By Jennifer Mann, on Fri Jun 7, 2013 at 8:15 AM ET
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In the midst of my tenure in office as a Pennsylvania state representative, a statewide scandal uprooted the political landscape like a tornado of Wizard of Oz proportions. For those of us unscathed and continuing work in Pennsylvania’s Capitol, we were still left with a “we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore” reality that proved tense, to say the least.
“Bonusgate” was the pithy pet name for a massive investigation into political corruption in which millions of taxpayer dollars were misappropriated as bonuses to legislative staffers who were campaigning while on the clock.
The investigation wound together deceit, cover-ups and political finger pointing into a whirlwind that swept up some of the state’s longest serving lawmakers. Some of my colleagues caught up in the storm of rapid-fire reporter questions and constituent scorn landed not in Oz, but in jail. Many more were thrown out of office, as voters took their anger to the polls and elected one of the largest freshmen classes in the state’s history. It was a scary time to be a state representative.
Just as a point of reference, I should note that Pennsylvania is one of the few states to employ a full-time legislature and no term limits. For those who choose to run for office and succeed, there is a scary realization that your career and income is suddenly in the hands of voters. And while I will defend the importance of maintaining a full-time legislature, I’ll admit that the overlying threat of getting the potential “pink slip” at the polls leads to a protective instinct that’s palpable around the Capitol. The desire to survive creates a sub-culture of risk-taking, and even forces a select few to cross the line between right and wrong. This is my assessment of what creates corruption, at least in this case.
When the Attorney General released the first of many findings in the Bonusgate investigation, careers and reputations were ruined almost instantly, and the career carnage kept coming. Fortunately, I was a Bonusgate bystander, a safe distance from the action.
Until one morning, I wasn’t.
When the reporter contacted me to get my side of the story on the juicy tidbit of information he had, supposedly tying my top aide to Bonusgate, I responded openly and with the same nothing-to-hide style that was the core of my political reputation.
Still, by the time I hung up the phone, my stomach was in my throat. The mere thought of the article hitting newsstands consumed my thoughts and nerves. I tried to hope for the best, like a sidebar blurb buried somewhere in the back of the paper.
The resulting banner headline that greeted me soon after was the antithesis of any style or reputation I had cultivated, and it was far from hidden. Instead, it alluded to a direct link between my senior staffer and some of those who had fallen the farthest in our state’s scandal.
In reality, the full-color, front-page exposé was all style, no substance. The emails cited were taken out of context. The source faced criminal conviction and had already established a jailhouse-snitch notoriety for trying to invite company into his misery. And the fact was that my staffer had not pocketed any tax dollars for his time spent on the campaign trail.
Still, the timing of the story and the wording in the headline alone suggested a cover up that could only serve to outrage vexed voters even more.
I processed the article like a boxing match transpiring in slow motion. I saw the heavyweight square up, cock his arm and start to pivot slowly as his fist came straight for my face. The best I could hope for was a permanent black eye, but I’d seen this fight before, and it typically ended in a total knockout.
My phone rang before impact. It was my staffer and subject of aforementioned article. We had a conversation that I vaguely recall as, “Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh crap!”
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By Jennifer Mann, on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
Only a few months have passed since I left office as a state representative—a position I held for fourteen years. I entered the Pennsylvania House of Representatives an entrepreneur, having started my first business at the age of 25, and gained a reputation during my tenure as a business-friendly legislator. During the last few years of serving my district, an inner voice increasingly grew louder, calling me back to the private sector and to new challenges.
Without missing a beat, I launched a consulting firm immediately after leaving office. I never really gave myself an opportunity to enjoy a transition period in which I could reflect upon the past 14 years with the exception of a brief moment of an awkward feeling in not seeing my name on the ballot. And so, for the most part, my transition happened. No fanfare and no deep thoughts of reflection,
My new reality began to hit home immediately upon showing up to work—alone. Although I never took for granted the dedicated staffers who worked for me, and I did realize just how dependent I was on them, I just didn’t know how hard it would be to maintain the level of activity without them, until I was out on my own. Most of all, I miss their presence. The past presidential election brought some pretty bad jokes about empty chairs, but now when I walk into my office, it’s me, myself, and I, and…that empty chair in the corner. I miss the smiles and the chatter and the interoffice banter (It still happens some today, but by email and it’s not the same).
