July 14, 2002 - Dayton Daily News: RPCV Congressman Tony Hall prepares for a new chapter in a life of public service

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RPCV Congressman Tony Hall prepares for a new chapter in a life of public service

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Jul 14, 2002 - Dayton Daily News Author(s): Mei-Ling Hopgood Washington Bureau

Tony Hall prepares for a new chapter in a life of public service

The Day Opens Much like any day for the congressman. Even if it's not. Tony P. Hall wakes at 6:30 a.m. Feb. 12, with the sunlight breaking in grays through the windows of his Arlington, Va., home. The house is still quiet, and Hall reads from his leather-covered Bible in the small room he calls his chapel. He chooses a rather ordinary reading from the Book of Matthew, and prays for guidance in the extraordinary day ahead.

Hall is announcing the end of a nearly 24-year career representing the people of Montgomery County on Capitol Hill and is taking his crusade against hunger to a global stage.

He almost didn't get to this point. He hadn't planned to stay this long in Congress and had thought of leaving before, never more so than when his son, Matt, was dying of cancer and the weight was crushing him and his family.

But somehow, God willing, he is here.

And he's nervous.

Anxious, not for his meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office, where his nomination to a humanitarian post in Rome will be made official, but for his trip to Dayton, immediately afterward.

There, he will say he is giving up the job and the role that has defined him publicly for almost a quarter century. This may be the last time he will be the center of his hometown's attention. From now on he will be the sideshow in the battle to replace him.

But this day is his.

Today, the congressman goes home to say good-bye.

The human side of Tony Hall

The youngest son of Dayton's most flamboyant mayor, a football star, and a fledgling politician who was once said to be riding his father's coattails has become the area's longest-serving congressman and a three-time Nobel nominee known worldwide for his work against hunger.

Despite his senior statesman status, Hall, 60, can be remarkably approachable, unlike many of the polished politicians in the Capitol. He is a capable speaker - especially on the issues of hunger and human rights - but still has some rough edges. He calls this place "Warshington," can mix his tenses, and refers to his audience as "Youse guys."

In Congress, Hall has been guided by faith and family and often skipped glitzy Capitol Hill events to be home with his wife and kids. He works behind the scenes, but has protested in front of jewelry stores over conflict diamonds and gained notoriety by fasting to focus attention on the problem of hunger. He loves to go home to the Miami Valley and the celebrity he enjoys there.

"He's been distinctly authentic," said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican and Hall's best friend in the House. "He appears to be who he is and he is who appears to be."

At times, Hall's humanity can be disarming. He jokes about losing his hair or other foibles, and does magic tricks for children. He's intensely competitive, whether it be elections, golf or chess; he made sure movie star Ben Affleck knew he beat him in a push-up contest at a benefit last year.

And he still cries when he talks about Matt, who died six years ago of leukemia at age 15. For a time, Hall would see his son everywhere, and once was struck almost immobile by Matt's likeness in a dying child in Sudan.

Friends said they could sense the effect of Matt's death in Hall's compassion, his tears, the way he caressed a starving baby. The raw love and pain of a father who has lost a child.

Marvin Olinsky, former MetroParks director and a close friend of Hall, recalled a visit to Sierra Leone: "Tony bends down on one knee and begins to stroke the child's head and body, and I touched the child and it didn't even feel like a human being. It was nothing but skin. And to see the anguish in our congressman. I realized what a human being he was."

Like father, like son

Tony Hall entered politics in the shadow of his father, the famously emotional, off-the-cuff Dayton mayor who was quick with a quip or a curse word or a cry. Dave Hall, a Republican, was mayor for four years, well known for trying to negotiate peace during Dayton's riots while in his pajamas and bathrobe, then weeping on the street corner when he failed.

Dave and Ann Hall raised a close family with three athletic and competitive boys. Tony was the youngest. They chartered planes to be at Sam's swim matches and Mike's and Tony's football games. Mike became principal at a high school east of Cincinnati. Sam was a state legislator, and had two brushes with national fame: in 1960, when he won the Olympic silver medal in diving, and in 1987, when, as a self-proclaimed anti-Communist commando, he was captured in Nicaragua by the Sandinista government. He now lives in Florida, selling condominiums.

Tony was a tough and agile running back recruited by Ohio State University coach Woody Hayes. Unfortunately for Hall, Paul Warfield preceded him. Seeing he would be second fiddle to the future Cleveland Browns wide receiver and Hall of Famer, Hall transferred to Denison University, where the coach changed the offense to suit his style of play. Hall was voted Little All-American.

