Aide recalls final trip to District 5 with Paul GillmorWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | email@example.com
U.S. Rep. Paul E. Gillmor spent his final days doing what he loved most about his job as a public servant — visiting the district he represented and meeting his constituents.
“It was good for him that he had that week out in the district and that he had been so active in the way that he always was,” said Bradley Mascho, Gillmor’s communications director since 2004. “He was always this type of congressman. He didn’t hole himself up in his office.
“It was good he did that the last week because that’s what people remembered when they found out he passed away,” he said. “So many people called and said, ‘He was just here.’
“It meant a lot that he had been out there in the district in all 16 counties. Personally, it meant a lot for me to have been there with him.”
In an exclusive interview with Toledo Free Press, Mascho, 27, talked about Gillmor’s final trip to the 5th District before his Sept. 5 death at age 68, his time working for the congressman and the friendship that developed between them.
On the road again
The trip began Aug. 26 when Mascho flew into Columbus from Washington, D.C., to meet Gillmor and prepare for their trip the next morning to Mercer County. The men met for dinner that night and caught up because Gillmor had spent most of August with his family in Ohio while Congress was on recess.
“It was nice,” Mascho said. “We hadn’t seen each other in two weeks.”
In between a 7:30 a.m. breakfast, a town meeting in Paulding County and a luncheon with the Defiance Rotary Club that Monday, Mascho and Gillmor learned of Alberto Gonzales’ resignation from his post as U.S. attorney general. That was good news for Gillmor, Mascho said, because he was the first Republican in the House of Representatives to call for Gonzales to resign.
“He was pleased. That was what he had called for all along,” Mascho said. “He thought it was the best situation for the president and the Justice Department. He thought the attorney general was not effective and that it would be best for everyone if he were to resign.”
Gillmor had to address another sensitive news item Aug. 30 when he visited two Toledo television stations for interviews. While on the air, Gillmor was asked if Idaho Republican Larry Craig should resign from his Senate seat because of Craig’s guilty plea to disorderly conduct charges after he was arrested for lewd conduct in a Minnesota airport. Gillmor said Craig should resign.
“That was not an easy decision for him. He wasn’t a flamethrower of a congressman. He didn’t like to hurt people by any means,” Mascho said.
Not all the news was as serious during the trip. Mascho said he and Gillmor had a good laugh about the media coverage devoted to the story that Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner left his dog, Scout, in a parked car on a hot day.
“The congressman was still kind of perplexed about why the mayor did it and why it was such a hot topic,” Mascho said.
That type of lighthearted conversation often dominated the many hours Mascho and Gillmor spent in the car together driving throughout the vast 5th District, which comprises most of Northwest Ohio. Rather than focusing their discussions on strategy and initiatives, the men would often exchange jokes to pass the time between stops.
Some may have remembered Gillmor for being a political-joke aficionado, but it was clean family-oriented humor the congressman gravitated toward, Mascho said.
“I was telling him this Hillary Clinton joke that had been e-mailed to me,” Mascho recalled. “He kind of enjoyed a Clinton joke, but his favorite jokes were jokes he could tell his kids.
“The political jokes weren’t really him,” he said. “If you could give him a joke that he could make his kids laugh, you were set for life with him. That was the best treat.”
Whether it was discussing news or a new joke, the mood was never tense between Gillmor and Mascho on those road trips, Mascho said.
“There were times where we would drive for an hour and just talk about nothing,” he said.
“We’d talk about what we were listening to on the radio. … There were times we didn’t talk at all, but it was never uncomfortable.”
“I truly mean that he was both my boss and my friend,” Mascho continued. “I don’t think you can spend that much time in a car with a person and not like them.”
Gillmor also served as a mentor to Mascho. One such instance occurred in early August after Republicans walked out of the House en masse to protest Democrats’ handling of a vote on an agriculture spending bill. The next day, Mascho checked the vote totals. To his surprise, Gillmor was one of 15 Republicans who stayed on the floor to vote. Puzzled, Mascho asked how that move would sit with party leadership.
“He was very serious,” Mascho said. “He said, ‘Walking off the floor would have gotten us nowhere.’ And it did. We lost that vote.
“He said, ‘The only way you win is you stay there and have a civil discussion. We may not have agreed, but we shouldn’t have walked off the floor.’ ”
Though a Republican through and through, Gillmor was known for his ability to accomplish goals in a bipartisan manner. When Democrats regained control of the House and the Senate last year, many Republican legislators considered retirement because they felt they couldn’t achieve their goals in the minority, Mascho said.
“Congressman Gillmor never felt that,” he said. “He was just as effective now as he was at this time last year.”
In addition to being in the minority party, there was another downfall for Gillmor when Democrats took control of Congress — five-day sessions. Republicans, Mascho said, would work three 12-hour sessions when they were in power.
“Not that he minded working five days a week, but they weren’t really working,” Mascho said. “He used to joke and say, ‘We’re taking two days of work and stretching it into five days.’ ”
While some longtime Republican congressmen were talking retirement, Gillmor was talking about running for re-election. Mascho said he and Gillmor were discussing when the congressman would announce his 10th re-election bid.
“He had no intention of retiring,” Mascho said. “He was moving full speed ahead.”
One of the Gillmor’s most memorable characteristics was his willingness to include others in the special moments that came up through his position, Mascho said. Mascho was the beneficiary of that generosity on several occasions, he said, but it was two such instances that stood out most in his mind.
Gillmor gave Mascho a ticket to the 2005 State of the Union address. Members of Congress are each given only one ticket for the event, Mascho said.
“What a thrill. I was the only one [from Gillmor’s office] to go over and do that,” he said. “I’ve still got the ticket.”
The other occasion occurred about three months ago. Every summer the president invites members of Congress and their spouses to a picnic that takes place on the White House lawn. Because Gillmor’s wife, Karen, was unable to attend the event this year, she suggested her husband take Mascho.
Gillmor warned Mascho not to be disappointed if President Bush was not at the event. That warning went for naught a few minutes after the men arrived at the White House when Mascho spotted the president.
With digital camera in hand, Mascho joined a crowd around the president and waited to ask him for a picture. Gillmor, who was only experienced at using disposable cameras, offered to take the picture.
“Push your way up. Push your way up,” Gillmor instructed Mascho.
“He didn’t think it would be rude to push his way up,” Mascho said.
Finally, the president turned Mascho’s way and asked him where his camera was. Mascho pointed back to Gillmor.
“Gillmor!” President Bush replied. “Hey, how do you know this guy?”
“He’s my press guy,” Gillmor said in his high-pitched tone. “He keeps me famous.”
“That was just a typical example of Paul Gillmor not worried about himself and just letting other people share in his experiences,” Mascho said.
‘Something was wrong’
Near the end of their trip to the district, Mascho said he and Gillmor talked about their plans for the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Mascho was going to meet family in Port Clinton while Gillmor was looking forward to spending time with his family in Put-in-Bay.
The men returned to Washington, D.C., after the long weekend. Gillmor had a 9:15 a.m. meeting with his staff Sept. 5 and then a 10:30 a.m. meeting with the Financial Services Committee. It wasn’t odd for him to miss the staff meeting, Mascho said, because he often would run errands after he returned to his Virginia townhouse after recess. When he didn’t show up for the committee meeting, Mascho and Gillmor’s chief of staff, Mark Wellman, became concerned.
After not receiving responses to phone calls and e-mails, Mascho and Wellman decided to drive to Gillmor’s home to check on him.
“We knew that if his car was away from the house, he was running errands or out at the post office,” Mascho said.
To their dismay, the car remained parked in Gillmor’s driveway.
“We knew something was wrong and immediately knew there was a problem,” Mascho said.
Wellman entered the townhouse with a spare key and immediately stepped out and informed Mascho of the situation. They found Gillmor’s body near the steps leading to the second floor. After calling emergency personnel and being released from the scene by police, Mascho returned to Gillmor’s office to inform the staff of the tragic news.
“It was pretty rough,” Mascho said. “People were still all in tears. There were a lot of former staffers that had come into the office and were still here.”
U.S. Rep. Dave Hobson, R-Ohio, called the office and instructed the staff to go over to the House floor — a rare occurrence because most staffers cannot set foot there, Mascho said.
As members of Congress read statements in Gillmor’s honor, the congressman’s staff members stood somberly along a railing near the back of the House floor.
“For some of the people that had been [at the office] all day, it was pretty touching,” Mascho said. “For me personally, it was the hardest point that I had had all day because it was the quietest it had been for me.
“It was only five hours after I had seen what I had seen and had a chance to realize this person that I came to respect and love so much was dead.
“There’s something about being on the floor of the House of Representatives. The aura is crisp and cool. It has a damp, musky smell to it,” Mascho said. “To be over there and listen to people talk about him, it was the first time that I had brought out emotions that I had been holding back. It was pretty powerful for me.”
Now that Gillmor’s funeral is behind it, the staff’s top priority is to make sure his papers and archives are properly cataloged, Mascho said. After that, its members need to think about their futures once the seat Gillmor occupied in the House is filled through a special election later this year.
Mascho said he has spent the last few weeks talking often with Gillmor’s wife and family and reminiscing about the time he shared with him. He said talking about those experiences has softened the loss he incurred by Gillmor’s passing.
“After all this, it’s hard to think of some of the stories, it’s hard to think of exact instances or things that you would put your finger on and say, ‘I learned this from him,’ ” Mascho said. “You just know that he touched you in so many ways and that you learned so much from him. I know I’m a much better person for knowing him.”
“I’m glad that I got to be a part of his life,” Mascho said. “I’m really glad that he was a part of mine.”