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Page Program Has Seen Scandal Before

The scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley has brought new attention to a program that brings dozens of high-school students to Capitol Hill each year.

Path to Pagedom: To qualify, pages must be high school juniors, at least 16 years old, have good grades and be sponsored by their local representative or senator.

Job Description: Pages are essentially glorified gofers. They fetch members for votes and hand-deliver messages, bills and amendments to and fro. For their service, which is limited to one semester, they earn the equivalent of an annual salary of between $18,800 (for House pages) and $20,500 (for Senate pages). They live in dormitories in Capitol Hill and attend mandatory, early-morning classes before heading off to the Hill.

Page Fashion: Pages are required to pay for their own uniforms — navy jackets, dark gray slacks or skirts, long-sleeved white shirts and black shoes.

Origins: The program can be traced to silver-tongued statesman Daniel Webster, who appointed the first Senate page in 1829. The first House pages followed in 1842.

Where Are They Now: Several pages have later returned to Capitol Hill as lawmakers — including such current senior members of Congress as Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CN), Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA).

Page Problems: Despite its long history, the program was nearly eliminated two decades ago. In 1983, a congressional investigation turned up evidence that two House members, Reps. Daniel B. Crane and Gerry Studds, and a senior House employee had engaged in sexual liaisons with pages.

Crane, a Republican from Illinois, admitted to a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page. He was censured and voted out of office in 1984. Studds, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the sexual affair he had with a 17-year-old male page was consensual, and accused the House ethics committee of violating his privacy. Studds was also censured, but won re-election the following year and served in Congress until his retirement in 1996.

In the wake of the investigation, Congress overhauled the page program and adopted new protections. A dormitory for pages was created near the Capitol, and the minimum age of participation was raised from 14 to 16.

What Now: The future of the program is once again threatened. In the wake of the Foley revelations, several lawmakers have called for a suspension or end to the 150-year-old congressional tradition.

Maria Godoy