After college, Hall served in the Peace Corps in Thailand, and, when he came back home, local Democrats courted him. He was the ideal candidate: the son of a popular mayor, an athlete and a do- gooder.

As much as he wanted to be "free and easy" like his father, Tony Hall was different. He did inherit Dave Hall's ambition, his emotional nature and his sense of humor, but he was much more reserved. He also was only 26 and inexperienced - he listed Sigma Chi pledge trainer as a notable extra activity on a candidate questionnaire. His political opponent tried to portray him as the spoiled son of the mayor, and a fraternity boy deficient of intelligence.

Yet in 1968, Hall won the election to represent the 87th District in the Ohio House of Representatives. He joined a young, idealistic clan of legislators, including Tom Fries and Nick Zimmers from the Miami Valley, who had come of age when John F. Kennedy was president and were motivated by his call to service.

Hall specialized in mental health and tax reform issues. But these bachelor lawmakers from the Miami Valley were known more for their taste for parties and receptions than their legislative initiatives. They drank at the bar in the Sheraton in Columbus or the Pewter Mug in Dayton, chain smoked and dated beautiful women.

Hall was one of the more mellow in the bunch, according to friends, but his wife and press accounts from the time said his success in politics and football and his all-American good looks made him one of Dayton's most eligible bachelors.

He concluded one speech to a group of Dayton Power & Light employees by saying, "I see quite a few single girls in the audience. You know, I'm single so who's ready to go to lunch?"

Hall served in the Ohio House four years and in the state Senate for six. He met Janet Sue Dick, 24, a Nebraska native who was living in Chicago, at a Halloween party in Dayton. She was tall and attractive, and they hit it off immediately. His life fascinated her. She was smart and listened well to the good talker. Eventually Janet moved to Dayton to teach. And in 1973 they were married by a judge in a last-minute ceremony at Hall's home on St. Clair Street.

In 1974 he made an unsuccessful - though surprisingly close - run for Ohio Secretary of State against Ted Brown, a 24-year incumbent, the only election Hall would ever lose. Four years later, he won the right to succeed the popular U.S. Rep. Chuck Whalen Jr., a moderate Republican who had represented Ohio's 3rd District for 12 years. Hall packed up his wife and his daughter Jyl, then a toddler, and moved to Washington.

He was sworn into Congress on Jan. 3, 1979, 13 days before his 37th birthday.

Working the halls of power

While Hall prepares at home for his big day at the White House and in Dayton, his staff in the Longworth office building seems especially solemn as they pull together his schedule. Press Secretary Michael Gessel, who has worked for Hall for more than 20 years, lays out neat stacks of press releases detailing Hall's life, legislative accomplishments and his new job.

Signs of Hall's career and his passions are everywhere. Pictures of his family and Mother Teresa, a role model whom he met several times, adorn the room. A Delphi cap hangs on his coat rack. A baseball from Fifth Third Field, built in part with federal money he secured, sits on a shelf. Books on countries he has visited, Thailand, Croatia, Uganda, Egypt, are stacked on an end table.

On his roll-top desk - the one he likes to tell visitors belonged to Davy Crockett even though he acknowledges there is no real proof of this - lies a map of the new 3rd District, redrawn this year to include Clinton and Highland counties and part of Warren County as well as most of Montgomery. Hall hates the new shape. Republicans love it. With Hall's departure, they finally have a good shot at winning this seat.

The GOP has tried in vain to beat Hall. Critics attacked him for his foreign travel and for living in Washington. One opponent, Pete Davis in 1992, took pictures of Hall's 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom home in Arlington and put it on a television commercial.

Abortion-rights advocates have been dismayed by Hall's anti- abortion stand. When he first ran he was an abortion-rights candidate, but changed his mind after his conversion to a born- again Christian "because the scriptures talk about God knowing us before we were born." And some Hall proposals, if well-intentioned, have been controversial. His efforts to have Congress apologize for slavery unleashed a torrent of hate mail and calls from around the nation.

A July 8, 2000, letter-to-the-editor said: "If Tony Hall is going to apologize for anything, he should apologize to all the people of the Dayton area for impersonating a politician. He is off all over the world, vacationing on our money under the guise of hunger. Stick to Dayton issues. He could never hold a candle to his father."

Yet Hall - who says he came back to Dayton nearly every week for many years, and in recent times has returned about twice a month - has been re-elected fairly easily 11 times. Centerville physician Dave Westbrock said he had trouble garnering support even from Republicans when he challenged Hall in 1994 and 1996.

"People were just reticent to give too much support because they had a great respect for Tony Hall," he said.

Montgomery County Republican Chairman Jeff Jacobson said Hall generally had a liberal voting record, but his anti-abortion stance made it "immensely" difficult for Republicans to paint him as a partisan Democrat.

