During my time as a community organizer, I had the honor of getting to know several people who represent Congressional Districts in the suburbs of Washington, DC. While they'll probably never say it in a public speech, I've heard many of them talk about how they're lucky they're from a district so close to DC because it means they don't have to spend so much time flying back and forth between Washington and their home district. It also means they have the added benefit of doing work on Capitol Hill during the day and making appearances at community events in the weekend (something that can help the next time they're up for reelection.
Of course, there's also some financial benefit for them because they don't have to worry about maintaining two separate residencies. As most people from the DC area know, even basic apartments in the area are relatively expensive when it's your only residence. Add on another residence in your home district and the cost can be quite heavy.
Every so often, you'll see this issue addressed when articles in some of the Capitol Hill newspapers talk about Members of Congress sleeping in their office during the week in order to save money. By some reports, as many as one fifth of all House freshmen actually sleep in their offices and their estimated to save about $20,000 a year by doing so.
While most stories take a light-hearted angle to the story, there are some people who actually use sleeping in their offices as a way to prove they don't really live in DC. The obvious implication being that any member of Congress who actually owns a home in the DC area is simply become a creature of Washington and therefore cannot properly represent their district. I don't buy into that argument at all, but it appears as though the sentiment has caused at least some concerns for Ed Markey's bid to fill John Kerry's seat in the Senate.
The Boston Globe published an article today that talked about how he's never been able to fully shake questions about his residency even though he's been reelected by large margins ever since he joined the House of Representatives almost 40 years ago. The crutch of the article is that Markey claims his childhood home (which he now owns) as his place of residence in Malden, but he also owns a home in Chevy Chase, MD. His critics claim that he spends too much time staying in that Maryland home and has therefore lost touch with the folks in his home state.
This isn't the first time we've heard stories about Markey's residency. When he was still rumored to be the potential GOP candidate the replace Kerry, for instance, Scott Brown took a jab at Markey during a radio interview that caused the subject to make headlines.
“I’ll tell you what; They’re making it awfully tempting. You got Ed Markey: Does he even live here any more?” Brown said on the “Jim Margery Show” on WTKK-FM, a local Boston radio station, when asked if he was going to run.Brown's comments are very telling about the claims that Markey doesn't really live in Massachusetts. The former senator is basically arguing that Markey can't really live in Malden because the two didn't see each other in the airport. Markey's opponent in 2010 made similar comments when he taped a video featuring people who claimed they don't see the Congressman just hanging around town.
“You’ve got to check the travel records. I’ve come back and forth (from Washington to Boston) every weekend, almost, for three years, and I see, you know, most of the delegation, and I have never seen Ed on the airplane – ever,” he said.
To help illustrate why these are ridiculous comments, pick one of your own acquaintances that live a couple miles away from you. The two of you might shop at the same grocery store, have kids at the same schools, and work relatively close to each other as well, but I'm sure you've sometimes gone several weeks without seeing the person (maybe even months). And unless you happen to hop on the T at the same time, I'm sure you don't frequently see each other commuting to work. Do you ever doubt that the person still actually lives where they claim to live though?
Of course, Scott Brown and former opponents aren't the only people who have made some ridiculous claims about Markey's residency. A Mass Live article, for instance, quotes a business owner in Massachusetts claiming Markey's a "no show around here" because he doesn't understand the needs of small businesses. I don't know about you, but I sure think that sounds like comments someone would make if they simply don't like the Congressman's politics. And the person who was quoted as saying "he does parades, that's it," simply doesn't seem to like politicians in general
Despite those quotes, the real situation seems to be found in other parts of that same article on Mass Live. The article features several different people from a variety of political backgrounds (including Republican elected officials) who talk about frequently seeing Markey around town. And he's not just doing the parades either (though he apparently did unexpectedly show up to watch a city council meeting, but sat in the back and was wearing gym clothes).
People talked about seeing him playing basketball at the YMCA (not really the place you'd expected someone to go play some ball if they were a Washington elitist), eating lunch at local restaurants, and simply visiting various members of the community. I think the best description came from a local resident named Joe Levine.
Joe Levine, who has lived across the street from Markey for 50 years, said he has seen Markey at the home consistently, before and after Markey bought it. “I don’t count the times that I see him. He seems to pop up every time I go walk my dog or every time I’m taking a run or if I’m at the basketball park,” Levine said.That's the sentiment I share. He has a job to do in Washington and it shouldn't matter if he stays in a comfortable house there or if he sleeps on the couch in his office like some other House members. Even if he was sleeping on the couch, after all, the couch wouldn't make him any closer to Malden. In fact, you could argue that staying on Capitol Hill 24/7 would actually make those who stay in the office more susceptible to the political culture
“He’s not there obviously every day because he has a job in Washington,” Levine said. “I do see him often.”