What Foley Took From The Page Program

Page Jason Bellini with then U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) in front of the U.S. Capitol in 1992.
CBS/Jason Bellini
Jason Bellini is a CBS News correspondent and a news anchor for the Logo network.

In 1992, I was a 16-year-old, junior in high school. I was appointed as a Democratic page for the spring semester.

To go to Washington as a House or Senate page is to be adopted, for five months, by the U.S. Congress.

They feed you three meals a day in the Congressional cafeterias.

They make sure you're in your room at bedtime.

They give you an allowance – around $1100 a month when I was a page in 1992.

The House Clerk and Senate Sergeant At Arms offices play the role of your parents. You answer to them if you get into trouble or your grades in school drop.

The Capitol Police protect you.

I felt like one of the luckiest kids in the country.

Today I still feel that way. What most angers me about Mark Foley's behavior is the violation of trust that, if the program survives, will take years to repair.

Parents of pages trust Congress to protect their children. Pages trust that when the senators and congressman they serve take an interest in them, they do so because they see future potential.

It was flattering, never frightening, to have a senator talk to you in the cloakroom, invite you to lunch, which was not uncommon, and call you by your first time. Now I imagine senators and congressman will think twice before being friendly towards pages, out of fear of being seen as too friendly.

My year, Sen. Robert Byrd invited pages to ice cream parties in his Capitol office. Sen. Joseph Biden, on several occasions, filibustered on our behalf to keep the Senate in session past 10 p.m., so we wouldn't have to go to school the next day.

Without the interaction and proximity to people in power, there would hardly be a point to the page program.

The page program doesn't offer ideal academic experience. Getting up at 5:30 AM, you only get a few bleary-eyed hours in class at the page school. The errands you run aren't interesting in and of themselves.

What makes the page program worthwhile is the access — fantastic access — to the fascinating, exclusive world within the closed-off confines of the Capitol.
Jason Bellini