"He sort of morphed into a figure that was above and apart from politics to a large degree," Jacobson said.

Hall is sensitive to the perception that he pays more attention to Africa than Dayton. He started a hot lunch program for seniors in Dayton and, in 1986, began an "annual gleaning project" in Dayton. In polls taken for his campaigns, he monitored voter sentiments about his travel.

He also made sure to bring home the "pork."

Experience, relationships and 21 years on the House Rules Committee, his only committee assignment since the hunger committee went under, has given Hall behind-the-scenes leverage. The powerful nine-member rules panel controls which bills get considered on the House floor and the rules by which they will be considered. Any lawmaker who wants to pass a bill must appear before the committee, which gave Hall leverage, for instance, when it came to seeking money for Miami Valley or hunger projects.

Through the years, his office had a hand in getting millions for local projects; the new Schuster Performing Arts Center, the National Composites Center, dozens of projects at Wright-Patterson. Ten years ago, he and other Miami Valley legislators passed a bill to establish the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in a Congress that opposed new parks.

Hall carefully hired loyal employees - some of whom had worked for Whalen - who became experts in local issues and whose tenure surpasses most congressional offices. They have answered more than 125,000 constituent complaints and requests. Hall's good-bye is bittersweet for them, too.

Feb. 12 is all about Tony Hall, they insist. But months later, Gessel admits, "I feel a bit like a lost soul."

Congressman Hall finds his voice

It was 1980, his second year in Congress, when Tony Hall changed the course of his political and personal life.

He had reached the big leagues, professionally, and had a loving family, but he felt something was missing.

Hall began to explore religion. His parents had taken him and his brothers to Fairmont Presbyterian Church each week, but it was never a central part of their lives. (When Dave Hall was asked what church he preferred he responded, "red brick.")

Hall started visiting a different church each Sunday. He studied the Bible, read books and spoke to mentors about God and religion.

Friends would come over to visit, and Hall would start talking about Jesus. Janet would kick him under the table.

"What's wrong with you? We're going to lose all our friends" she warned. He tried to convert her, too. She refused, finding excuses - such as their baby son, Matt, was colicky - to avoid church.

But then Janet saw that her husband was trying to get home at night, rather than go to one more political function. He was paying attention to his family more and his ambition less. So she began to embrace faith.

A couple years later, a friend challenged Hall to bring faith into his work, but he was uncomfortable. He did not want to force his religious beliefs on anyone; nor did he want anyone to think it was an election device.

In 1984, Hall took a trip to Ethiopia, where he visited an orphanage and a doctor invited him outside.

"I have to go out and pick the kids that will live. Will you go out with me?" the doctor asked.

"As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I thought I had seen hunger before, but I truly was not prepared for what I saw there," Hall said during a recent speech at Denison University. "It was a nightmare of famine, misery, and death. Everywhere there were the children. Some were little more than tiny skeletons. I saw them lying in the dirt, too weak to brush off the flies. They stared at you with empty gazes. At one of the relief camps I visited, 100 people - mostly children - died in one day."

Hall cried on the flight home and thought about what his friend said: "It's time to bring God into your world."

That's how Tony Hall joined the crusade against world hunger and poverty.

Hunger has not been a glamorous or even high-profile cause by Capitol Hill standards. It has not gained him national political stature or power, and has left him open to the charges that he spends too much time and money traveling.

He has visited about 100 countries during his years in Congress, most of them Third World. His travels generally have been official House business, paid for by taxpayers. Since 1997 alone, Hall's trips to places such as Sudan, North Korea, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan have cost more than $114,000, not including the cost of his aides' travel.

Hall says his travels have yielded results. He has secured additional aid for relief programs in foreign countries. He co- founded and chaired the now defunct House Select Committee on Hunger, and co-chairs its successor, the Congressional Hunger Center. He has organized food drives and fund-raisers in Dayton and Washington. He convinced Congress to give $38 million to developing countries for vitamin A programs. He passed provisions of a bill that made the U.S. Department of Agriculture help communities with their gleaning programs.

Hall's work with the poor ultimately has earned him three Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

"It's not so much the things he's done, it's the things he tries to do," said his friend Tom Fries, a political consultant who served in the state legislature with Hall. " 'I want to feed the world.' That is an amazing undertaking. And I think he thinks he can do it."

The hunger initiatives, his participation in prayer groups and the National Prayer Breakfast, his proposed slavery apology, his leadership on Bush's faith-based initiative, all of it comes back to faith and reconciliation.

