DEATH IN THE CAPITOL

There was no reason for me to go into Harrisburg that day. The sky was grey. It was in the middle of the winter and the prediction of sleet and snow pervaded the weather channel. For some reason, I got out of bed early, trying really hard not to wake up my wife, Margaret. She had a bunch of meetings the previous day and was zonked when she came home at eleven the previous night. Since she was a Manager at Highmark Blue Cross, her days were always filled with activity.

One of our children, my daughter, Sara, was at the University of Seattle. It appears that she may follow in her father’s footsteps. She is majoring in Political Science and hopes to come back home and work with me. I will be proud to do that. My teenaged son, Jonathan is almost finished with high school. He has no idea ( as I did not) what he would want to do. We are in the process of talking about colleges that he might want to attend.

As I prepared myself for the day, I felt that I was just going in to show my face. The legislators were not in, but much of the staff was probably there. I was certain that I could get a great deal done while the halls were cleared of other lobbyists and lobbyist wannabees. I put on a new starched white shirt, a woolen black suit and my highly polished black wing tips. I knew it was a kind of uniform for lobbyists along with a subdued tie. I made sure that I had my American flag lapel pin. I had been wearing that pin before it became fashionable in the early 1980’s. For me, it was a symbol of free speech and the ability to impact what was going on in our country. I still believed that one person could make a difference. I still do believe that today.

My ablutions seemed to take longer each day as I get older. By the time I finished dressing, shaving, brushing my teeth, taking my pills and eating a small something for breakfast; it was already 8:30. I got into my unstylish Prius and started out down the road to the Capitol. I had noticed that when I bought the car, pickup from a standing start felt like an 80 year old rickshaw driver. On the road, the Prius had some more pep, although I could never really pass anyone.

The trip to the Capitol and the parking of the car took me about 30 minutes. Parking was a bit easier because the other people in suits were not there. Most lobbyists have a preordained schedule of meetings. I have never subscribed to that modality. My feelings were- drop in, see them in the hallways, call them off the floor, and stand next to them at the urinal (only male legislators). I had made a practice of that way of lobbying a long time ago. It is not anything I would like my successor to follow, but it has served me well. Most of my work really goes on with staff anyway.

After parking my car, I hustled out into the winter weather with winds that approached annoying and climbed the steps of the Capitol. I noticed that I was getting a bit winded at the end, even though I had been going to the gym on a regular basis. By the time I went through the metal detectors at the door, I was ready to be warm.

I normally went directly to a legislator’s office. I made it a practice of dropping off my coat in the winter and going in pro forma in the other parts of the year. This was my routine. It had not changed for many years. My hero, Rico Petrocelli, an old Philadelphia lobbyist had taught me to find a willing legislator and kind of make that my office. Over the years I had found a number of legislators who allowed me to make their offices my habitat.

That morning, I was on my way to drop off my coat, when one of the security guards stopped me. Since 9-11, we had gotten many security folks and metal detectors. At some points in the year, when large protest crowds gathered, the guards did their utmost to keep things civil and moving along. The guard was someone who knew me. We had many conversations about state government and education in particular. His wife was a teacher and we shared a number of stories.

When he stopped me, I thought that we would discuss some educational matter. That was not to be. His demeanor was serious enough for me to be caught up short. He said, “Dr. Wainright, have you seen Senator Ellis recently. I said that I had seen him the previous week in a Senate Education Committee meeting. I had not seen him since them. “Why do you ask, Bob?” His body stooped low to speak with me. He was at least 6-4. “There is something strange going on around here. No one is talking about the Senator being missing. Somehow, my cohorts don’t even want me to bring it up. My sergeant has frankly told me to button my lip about it. I am not sure what to do.”

“Bob, that is really weird. Why do all of your co-workers know something that you don’t know? Smacks of something really bad. Let me nose around and see what I can find out. I’ll get back to you at the end of the day. I am sure that it’s probably some personal matter that either family, friends of members of the senate doesn’t want to talk about. See you later.”

I walked away to Representative Linda O’Brien’s office and opened the door. I said hello to both of her administrative assistants. They said a cursory hello and then went back to work. It was certainly not the friendly greeting that I usually got. I hung my coat up and left the office. What was going on?

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