Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Last week “Texas” Charlie Wilson (D-TX) died, or as his friend and colleague former Representative Robert Mrazek (D-NY) wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday: “Charlie Wilson crossed over the river last week into the great unknown, the final quest of a man who was the last of the larger-than-life characters to serve in Congress at the end of the last century.”

For those two or three who don’t know, Charlie Wilson was a twelve-term member of Congress from southeastern Texas. His fame came from his support as a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee of Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan, which was the largest covert operation ever conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. His work, largely behind the scenes and uncharacteristically very quiet, was the subject of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” in which he was played by Tom Hanks. Don’t we all wish!

Later, Charlie tried, but failed, to get money to build schools in war-torn Afghanistan. Just think how different things might be now if he had succeeded

Charlie was an effective and conscientious legislator. But he was most admired and loved by denizens of the Washington scene for his flamboyant life style, his irrepressible drive to have a good time all over the world, and his taste for gorgeous and vivacious women. It was a joy to walk into his office any day and admire his beautiful and vivacious staff. They could type, too!

Charlie was also an Arlingtonian. After his retirement, he lived here for a while, took an active part in our political and social life and proved that Arlington was hip, too.

I, however, knew Charlie from my fourteen year career as a House staff member and twenty-three years as a lobbyist who was on Capitol Hill almost every day and occasionally had the opportunity to lobby him on something or other. It was always great fun to be around Charlie, and I was among the legions of staff members who followed his activities with great enjoyment and awe.

Back in the late 1970’s, the National Democratic Club was on the ground floor of the Congressional Hotel, directly across C Street from the Cannon House Office Building. After work, the bar would fill with members of Congress, staffers, and lobbyists to relax after a hard day of work. The bar stretched along the outside wall of the hotel, flanked by a corridor along which there were tables across from the bar. The corridor opened into a larger room with many tables.

One evening, directly after work, a few of us were sitting at the bar when an absolutely gorgeous woman walked in, walked the gauntlet past the bar, and sat alone at a table in the back of the room. None of us knew who she was. As the bar filled up, everyone asked “who is that gorgeous woman?”

Then, at the peak of the evening when the bar had filled up, in walks Charlie Wilson. He greeted everyone as he walked past the bar and strode confidently to the table where the gorgeous woman was sitting. She stood and they politely kissed. At that point, the entire bar broke into applause and cheering. Charlie and his date bowed, smiling broadly, and sat for a quiet tete a tete.

That was the Charlie Wilson we all knew and admired!


Richard Barton may be e-mailed at [email protected]