"I see God's hand in his work," said his daughter, Jyl Hall. "I don't think he does the things he does because he's an exceptional human being. I think he does it because of his faith in God."

Bush: We're working on some things for you

After Hall was elected to his 12th term in 2000, he told his wife he was not going to run again.

"We'll see," she said. She'd heard this many times before.

In January 2001, after President Bush told the nation he wanted Democrats in his administration, some of Hall's Republican friends started calling Bush's top aides.

Before the new president's first speech to Congress, he paraded down the middle of the aisle of the House, stopped near Hall, leaned close and said, "We're working on some things for you."

In the months that followed, several jobs came up, including ambassadorships to Cambodia, Fiji and Burma and the U.N. food and agriculture agencies. None seemed influential enough, or to fit with what Hall was looking for.

In June, Hall became interested in running the U.N. World Food Program, and for weeks, it looked as if Bush was ready to nominate him as a candidate for the post. Then suddenly, Bush's staff stopped talking about the job.

Hall was disappointed. But White House officials once again pitched the job as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food and agricultural agencies in Rome. And this time, post 9-11, the idea of working for the United States abroad seemed more appealing to Tony and Janet Hall.

Hall and Bush's top staffers haggled over the job description, even the statement Bush was to release on Hall, and never did.

Hall kept his dealings quiet. He wanted to keep his options open. Even last January, aides were predicting he would seek re-election. On his 60th birthday, Jan. 16, Hall held his first fund-raiser of the campaign year.

News of his appointment began to leak into the media soon after. By the time Hall made it official, his departure was expected.

But still, friends, some observers and potential opponents wouldn't believe it until he said it himself.

Matt Hall loses leukemia fight

Family's fight against leukemia

Hall came closest to leaving Congress when Matt got sick.

An oversized picture of Matt hangs in the hallway of the family's home. He has his father's nose, and his mother's dark eyes and facial structure. The photo is cropped and enlarged to focus only on the boy's fresh, freckled face and his big smile.

Many people loved Matt Hall, who was born a day after Tony was re- elected in 1980.

Family. Friends. Girls. Matt was a charmer who could smooth talk his way into your heart and out of trouble. He was an athlete, an agile soccer player and a skateboarder who could flawlessly maneuver the half-pipe. He was kind and often stopped to give change to beggars.

In November 1992, right around his 12th birthday, Matt complained of a pain in his shoulder after a football game. The pain returned once a month, once a week, then every day. Then fevers flared, and he became easily tired. When Tony and Janet Hall picked up Matt from camp, the boy who always ran had to be carried to the car on his father's back.

Doctor after doctor could not explain it. One specialist said it might be juvenile arthritis. Another diagnosed Lyme disease. A group of doctors came to lobby Hall on a new method to detect disease, and Hall told them about Matt's problems. They suggested he go to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

A hematologist there saw the deformed cells in the boy's blood.

Matt had leukemia.

Matt was treated at the National Institutes of Health hospital and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Janet and Tony Hall took turns sleeping at the hospital with him. They and their daughter watched doctors pump gallons of poison into Matt's veins, trying to kill the cancer with chemotherapy. He grew thin, lost his thick mop of hair, threw up blood and writhed in pain.

But even when Matt was sallow and bald, adoring girls called him. And he remained the fun-loving son and brother. Go out with your friends, he told his mother. He scolded his sister for rebelling against their parents. Matt and his roommate would bunch up socks to bomb his dad if the congressman started snoring in the hospital room. Matt learned to pull rubber hospital gloves over his head and fill them with breath until they squirted into the air.

Matt was the strength of the family, even if, privately, he told his buddies he knew he was going to die.

Hall tried to be a dutiful congressman during those four, tough years, but the days passed like a fog. He cried often, but tried to act normal during his elections and when meeting with constituents.

He considered quitting. But someone had to pay the bills - and Hall needed something else to focus on.

During one of Matt's better times, in April 1993, Hall with his family's approval staged his famous hunger strike to protest the dissolution of the House Select Committee on Hunger. He fasted 22 days, losing 20 pounds and drawing national attention to the cause of world hunger. In the end, the committee still was abolished, but a national hunger conference and the Congressional Hunger Center were born, and the World Bank announced an anti-hunger initiative. Hall said he found a closer connection to God.

In the years that followed, Matt would get very ill, then suddenly recover. Doctors called him a miracle kid.

But on July 11, 1996, he suffered severe seizures and his parents rushed him to the hospital. The next morning, Matt Hall, 15, died with his family by his side.

Hall threw himself into his work.

