawyer, but I disagreed with him politically. Even though Clinton won, he did well.
On the House side, Dan Burton was shooting pumpkins in the backyard to determine if Vince Foster committed suicide, researching all sorts of wild possibilities.
What will House Republicans do? Would they believe insane conspiracy ideas like the House did? Will they attempt more substance?
How was working for Whitewater committee ranking member Paul Sarbanes?
A: Because he was a Rhodes Scholar, he teased me. He joked, “Well, Glenn, you miss something in between there? What happened? ”
He asked me to be a federal judge one day. “I’m thinking about running for office,” I added. I’ll send you to speak at my Prince George’s County events so you can meet people.” He was my first genuine political mentor.
Q: How has being a politician changed you?
A: Much the same. Staff dedication and competence are a Beltway secret. Personal offices have very youthful people. I was astonished when I arrived. Yet, they excel.
The US public servant system is amazing, despite all the government bashing.