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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

No Sign Of The Anti-Christ At Congresswoman Maxine Waters' Office

Sara Ramsey |
December 8, 2010 | 9:57 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ office is dark and completely deserted, eerily so. Located right off the 110 Freeway on Broadway and 102nd street, the office shares a building with a construction company, a security guard service, education aids, devices and supplies, and an apartment building operator. 

Inside Maxine Waters' district office (Sara Ramsey)
Inside Maxine Waters' district office (Sara Ramsey)

There are three leather chairs and a side table with the congresswoman’s newsletter on it. The reception area is behind a thick plastic barrier, baring the United States Congress seal. Below the seal are a small hole to speak through, a bell and another sign indicating that this is indeed Maxine Waters’ office.

I take a seat in one of the green leather chairs and begin to read the newsletter, which describes Waters' work in the community, including her efforts on health care and education reform. As time passes it becomes clear that there is no one in the office, no one at the reception desk and no constituents looking to speak to their congresswoman's staff.

What brought me to this field office in California’s 35th district was to see how constituents are reacting to the proposals from President Obama’s Debt Reduction Commission.

The proposal aims to increase the retirement age to 67, hoping to ease the strain on the nation's budget. But this could disproportionately affect low-income families and people of color— not to mention raise the rates of those filing for disability benefits.

Still at the office, I decide to ring the bell through another small hole in the plastic barrier. Moments later a woman comes out into the reception area. I introduce myself as a reporter from USC’s Annenberg Digital News and tell her that I am interested in speaking to someone about the feedback they are getting from constituents.

The receptionist says she will go back to see if I can speak with someone. She quickly returns, letting me know that I won’t be able to talk to anyone in the office. The correct way to get my questions answered is to call the Washington, D.C. office and talk to their press people. The staff in D.C. will then relay my questions to the Los Angeles office. She hands me a business card and writes two names on the back— apparently the public relations specialists.

Before I left, I casually asked the receptionist if the office gets a lot of foot traffic.

She took a step back, still behind the plastic barrier then raised her fingers to form a cross.

“It’s not like you’re the Anti-Christ or anything but I’m not going to answer any of your questions,” she said, partially in jest. “You have to follow the proper procedures. Thanks for coming in and please have a nice day.”

This was apparently my cue to leave.

I go ahead and make the call to D.C., only to find out that no one in Waters' office can be quoted except for the Congresswoman herself. My questions were simple enough: How many phone calls and emails the office receives? What types of questions are constituents asking and what concerns them the most?

I soon get an email back from the deputy press secretary. Waters' office typically gets 10-20 visitors a week and anywhere from 45-170 phone calls a day. The constituents are mostly worried about Social Security, the cost of living allowance, healthcare, housing, foreclosure and loan modification issues, passport and immigration issues and unemployment.

These important issues are currently battling Waters’ personal problems for time.

The Los Angeles Democrat has been embroiled in an ethics investigation alleging that her and her staff “improperly exerted” influence over federal regulators and Treasury Department officials, seeking bail-out money for OneUnited Bank. Waters’ husband previously served on the board of directors and owned a substantial amount of stock with the company, which would have been rendered worthless without the $12 million federal bail-out.

Waters’ case has been recently put on hold and two members of the House Ethics Committee were suspended. In response, Waters has called for an investigation of the committee.

The D.C. staff seems to be quick to respond to email yet the congresswomen and her Los Angeles staff appear to be staying behind their thick plastic barrier. Which raises the question, what kind of attention are South Los Angeles residents getting from the 10-term congresswoman they put in office?



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