Mr. Hot Potato


All last week, the more than four dozen members of the California congressional delegation kept silent as they watched their hapless colleague Gary Condit chased through the Capitol halls by reporters, dodging meetings with local cops, and refusing to talk publicly about the deepening mystery of the former intern Chandra Levy, who has been missing for eight weeks.

Through this whole mess, the usually spotlight-minded California pols have remained primly detached, many of them mutely sitting on their hands while the increasingly desperate Levy family pleaded for help. The Levys live in California too, but for the members of the state’s delegation, all that seems to matter is keeping up appearances. The Levys might as well live on Mars.

Not one of the representatives has raised a voice for a stepped-up investigation by Washington police, or called for Condit to give a full accounting of his admitted friendship with Chandra.

In an attempt to find out what his colleagues believe Condit should now do and why they haven’t spoken out more, the Voice phoned—in some cases repeatedly—every member of the delegation. By press time, 22 out of 54 had responded, mostly with the vague mumbo jumbo so typical of Capitol Hill. A few sided gingerly with Condit, a Democrat from Modesto. No one criticized him. And most important, no one asked for a more aggressive police investigation.

Here are some of the choice replies by the spokespeople of the California lawmakers.

Flack for Lois Capps, Santa Barbara: “We just haven’t discussed it.”

For Jerry Lewis, Redlands: “The congressman has not really expressed any reaction to this. He thinks it’s up to him [Condit] to react.”

For Mary Bono, Palm Springs: “That’s a matter that’s being dealt with by the police. . . . [She and Condit] are colleagues from California, but she does not really know him.”

For Ellen Tauscher, Walnut Creek: “Our office hasn’t been talking about this issue because we don’t know anything. Thank you very much for calling.”

For Pete Stark, Fremont: No comment.

For Bob Filner, Chula Vista: No comment.

For Gary Miller, Diamond Bar: No comment.

For William M. Thomas, Bakersfield: No comment.

For Sam Farr, Santa Cruz: “I know Gary to be a good congressman. I’ve always supported him in his work. I hope this matter will be resolved quickly, with the best possible outcome.”

For George Radanovich, Fresno: This has “nothing to do with serving his constituency in California, and the congressman is focused on doing just that. Condit’s business is Condit’s business. The real focus here should be on finding this girl and not a media frenzy on a supposed relationship.”

For Zoe Lofgren, San Jose: “We really haven’t talked about it.”

For Brad Sherman, Woodland Hills: “He hasn’t expressed anything to me in regard to that issue. While it does seem to be occupying the news right now, there’s plenty of other business to keep members occupied.”

For Buck McKeon, Santa Clarita: “He hasn’t made a public statement. He believes [it’s] properly a matter for police investigators. He does not want it to become a political issue. We’ve had no inquiries from the media or constituents. The California delegation has not met to discuss this issue, to our knowledge.”

For Elton Gallegly, Oxnard: “You can ask, but I don’t think I’ll be answering.”

Spokespeople for Barbara Lee, Jane Harman, Henry Waxman, and Jerry Berman would not speak on the record.

Senator Barbara Boxer didn’t respond. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has met with Levy’s parents and offered a $5000 reward and staff assistance passing out flyers, sent word through her flack. “The police investigation is pending, and she has no further comment,” the spokesperson said. “She has urged anyone with information to come forward.”

The story to date: The 24-year-old Levy interned for the Bureau of Prisons, but her hopes of a job there fell through. She was planning to go back to California to attend her graduation at USC. She was last seen April 30 at a nearby health club, where she had gone to cancel her membership. Her apartment was half-packed, a landlady told The Washington Post over the weekend, with a purse, cell phone, and nearly full suitcase left behind. There was no sign of a struggle.

Cops say Condit, who contributed $10,000 to the reward fund, is not a suspect. Joseph Cotchett, a Condit attorney, said the congressman has given “every lead, talked to the police. What more can he do?”

At a second meeting with Condit last weekend, D.C. cops apparently came up empty-handed. “We didn’t get much more than we already had,” said police chief Charles H. Ramsey. “It was productive to clarify a few things.”

Chandra’s mother and father have said they wouldn’t rule out the possibility their daughter was romantically linked to Condit. The congressman’s aides have denied it. The Washington Post reports law enforcement sources say Condit told police she stayed the night at his Adams Morgan condo, but aides have denied that, too. In his second interview, Condit told cops he last spoke to Chandra on April 29.

Press reports say she was hurt that an unnamed friend in power had not intervened for her at the bureau. She is also said to have been upset over the breakup with a boyfriend she wouldn’t identify, but whom she told her mother looked a little like Harrison Ford. She reportedly wore a bracelet from a secret lover. The cops are trying to get a handle on her emotional state, going through e-mails and phone records and talking to more than 100 people. They reportedly are interviewing former Condit interns. Theories range from her being snatched off the street to committing suicide or running away.

Police have searched the nearby area of Rock Creek Park and alerted morgues nationwide to keep an eye out for unidentified Chandra look-alikes.

Cotchett, the Condit attorney, told CNN the real scandal is the number of young people who’ve gone missing in D.C.—five or six young women, including Chandra, near Dupont Circle alone. Citywide this year, 190 people over 19 and 253 under 19 are missing. Two years ago, Joyce Chiang, a former intern and INS attorney, disappeared in the early evening after going out for coffee not far from Levy’s apartment. Twelve days later, her clothing was found in Anacostia, across the river from D.C., and six weeks later, her decomposed body was discovered floating in the Potomac.

Chandra’s neighborhood has seen eight robberies since December, two of them at gunpoint. Police say a couple discovered fatally shot on Sunday was last seen leaving Lulu’s Mardi Gras Club, a place around the corner from Levy’s apartment billed as the nightspot where “Every day’s a party.” D.C. cops told The Washington Times they didn’t know whether there was a connection between this double murder and Levy’s disappearance, and said they could not investigate the killings since the only evidence was in Maryland.

Additional reporting: Sandra Bisin and Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson