Sen. Durbin staffer Kathleen Rooney fired for writing a too-revealing book
There's a reason people get nervous around writers: You never know what might end up in their books.
Kathleen Rooney, a staffer for Sen. Dick Durbin, was fired earlier this month after the release of her latest book, "For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs." The autobiographical essays include three chapters about working in a Senate office: insider gossip, staff secrets and a complicated flirtation between the author and her boss, Durbin's state director in Illinois.
Rooney, 29, has always blended politics and writing. She started as a summer intern in the Democratic senator's Chicago office in 1999, worked two more summers, then returned full time as a Senate aide in 2007. Along the way, the GW grad published four other books: "Reading With Oprah," two collections of poetry and a memoir about working as an artist's model.
"One of the things I loved about my 11-year involvement with Senator Durbin's office was the way, right up until I was fired, that I was supported and encouraged in the mixing of those two pursuits," she told us Wednesday. The only rule: never to use Durbin's name to promote her writing.
The prose hit the fan after Joe Shoemaker, Durbin's spokesman, saw a short review of the essay collection last month in The Washington Post and bought the book.
"She was a low-level staffer who wasn't paid very much," he told us. "She was trying to make a name for herself in literary circles. The office wasn't going to stand in her way in furthering her career as long as she was able to do her job for us." He knew about an upcoming novel, but said he had no idea about the essays.
Although no one was named, Shoemaker was disturbed that she had written about the office and especially concerned about the relationship between Rooney and her supervisor: "Once upon a time there was a girl in unrequitable (but not unrequited) love with her boss," she wrote. "He would place his hand at the base of her neck, or flick her earring, or twist a strand of her hair..."
"We were worried we had a state director who may have been harassing female employees," said Shoemaker. Durbin sent a team to Chicago to investigate; after interviewing female and male staffers, the team concluded there was no climate of harassment, just a charged dynamic between the author and her boss. She had no interest in filing a complaint, but the state director was transferred to a job where he could not supervise any employees.
The probe also revealed that Rooney spent office time on her writing: taking notes, gathering material and rushing through her other duties to work on her books -- on the taxpayers' dime. She was asked to give a detailed account of her book earnings, and was found to have violated Senate Rule 37, which prohibits any Senate employee from personally profiting from her or his job. The rule was created to prevent lobbyists from bribing staffers, but any amount earned is forbidden. (Rooney was paid a $4,000 advance from her publisher.) Another concern: Unlike other Senate authors, Rooney did not seek official permission from Durbin's office or from the Senate Ethics Committee to write the book of essays.
"Personnel matters are always tough," Shoemaker said. "But I feel our office acted responsibly."
Rooney lost her job on Feb. 5, as first reported by Washington Wire. "They said, ultimately, I had used my position as Senate staffer for gain -- which, technically, I suppose is true. I think I got fired because the one essay concerned and embarrassed them and they wanted to get rid of me as quickly as possible."
She admits that she did research for her book during office hours, but that her job with Durbin was never a writer's stunt: "I worked very seriously and very hard." She said her colleagues appeared to be okay with her writing, and that she never realized she required a waiver, or she would have asked.
And -- if you even have to ask -- Rooney's upcoming novel will include fodder from the past few months. "Of course," she said.
The Reliable Source
February 18, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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