By ALLISON LAFORTE and AMIE PARNES
Before the Mark Foley scandal erupted last fall, congressional page applications trickled into Rep. Dave Weldon’s office one at a time, every once in a while.
Since then, Weldon aides have noticed a steady flow of two or three applications a week and a number of calls from curious high school juniors and their parents. “How do I apply?” has become a common question, not “Will I be safe?” as many lawmakers predicted in the wake of the Foley scandal.
Although the scandal highlighted significant flaws in the inner workings of Congress, the controversy appears to have helped boost the 178 -year-old page program at a time when many predicted it would close its doors.
The congressional staffer who takes the calls and applications has noticed a bit of a spike, said Kurt Heath, press secretary for Weldon, a Florida Republican.
Heath and other staffers around Capitol Hill — including those in House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office — say they believe the rise in applicants occurred because of the constant mention of the page program during the height of the scandal. Foley resigned from Congress in late September after it was discovered that he had sent sexually charged online messages to teenage congressional pages.
“There has been an increase in interest,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi.
Hammill is not really surprised, either. Although pages are responsible for menial tasks like carting legislative documents from office to office and opening doors for lawmakers, “it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “This is an incredible opportunity for a high school junior to witness the legislative process first hand.”
The Senate has seen a similar surge in applicants, said Senate page board staffers, although the exact numbers could not be calculated because applications go through the individual offices of Senate and House members.
Since the scandal, the page board has expanded, adding one more lawmaker to the minority party to include two Democrats and two Republicans, said Brandon MacGillis, press secretary for Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who sits on the board.
“That’s one of the reasons the Foley scandal happened because the majority party never consulted with the Democrats,” MacGillis said. The board also recently added a current page, and the parent of a current or former page.
Currently there are 72 pages in the House and 30 in the Senate.