"I have heard him talk a number of times about going on some of these trips, seeing a hungry child and seeing Matt," said Max Finberg, a friend and staff member of nine years. "What it did for him is really bring (his mission) home in a way that nothing else could have."

End of an era

The Oval Office visit at 10 a.m. Feb. 12 is short and informal. President Bush thanks Hall for taking the job, and asks him to show the world how compassionate Americans are. They talk about their families and the art in the room. They pose for pictures and shake hands.

Hall stops outside the West Wing for a short press conference.

"Sir, 12 months ago Karl Rove knew that your district was competitive and he had a better chance of picking up that seat if you left it," says one reporter. "Don't you think you've been used by the Republicans?"

Hall bristles slightly.

"No I don't. I think I am serving my government in a way which is different and in a way that is noble."

He emphasizes that he decided 12 months ago to leave Congress, before redistricting, before Bush even started trying to find him a job. He insists the Democrats have not lost the district yet.

Some Democrats are not pleased, and privately have suggested they feel betrayed by Hall's decision to leave Congress at a crucial time for the party. The Dems are fighting to win back the majority in the House, and they need only six Republican seats to do that. They do not want to lose a seat they already hold.

Hall was widely believed to be able to keep the seat in the redrawn district, even though he would have had a tough race against former Dayton Mayor Mike Turner. When Democratic colleagues heard he might leave, they cornered him on the House floor, reminding him that, should the party take the House, he might be in line to chair the Rules Committee.

But Hall never wanted that kind of power, and the politics it entails.

"It's not a good reason to stay - just because I could win the seat," he said. "I feel that I've put enough time in. I'm not there to make the Democrats happy."

As scared or anxious as Hall may be about giving up the job he knows so well, he is excited about the idea of something new. He and his wife are headed to Rome for about three years - depending on how long the president wants him there - to work full-time on the cause he loves. No more of that awful fund-raising or campaigning or petty politics.

Yet the nostalgia of the moment is not lost on him. As when his dad finished up as Dayton's mayor, and his predecessor, Charles Whalen, left Congress, this, too, is the end of an era.

His era.

Going to Dayton to say `good-bye'

Hall's U.S. Airways flight touches down at Dayton International Airport at 2 p.m. Feb. 12.

Rick Carne, his chief of staff, drives Hall downtown to the Federal Building. Hall quickly takes the podium before the TV cameras. He does his characteristic warm-up - a shrug of the shoulders and slight twitch of the head - and begins.

"Well, I guess this is nobody's surprise that I have announced officially that I won't be running for re-election and I just wanted to say that this is the best, I think, political job in the country, being a U.S. congressman," he says.

"It is hard to leave the people who have supported me, the people who have been very good to me. I know though, there's nothing more 'ex' than an ex-congressman. And I hope they don't forget about me. But I'm sure after awhile they will. But I won't forget about them."

Hall talks about the new district, and the tedious Senate confirmation process. As he so often does, he takes the opportunity to point out the plight of the hungry, reciting the statistics he has recited so many times: 25 million in the U.S. who are hungry; one billion people starving; 25,000 to 30,000 people dying of starvation in the world.

But then it is time to go.

"Don't forget me," he repeats, throwing his hands in the air.

"But I know you are," Hall says, mixing the present and the future, knowing that moment has come and is slipping quickly away. He politely thanks the media.

Then the congressman walks briskly out the door, blinking back the tears in his eyes.


Tony Hall has not looked back since his Feb. 12 announcement, though he still awaits Senate confirmation as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations food and agricultural agencies in Rome. He hopes to be confirmed before Congress' August recess, if not before.

Meanwhile, he has taken more than 100 hours of Italian. He and Janet have been briefed by the State Department on the life of an ambassador. They will live in a home more than 1,000 years old, decorated with art they will borrow art from the Dayton Art Institute.

To replace him, Hall has endorsed Rick Carne, who stepped down as his chief of staff to run against former Dayton Mayor Mike Turner. At a Carne fund-raiser in Washington, Hall was all grins and reveled in the fact that "I can eat, and I don't have t o talk to anyone."

What comes after Italy?

Hall has said he is done with the House, and wants to work on hunger relief the rest of his life. But he does not rule out any political involvement.

"He doesn't remember the bad stuff," Janet Hall said. "I think it's just going to depend on how much he misses it. He says he's not going to miss this and that. We'll see."

Hall has been honored in various farewell ceremonies in Washington and the Miami Valley. The Dayton business community recently made a $33,000 donation to the House of Bread in his honor.

" Arrivederci," he told an audience of anti-hunger and anti- poverty activists, Congress members and staff who gathered for a farewell hosted by the Congressional Hunger Center.

"As they say, all roads lead to Rome."

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