Sunday, July 22, 2001

Area D.C. interns say work OK amid Levy hunt

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        While a search for a missing government intern consumes national headlines, young Cincinnatians interning in the nation's Capitol say the case has cast a pall but is not holding them back.

        It's a tragedy, but an isolated one, area interns say.

        Fourteen Cincinnatians are interning in their senators' and congressmen's offices. They open mail, do research, write memos, give tours and sit in meetings.

        Their work goes unpaid, but it isn't everyone who gets the chance to network with the lawyers, journalists, political analysts and politicians who make the nation tick.

        The interns won't let the disappearance of Chandra Levy, a Bureau of Prisons intern who reportedly was having an affair with U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, dampen their enthusiasm.

        “It's definitely talked about, (but) it doesn't really hold anybody back as far as enjoying the experience. It's definitely not an impediment,” said Andrew Simon, 19, of Indian Hill.

        The sophomore at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, is one of eight Cincinnatians interning in U.S. Rep. Rob

        Portman's office.

        So far, he has researched education and tax issues for Mr. Portman. For Mr. Simon, nothing compares to seeing the congressman use the his research during a debate on the House floor.

        “Working in Washington has no comparison,” he said.

        Ms. Levy's disappearance has tarnished the honor of being an intern, said Megan Thompson, an Anderson High School graduate who worked for Mr. Portman last summer. She's now a senior at Ohio State University.

        “There's the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Then there's this going on. I'm sure some people would be a little bit more hesitant” to intern, she said.

        But she would relive the experience “in a heartbeat.”

        As an intern, she gave tours of the Capitol and once ran into Bob Dole. She remains friends with Mr. Port man's chief of staff and remembers fielding calls from Dick Cheney's campaign team.

        “There were bigwigs all over the place. I loved it,” she said. But, “there are creepy people in Washington as there are in Cincinnati. You just have to be on your toes.”

        Wes Irvin, press secretary for Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine, comes from a Virginia town of about 800 residents. He interned for a Virginia con gressman in 1993. The experience, he said, was more worthwhile than his political science studies at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire.

        “You really can't learn everything in a classroom. Outside the classroom creates the best arena for learning. Capitol Hill is that arena,” said Mr. Irvin, 29.

        But scandals happen.

        “You're always going to have one,” he said. “But I can say honestly that the men I've worked for in Congress have been fine, upstanding men of integrity. The majority of men and women who come to Washington to serve their Constitution are of that type.”

        The case should not deter others, says Penny Thompson, who said her daughter Megan returned to Cincinnati a different person.

        “She saw the benefits of being a voter (and) becoming involved in politics,” Mrs. Thompson said.


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