By Allen Henry
Here at the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, we typically come into the office about 9:30 a.m. and head out about 5:30 p.m., unless of course we’re out on a story. So when I decided Tuesday evening to make Mark Sanford’s Wednesday late-afternoon swearing in ceremony my first story, I couldn’t help but wonder: How would I spend the rest of my day?
I decided that watching the new representative from South Carolina place his hand on a Bible might make for a great picture, but not the best story. I figured my best bet would be to find his new office early in the morning to see if there was any move-in excitement. That might have been the best decision I made all day. When I arrived at his office, I could feel the excitement pouring out of the open office door, and a few passersby were stopping to take picture of the sign for “Representative Mark Sanford” hanging outside his office. I started to take a picture to post on Twitter and Facebook when Mark Sanford himself stepped out into the now-empty hallway and found me snapping away at his sign.
Like most Americans, I would assume, I had no idea who the former governor was until his infamous disappearance for a week in 2009, when staffers told the media he was “hiking the Appalachian trail” when he was actually in South America visiting his then-mistress, now fiancée. But now here he was, standing right in front of me, the man whose scandal and subsequent comeback had been dominating the national airwaves on-and-off for the past four years. So when he locked eyes with me, a trait every good public official should have, it was surreal. But then again, this whole experience has been so far. Here I was in Washington, in the hallways of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill, staring at Mark Sanford.
Without missing a beat, the congressman-elect introduced himself to me, shook my hand and told me to “Come on in!” The Southern hospitality was definitely on display and continued to be throughout the day. I became a fly on the wall, watching as he ate with friends and family, joked with staffers and posed for pictures with supporters who drove the eight hours from Charleston to see him being sworn in. Toward the end of the luncheon, Sanford even offered me one of the many remaining sandwiches, although I politely declined.
After the luncheon ended, I asked Sanford a few questions and prepared to leave. I went to exchange contact information with Sanford’s chief of staff and fumbled a bit with all of the equipment I was carrying while attempting to reach for a business card. “Sorry, it’s my first week and story,” I laughed, trying to offset any awkwardness my bumbling may have created. “It’s OK, it’s our first day!” he replied, realizing that he didn’t even have a business card to hand me.
I glanced in one last time to see what the congressman-elect was doing and saw him kneeling on the floor, collecting crumbs from the bright red carpet that lined his office. Here was a former congressman and governor, about to be sworn in to Congress once again in a matter of hours, picking up the remains of food left by guests on his big day. It was a reminder to me that this man, who I previously only knew from his very public fall from grace, was just that: a man. A man, like me, embarking on the next chapter of his life in Washington.