Congressional Pages Discuss Working on the Hill

Each year, a handful of select high school students are invited to live in Washington, D.C., to serve as congressional pages. The students deliver messages and answer phones while learning about the legislative process from the inside. Some of those former pages remember interacting with former Congressman Mark Foley.

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Every year a handful of high schoolers are invited to live in Washington, D.C., to serve as congressional pages. The students deliver messages and answer phones while learning about the legislative process from the inside. That's how the job is described. Some of these former pages say they remember interacting with Mark Foley.

NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK: Life can be rough when you're a House page. You're up before dawn, cramming in your school classes so you can get to the Capitol in time for the day's session. Once there, you might be walking the endless halls delivering messages or worse, answering the phones in the cloakroom when some very important people call.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER DENTON (Former House Page): Like one time I disconnected a governor that was trying talk to some congressmen, and he got extremely pissed - he got extremely angry about that.

BURBANK: Christopher Denton was a House page back in 2002 and 2003. Like just about every other former page you'll talk to, he treasures the experience. Even so, the work can be challenging. Congressional staffers can be kind of mean. So, Denton says, pages took notice when someone, especially a Congress member, was especially nice.

Mr. DENTON: Representative Foley was very friendly. I don't want to say overly friendly, but he was energetic, outgoing, charismatic. He was one of those few who would come to the back of the floor to chat with us.

BURBANK: Denton, who's now a junior at the University of Florida, says the first he heard of Foley's alleged explicit communications with male pages was last Thursday, when he read about it on Facebook.com, a social networking site many former pages use to keep in touch.

Mr. DENTON: It really was horrific. I felt like I was reading something I shouldn't be reading when I was reading that instant message correspondence. Just - it was horrific.

BURBANK: Matthew Loraditch, who paged in 2001 and 2002, was a little less surprised by the alleged emails because of a conversation he says he had some four years ago in the House cafeteria.

Mr. MATTHEW LORADITCH (Former House Page): Some pages were talking about Congressman Foley when we were in the Capitol. A supervisor mentioned informally that he was a little odd. He was a little flaky. You know, just kind of like a group of kids in the neighborhood talking about a kind of weird one down the street.

BURBANK: Loraditch, now a senior at Towson University in Maryland, says that brief conversation was in no way a formal warning to pages, as has been alleged in some reports. In fact, he says he didn't think much more of it until months later, after his time on the Hill when one of his friends, a former page, forwarded him a series of inappropriate messages he said were sent by Foley.

Mr. LORADITCH: I saw the stuff and then, you know, it's like wow. He is a pretty creepy guy.

BURBANK: Did it ever occur to you guys to sort of blow the whistle on this?

Mr. LORADITCH: Not really. In truth, I never even thought about turning the stuff over that I saw or anything like that.

BURBANK: Loraditch says his friends just wanted the communications to end.

Mr. LORADITCH: At the age we were when it happened - 17 years old, whatever -you know, that's the kind of thing you can just cut off. And so you deal with it that way. You know, blocking his instant messages, deleting his emails and ignoring him.

BURBANK: Is that, as your understanding, what the guys who he was doing this with eventually just did?

Mr. LORADITCH: Yeah. I mean, you know, I know for a fact two of them just basically cut him off.

BURBANK: Many of the former pages I interviewed for this story described Foley as friendly and approachable. One remembered him as always being impeccably dressed. Most said they were shocked when they heard about the content of the messages. And many declined to be recorded for this story, not wanting to add any negative publicity to the page program; a program they all hold dear and describe as one of the best years of their young lives.

Luke Burbank, NPR News.

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