Friday, December 16, 2011

Around Town: The end of an era

Carlos Moorhead's death last week marked the end of an era.

Amiable and gracious, as a congressman, Moorhead always was concerned with the welfare of his constituents. He was the epitome of across-the-aisle mediation and reconciliation. He looked for solutions, not recriminations.

He was a gentleman and a devoted public servant.

In the mid-1980s, we had the great good fortune to open our law offices on the same floor as Moorhead’s Pasadena field office. At the time, I was not much interested in meeting a Republican congressman or his staff. This all changed during two weeks of vitriolic protests targeting our building and ultimately, our floor.

I shared the protesters’ concerns, which dealt with Col. Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair, but their tactics cost them my sympathy. One day, nearly 300 activists sneaked into our building. They headed to the sixth floor, where they sat, filling all the hallways, essentially shutting down business for everyone, not just the tiny field office. They began singing, “We are peaceful, angry people.” And then they roughed up one of the congressman’s staffers, a middle-aged lady who decided, after being detained inside the field office, that she had to use the restroom.

If they were mad at Moorhead, why take it out on a secretary?

Later that week, I introduced myself to the congressman and his staff. I said, “I’m a Democrat, but I don’t like what those people did. If you ever need help, please call our office. We are down the hall.”

That’s how I met Congressman Moorhead, who turned out to be one of the nicest, most amiable people I have ever met.

Before he entered public office, Carlos directed the Glendale Bar Association’s legal aid office for 16 years. He believed in helping people. As an elected representative, he set up two field offices, one in Pasadena and one in Glendale. He instructed his staff to take care of everyone. Everyone who asked for help got help.

Generally, if you ask a congressional staffer for help, they ask where you live. If you live in the district, they might help. If you live in another congressional district, you must go to your elected representative. Carlos Moorhead marched to the beat of a different drum. His staff took care of anyone who walked through the door. His field offices became de facto legal aid offices, with staffers handling full caseloads of immigration, Social Security and Medicare issues.

When he came home, at least twice a month, the congressman flew a commercial flight. Once home, he made a point of attending every type of local function. Scouting events. Rotary. Lunch at the University Club in Pasadena. And, always, Memorial Day services.

My fondest memories are of the congressman’s conversations with our late son, Andrew. They began when Andrew was around 6 years old. Moorhead talked to him about Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. As Andrew grew older, the conversation expanded to the broader subject of American history, politics and World War II.

After 24 years in Congress, Moorhead retired in 1997, the year before Andrew graduated from high school. Another congressman, James Rogan, would make the coveted Annapolis nomination, but a few weeks before Andrew left for plebe summer, we all lunched at the University Club. The conversation predictably shifted to the subject of who was the greatest American president since World War II. Moorhead’s choice was Ronald Reagan. Andrew’s was Bill Clinton. It was a memorable conversation.

And the discussion continues.

We’ll miss you, Carlos Moorhead. Say hi to my kid.

Around Town: The end of an era

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