Saturday, May 13, 2006

Washington Fringe Benefit

Wayne L. Hays, a notorious Democratic U.S. congressman from Ohio (1949-76), was born on this day in 1911 in Bannock, Ohio.

As chairman of the House Administration Committee, which controlled the travel allowances, parking spaces, office equipment and other basic amenities allotted to members of Congress, Wayne Hays was not only one of the most powerful U.S. congressman, but also one of the most feared and disliked, and he had a penchant for showing his respect for fellow legislators by referring to them by such names as "pipsqueak" or "potato head."

Thus, it was no surprise to anyone that when he rose to defend himself on charges of sexual and administrative impropriety in 1976 and complained that he had been called "arrogant, ruthless, cold-blooded, temperamental and mean" by his colleagues -- "no one complained about being misquoted," according to author G. Collins.

Earlier that year, Hays had divorced his wife of 38 years and married his Ohio district office secretary, with whom some assumed that he had been having an affair for some time. One person he had neglected to invite to his wedding was a 33-year old blonde named Elizabeth Ray, with whom he had apparently also been having an affair in Washington for several years. Worse yet, Ray was on Hays' Washington payroll, earning $14,000 a year as a clerk for the House administration committee's non-existent "oversight subcommittee." "I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone," Ray gleefully admitted to the Washington Post.

Coming not long after the "Wilbur Mills-Fanne Foxe" debacle, Hays' career and marriage went into a tailspin and Ray became a 15-minute celebrity -- appearing in Playboy and having a novel ghost-written for her (The Washington Fringe Benefit) -- the first perhaps of many "fallen women" of the late 20th century to exact revenge on philandering politicians or other celebrities by becoming a human publicity stunt. After Mills and Hays were foisted upon them by circumstances, the press (which had generally followed an unwritten policy of not covering such subjects since the 1880s), declared open season on the sexual indiscretions of politicians, leading to such headlines as the Gary Hart-Donna Rice affair, the many tawdry tales of Bill Clinton, and, of course, the most entertaining saga of Jessica Cutler. Hays would not live to see the latter two spectacles; he died on February 10, 1989 in Wheeling, West Virginia.



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