FACETIME- Congressional Page: Esther takes the 5th
Esther Page is so unflappable at her job, the occupation of her office by anti-war demonstrators fails to ruffle her. She's so dependable, she's on her third congressman in 18 years with new boss Tom Perriello, who narrowly defeated her former boss, Virgil Goode. And before that, she worked for Democrat L.F. Payne.
Typically new elected officials clean house when they come into office. What's even more unusual about Page keeping her job is that she had been working for a Republican, and her new boss is a Democrat.
"Actually, Virgil was a Democrat when we started," reminds Page, and so is she.
Nelson native Page, 50, has been involved in government and politics since high school. "My family did it before," she says.
The lack of running water in the Piney River and Roseland area, where she now lives, got her active in the community. "There was a definite need," she says. "I couldn't believe people didn't have it."
And while she didn't work on Payne's campaign, when he took the 5th District job in 1991 and needed someone to run the Charlottesville office, Page's name kept coming up, she says. "He called me and asked me to interview," she recalls. "It was a godsend."
Problem solving comes naturally to Page. "Party doesn't matter to me," she declares. "It's a matter of helping constituents. That's what matters to me. When you walk in the door, I don't ask whether you're Democrat or Republican."
Perhaps that explains her calm when her office was the site of sit-ins in 2007 by Code Pink activists, who refused to leave at closing time and were arrested, two or three at a time, over four weeks.
"They were people with a cause," says Page. "They were constituents as well. That's why they were allowed to come into the office until the close of business." And when they refused to leave at 4:30pm, that's when they were arrested for trespassing.
"I'd like to say I received them the same as any other constituents," says Page.
In the 5th District office on South 1st Street, Page gets between 30 and 40 calls a day– except when high-profile legislation is in play, and then it can be 50 calls.
The biggest misperception people have about calling their congressman's office? Federal agencies tell them, "You need to call your congressman," says Page. "They think we can break rules, and we can't. That would be illegal."
But with Page's experience in navigating federal government, she knows what channels she can go through to make things happen.
"For us, the hiring priorities were the best person for the job," says Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba. "We gave consideration to all of Virgil's staff. Obviously Esther is very accomplished and well-qualified."
For citizens attempting to solve problems through unwieldy government agencies like Social Security or the IRS, "See if there's a local office," suggests Page. "If you can visit that office, you can meet with a person. You can always ask for the manager."
Her toughest case? A trial medicine that an insurance company was not willing to cover. "I went beyond the call of duty on that one." Laughs Page, "I guess I'm just not used to receiving a 'no.'"