These two wives of Congressional members have titles that go well beyond “Mrs.”
By Kiki Ryan
That old saying, “behind every man there is a great woman” can be particularly true in Washington, where the male-dominated world of politics can turn a wife into a behind-the scenes campaigner or a stand-by-your-man supporter. What doesn’t make headlines is that Congressional spouses are much more than the “wife of.” They work in many fields, including business, journalism, the arts and sciences. Washington Life sheds some light on these behind the-scenes female leaders with an eye-opening look at two distinctly different perspectives on being a Congressional “Mrs.”
TIME ON THE HILL: LESS THAN ONE YEAR
For over 25 years, she delivered the news to Boston every night as a general assignment reporter for the city’s ABC News affiliate, WCVB-TV-Channel 5. But it only took a few months and one major accomplishment by her once relatively anonymous husband for her identity to change.
Such is the life of Gail Huff, the better half of Senator Scott Brown, who in 2009 gained national prominence after being elected to the seat held for 47 years by the late, legendary Democrat Ted Kennedy. Oh, and let’s not forget he is the only known senator to have posed shirtless in Cosmopolitan magazine – gasoline on the fire of fame once his campaign began to gain momentum.
“It’s very old-school here, very surprisingly to me. Just [the other day] I was lucky to have had ‘Gail’ on my name tag at an event,” says Huff, who few in Washington know had her own spicy turn with an appearance in a 1982 music video, clad in a bikini.
“I do feel here in D.C. that I am ‘Mrs. Scott Brown,’ but back home I am Gail Huff,” she notes. “I was much more of a public figure than my husband for so long, but we have, understandably, switched positions.”
Seasoned Washingtonians may find themselves nodding in understanding at the dynamic. But back home, Huff is still a well-known personality thanks to her distinguished TV news career. Some in the nation’s capital may still be unaware that she continues to work in her field, serving as an on-air reporter covering medical, consumer and investigative stories for ABC affiliate WJLA. Recent reports include a Virginia flu outbreak the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called “widespread”; gay bullying at local high schools; and recently freed dogs from a puppy mill that still need homes.
If she’s little-known in her own right in Washington, perhaps we can chalk that up to only having lived here for little more than a year. Huff came across as an outgoing and lively woman who comes across as a good deal younger than her 47 years. She seems more than able to carve out her own space in Washington and cheerfully jokes about still getting lost on the back streets of Capitol Hill. Along with an effervescent personality, she is also a woman intent on nurturing her own distinguished career, not just being a senator’s wife.
“No, I would not have moved to Washington if I was unable to continue my job” working somewhere in TV news, Huff says bluntly. “It was a requirement for me to come here, which ended up great since I get to be with my husband during the week.”
LOBBYIST, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LEAGUE
YEARS ON THE HILL: 30
There’s no doubting Lucy Calautti when she says she’s familiar with working in a man’s world. The wife of Senator Kent Conrad started out with a career in the Navy, then logged 27 years on male-dominated Capitol Hill working in the office of Byron Dorgan, the other senator from North Dakota. Then there’s her current gig, for which most men would give an eyetooth: a lobbyist for Major League Baseball League.
Calautti’s professional history, not to mention her husband’s long tenure in Congress, gives her advantages most other Congressional spouses lack. But the lessons didn’t come “all at once.”
“I don’t get the ‘wife of the senator’ anymore, but I used to,” she recalls. “It took a long time for people in Washington to know that.” Changes in Washington’s work culture have permitted her to be a well-known professional in her own right although it’s fair to say she’s been pushing the envelope for decades, once having served as Dorgan’s chief of staff when he was in the House at a time when far fewer women rose that high.
“I ran Kent’s U.S. Senate race and yet people assumed certain things about me. But I just went about my business and people came to understand that I have my own career and professional life.”
She now represents a sport she’s loved since she was a little girl.The petite brunette has said she doesn’t consider herself “just a fan” of the game but a “maniac fan” who dreamed about owning a team as she fell asleep at night. After two decades in politics, she decided to retire. Then she learned that the MLB was looking for an executive in Washington to help them understand issues they face with the Federal government.
“The number one thing about getting the position was that I had the credentials to do government relations,” she says. Combine that with her love of the game, and she was a home run candidate for the job.
When not sitting in her corner office at one of Washington’s most prestigious firms – one filled with plastic-encased baseballs and photos of her at various stadiums – her day consists of meeting members of Congress to argue baseball’s side of various legal issues. Other concerns as she once told North Dakota State University’s magazine, relate to the sharing of revenues between smaller clubs and the big teams so that “fans in every small or medium-sized city in America that has a baseball team can hope and dream that their team will win the World Series.” Other issues, of importance include immigration as it applies to foreign-born players.
Familiar with the difficulty some women face in Washington, Calautti finds satisfaction in helping others as they seek to climb through the ranks as she did.
“I’m a feminist and I feel strongly about mentoring other woman and I think it’s because I’ve been in a, quote-un-quote, man’s world,” she says. “I know what it’s like to be alone and I’ve work hard being helpful to women.”