In the closetlike archive room of the Marymount Manhattan College library lie dozens of boxes of documents— correspondence, appointment diaries, phone logs, legislative memos, and other materials—that constitute the congressional papers of U.S. Senate candidate Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro donated the documents to Marymount—her alma mater—when she left the House of Representatives in 1985, after six years in Congress. But though many of the records are neatly catalogued in blue file boxes, no one has ever been allowed to see them.
For the last 13 years, Ferraro has fiercely guarded the papers. She even unsuccessfully fought a 1987 subpoena served on her by the Queens District Attorney seeking documents contained in the collection. Indeed, a Voice review of the archive practices of 20 former members of both the House and the Senate has found none was more secretive than Ferraro. Unlike the others, Ferraro continues to pursue higher public office. Still, as an applicant for a Capitol Hill seat, she is sitting on the best historical record of what she did during her previous Washington service.
After Ferraro announced her Senate candidacy early this year, her campaign manager, David Eichenbaum, agreed to look into the question of making some of the records available, but he later refused to do so. Contacted last week, Eichenbaum, who has since left the campaign, said, “Nothing’s changed,” adding that he doesn’t “expect they’re going to be made available.”
Ferraro’s current communications director Stephen Gaskill says that the main reason the files have remained inaccessible is that cataloguing is incomplete, and he adds that the campaign does “work with the school on the access question.”
But a Voice visit revealed that many of the files have been catalogued. Others sit in large brown cartons awaiting processing. And for its part, Marymount says that it is “just housing [the papers] for Ms. Ferraro.” Martina Leonard, the assistant to Marymount president Regina Peruggi, says the school doesn’t even have much information about the records, and adds that the catalogued files were processed by Ferraro’s staff. When people ask to view the materials, the school “refers them to the campaign.” Leonard adds, jokingly, “I don’t even know if we have a key.”
According to Senate historian Richard Baker, there are “as many different processes as there are members” when it comes to the methods by which former members of Congress archive their papers. They may donate them to a library, they may keep them in their own basement, or they may destroy them—the papers are the members’ personal property. While several former members—such as Barbara-Rose Collins of Michigan and Dick Swett of New Hampshire—have not archived their papers at all, those who have normally open all documents or stipulate terms for review.
Ferraro’s practice of donating her materials to a college library, then restricting them while setting no future date for public review, is unusual.
For example, Ferraro’s fellow New Yorker and former representative Elizabeth Holtzman, who ran for the Senate against Ferraro in 1992, archived her congressional papers at Radcliffe College’s Schlesinger Library in 1981. While only clippings, audiovisual material, and some publications about the Nixon impeachment hearings are officially open, the library makes available a “finding aid” to assist researchers seeking any other materials stored there. This includes “correspondence, awards, records of casework and community work, speeches, telephone logs, and financial records,” according to reference assistant Ellen Shea. Says Shea, “access is available to researchers who have obtained [Holtzman’s] prior written permission.”
Even former members who have been targeted by criminal or Ethics Committee investigations (as Ferraro has been) are more forthcoming with their records than she is.
David Durenberger, the Minnesota Republican who left the Senate in 1994 after serving for 16 years, was the target of several Senate Ethics Committee investigations. Yet his papers, archived at the Minnesota Historical Society, are far more accessible than Ferraro’s. To gain access to the 418 cubic feet of material—which, according to reference archivist Ruth Bauer Anderson, includes “voting records… audio and video tapes… schedules, correspondence… and a sampling of grant and project files,” one must fill out a simple application that requires only basic information. The applicant must also sign an agreement acknowledging understanding of copyright, libel, and attribution. Says Anderson, “I don’t think [Durenberger’s] ever turned anyone down,” including the press.
Dennis DeConcini, the Arizona senator who was investigated for his relationship with indicted S&L owner Charles Keating, has sent 2200 boxes of his papers to his alma mater, the University of Arizona. DeConcini says he has “no plans to restrict anything.” He admits that he kept 400 boxes behind, but says that they contain things as insignificant to his legislative past as “model airplanes and plaques.”
Paula Hawkins, the former Republican Senator from Florida—who left Congress in 1986, about the time that Ferraro did—has archived some of her papers at the University of Florida. The collection, which includes “approximately 90 boxes” of materials, is open to researchers. “I don’t know of any restrictions,” says Frank Orser, the manuscript librarian. Hawkins was the target of an investigation regarding HUD money given to Miami by the Reagan administration in conjunction with Hawkins’s troubled 1986 reelection campaign.
Hawkins’s current staff acknowledges that “some vital papers are in storage.” But her relative openness stands in sharp contrast to Ferraro’s secrecy. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for a former member to seal some papers until a certain date, and then open them to the public. But Ferraro has turned a college library into a warehouse and indefinitely padlocked the doors.