Fortunately, my new business involves a lot of face time with clients, prospective clients and those my clients would like to do business with. I am by the nature of my work in the company of others daily. But now, I am solely responsible for the scheduling of meetings, for the execution for each item on the to-do lists I bring out of meetings, and for the meticulous follow up I am known for. No more delegation. As a state representative, 90 percent of my to-do list would be carried out by my reliable team. Now, it’s me, myself and I…and that empty chair.
But I still enjoy a touch of public life in some regards. I remain active with local charities, nonprofits, and serve on boards making speeches, shaking hands, and conversing with colleagues about political hot topics. Though I enjoy remaining connected in that way, I have to consciously draw the line and remind myself where to stop.
For example, the Washington Bureau writer of my city newspaper recently asked me to share my thoughts about a poll concerning next year’s gubernatorial election. Instinctively, I began to formulate a response. But then after thinking the matter through for a few moments, I decided to decline. Although I felt honored that a reporter approached me for a quote even though he was aware I left office, the torch has been passed and it is time to let others weigh in.
That is not to say I will no longer make comment concerning issues involving state government. As a state representative, I sponsored legislation to protect children against sexual predators and widen law enforcement’s net in capturing those who harm them. Protecting our children from predators is an issue dear to my heart and I will gladly lend my voice to protecting those young ones.
Life changed substantially since I left office. I do not regret my decision to return to the private sector and I remain excited by the prospects ahead. The transition I never took is moving full speed ahead on its own, as it will for any of us who have served our constituents over time. I look forward to sharing with you in the months ahead my reflections of that journey.
By Lauren Mayer, on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 3:00 PM ET
This time of year makes many of us nostalgic for those traditions of our childhood, those Norman Rockwell-esque memories of stringing popcorn, gathering fresh pine boughs, and sharing our plum pudding with the Himmels. (Oh, whoops, that wasn’t my childhood, that was Jo March’s . . . )
Well, anyway, most of the time I’m not exactly the domestic type (I cook adequately, but Martha Stewart’s job is safe), but occasionally I get this uncontrollable urge to create a memorable Hanukkah for my family. Which is pretty silly, when you think of it, since it’s a minor holiday that only gets any attention because it’s close to Christmas, and the traditions associated with it are more appropriate to Las Vegas (gambling and eating fried food). But I still want my boys to have fond memories, so I hang up the dreidl garlands and put out the menorah tea towels and star-of-David potholders, and when I’m really ambitious, I make a batch of latkes. (Which I imagine is akin to my Christian friends deciding to make a Buche de Noel or homemade egg nog, something like that?)
Latkes, for you goyim, are potato pancakes – so just imagine your entire kitchen covered with oil splatters, flour, and bits of burnt hash browns, and you’ll get the general idea. You can find countless articles about how adequate draining or squeezing prevents splatters, tips on utilizing the potato starch left from the draining liquid, and recipes that require using a lab-quality timer, but it still always makes a mess, and I end up resolving never to do it again. But amidst the mess and debris, occasionally one or two come out halfway decently, and there is something almost religious about biting into a crispy patty of fried potato – plus you’ve got to love a holiday where you’re supposed to eat fried food!
Unfortunately, that bliss is short-lived, and the mess takes forever to clean up. (And the worst part is, my kids don’t even like latkes!) But at least this year I captured it on film, which may help remind me next year that the latkes are always crispier in someone else’s kitchen . . . .
PS “Latkes, Shmatkes” is the title track of my album of comedy songs for Hanukkah – available at www.laurenmayer.com, on amazon.com, iTunes, CDBaby, and Picklehead Music.