The Girls in the House

How three D.C. power women help each other stay sane.

By Annie Groer
Roommates Carolyn Maloney, Melissa Bean and Debbie Wasserman Schultz share a laugh.
Photograph: Photo by Liz Lynch/ lizlynch.com

Maloney didn’t learn about Wasserman Schultz’s cancer until her room-mate went public. “One time her mother came for the weekend, and it was very unusual. I later found out it was at the time when she had an operation,” she says, adding that she has no problem with having been left out of this particular loop.

“With a trauma that personal, people are entitled to make decisions that work for them,” she says.

Maloney’s own personal tragedy struck on a Friday night in late September. While at a dinner in New York, she learned that Clifton, her husband of 31 years, had died on a Himalayan trek just hours after climbing the world’s sixth-highest peak. The news became public the next day. “Melissa and Debbie were wonderful,” she recalls. “They came to the funeral.” Afterward, Maloney stayed in Manhattan for her first two weeks of mourning and “they were on the phone.” Her two roommates continue to fuss over her, she says, because “we are friends, our husbands were friends. Our kids know each other. We’re like a big extended family.”

All three women insist that in more than five years together, the only real friction occurred during the 2008 presidential primaries. Maloney and Wasserman Schultz were fervent Hillary Clinton supporters; Bean was pro-Obama. “It was antagonistic,” Bean admits. “There was some passion on both sides. It was definitely touchy. I was one of Barack’s earliest supporters, and Debbie did a lot of press for Hillary. Deb would come home from a TV appearance and I’d say, ‘You looked great, you sounded great and I didn’t agree with anything you said . . . ’ ”

“We all understood; Melissa and Obama are from Illinois,” Maloney says. When he got the nomination, the Clintonites quickly shifted candidates. “It was so much better when we were on the same side,” Maloney adds.

If 2009 was the crucible year—Wasserman Schultz going public with her cancer and Maloney losing her husband— 2010 is the political challenge, since all three women are up for reelection. Midterm elections are typically when the sitting president’s party suffers heavy Congressional losses, so they are all running hard and will spend more time in their districts, and therefore less time with each other.

“You don’t really come here to make friends,” Bean says of her legislative life. “You come here to get the job done.

“This was a bonus.”

Annie Groer has covered Congress, the White House and political gossip for 25 years for the Orlando Sentinel and the Washington Post. She writes for PoliticsDaily.com and is at work on a memoir.

Originally published in the March 2010 MORE.
 
Web Extra: The Roommates Next Door

By Annie Groer

Next door to the Maloney household, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada) shares her home with her office scheduler, Joanne Rider (whom she’s known since junior high); Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who rents the basement; and Rep. John Larson (D-Connecticut), whom she calls “the best roommate on the planet because he’s gone before I get up, I’m asleep before he comes home and he’s quiet as a mouse.” But despite her joke, one wonders if Berkley doesn’t long for a little more quality time with her housemates, or her block-mates. Both Maloney and Berkley, separately and unbidden, expressed delight over a spontaneous early-morning encounter most of us would take for granted.  
    
“My door was open, I saw Carolyn, I said, ‘Hi neighbor, come on in!’ and we had a great conversation,” Berkley recalls, grinning widely.

“There we were in our housecoats, sitting in her kitchen, drinking coffee,” Maloney muses with her own wide smile. “It was like being in a small town and visiting with a girlfriend.”

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