Soaking Up Atmosphere as a Congressional Page

Like many teen-agers, Ronnie Hawkins of Westchester spends his days shuttling between school, work and friends. But that's where the similarity ends.

Hawkins takes his classes these days in the U.S. Library of Congress. Work means donning a strict uniform--Navy blazer, white shirt, maroon tie, gray slacks and dress shoes--trudging up the steps of the nation's Capitol, and racing messages among such political luminaries as House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neil Jr. (D-Mass.) and various representatives and senators. Instead of hanging out at the local mall, Hawkins and his friends spend Saturdays at places like the Lincoln Memorial. Talk ranges from the latest episode of Dynasty to fevered debates on the day's legislation.

That's because, unlike his friends back home, Hawkins is one of 66 youths selected yearly to be congressional pages.

"The weather's been pretty lousy, but overall it's been pretty exciting," the 16-year-old said of the hectic existence he has led since landing in the capital three weeks ago.

Hawkins, who was nominated by Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Culver City) for the post after being recommended by his counselor at Westchester High School, said he has always been interested in the mechanics of politics and would like to work for the diplomatic corps as a cultural attache someday.

"This (the page job) was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said in a phone interview. "I've never been to Washington, and just soaking up the atmosphere here has been great. It's really a privilege to work on the House floor."

Attending Page School in the Library of Congress, living in Page Residence Hall two blocks from the Capitol, and taking historical outings with other pages on weekends, Hawkins has found himself immersed in the day-to-day workings of government--an experience that he relishes.

"You get to see all the leaders of government--you know, observe the seat of power first hand," he said. "It really makes you feel like you're in the center of things--where it's all happening."

And visiting monuments and museums has been more exciting than he had expected, "because you really feel the presence of great people when you look at things like the Jefferson Memorial or the Vietnam Memorial."

So far, he said, the highlight of his page career--which will end in June--has been the recent State of the Union address.

"I couldn't believe it. We were right out there on the floor. We even got a wave from the President," he said. " That was exciting."

But being a page isn't all glamour and glitz. There is a down side.

"I just hate flags," he said.

"Flags," he explained, is page shorthand for the tedious job of packing flags to be shipped home to constituents.

"People call up and they want a flag that's been flown over the Capitol," he said. "So somebody runs them up the flagpole for about two seconds, takes them down and sends them to the flag room. We don't get to fly them or anything. We just send them off. It gets pretty boring."

Hawkins said that between school, which starts at 6:45 a.m., and work, which generally lasts until 5 p.m., he hasn't had much time to get homesick.

"Every now and then, when I get a spare minute, I stare at the ceiling and think about how nice it would be to go to the McDonald's down the street back home," he admitted, "but I don't get many spare moments, so it doesn't happen to often." No Insurance for Girlfriends

Hermosa Beach is the kind of tight-knit, budget-conscious town where officials can't even donate a surplus paramedic vehicle to their Mexican sister city without drawing fire from political gadflys.

So perhaps it's not surprising that a flap arose recently when Councilman Jack Wood placed his girlfriend on the city's insurance rolls.

Wood, a vocal supporter of free enterprise, said his action was "strictly a business transaction." The city bore no financial burden, Wood emphasized, since he paid the premium himself. Besides, he added, "I assume the insurance company was making a profit, therefore I contributed to their profit."

Unfortunately for the councilman, the city's insurance carrier provides coverage for spouses and dependents only.

And when newspaper reporters were recently tipped off to the situation and asked city personnel administrator Carolyn Smith for information, an inquiry ensued.

"We checked with our insurance companies to see if there was any way of covering 'significant others' or whatever, and they said 'no,' " Smith said. "So at this point, we're sending out a notice to Mr. Wood and all employees notifying them of the policy."

Wood said last week that he was surprised by the city's action, because he had initially been given clearance by a city employee to include his girlfriend. (He refused to name the employee, saying, "Take my word or call me a liar.")

Wood, however, added that he was not particularly surprised that the practice came to light, since Hermosa serves as domicile for several government critics who like to throw their weight around on public matters.

Wood--who critics claim is also not bashful about throwing his weight around--maintained that he is not concerned about the issue.

"There are a number of people with an ax to grind against me and they chose to release personnel information to the press in an attempt to discredit me," he said. "I don't know that that's a big deal; that kind of stuff doesn't surprise me."

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