Agnew's head absent from lineup in Capitol

April 08, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Set in niches along the ornate hallways and vast chambers of the U.S. Senate are white marble busts of the vice presidents -- from John Adams to Walter F. Mondale.

Everyone except Spiro T. Agnew.

Mr. Agnew, who resigned in disgrace in 1973 after pleading no contest to tax evasion, is the only former vice president missing from the gallery of carved figures, representing the men who toiled a heartbeat away from the chief executive. Even the bust of the most recent former vice president -- George Bush -- waits in storage for its pedestal.

Across from Mr. Mondale's bust is the visage of his predecessor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, on a brown marble stand next to the likeness of Gerald R. Ford, Mr. Agnew's successor. But on the other side of the tiled hallway rests the bust of Theodore Roosevelt. And next to the Mondale bust is an antique wooden clock.

The likeness of the former Maryland governor, the first vice president to resign under legal fire, is nowhere to be found on two floors of statuary decorating the place where vice presidents have served as presidents of the Senate.

In "The Capitol," a picture book published by the Government Printing Office, page after page shows marble busts. For Mr. Agnew's entry, there is a snapshot and the caption, "pending."

Under a Senate resolution passed in 1898, the architect of the Capitol or the chairman of Senate Rules Committee contacts the vice president -- or his family -- after he leaves office for the commission of a formal bust.

"I don't know what the reason is. I guess we're waiting for the family or the committee," said William F. Raines Jr., a spokesman for the architect of the Capitol, acknowledging that Mr. Agnew is the only one among the 43 former vice presidents whose bust has not been commissioned.

"It's generally handled by the architect's office," said Jim King, a spokesman for the Senate Rules Committee.

The subject of an Agnew bust "comes up from time to time, when something might happen on that," said Mr. Raines.

Architect of the Capitol George M. White said the staff or family of the last several vice presidents called his office to start the process.

"It's probably as much my neglect as theirs," said Mr. White, who blamed his lack of initiative on other chores at the Capitol.

Mr. Agnew, a businessman now living in Southern California, could not be reached for comment, but Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, believes the former vice president has been snubbed.

"He hasn't been treated fairly," said Mrs. Bentley, a former U.S. maritime commissioner. "He did step down, true, and he was under pressure. We need to look at the whole picture. Others who have been in that position have been under fire."

Not only under fire but fired upon. The nation's third vice president, Aaron Burr, was charged by New Jersey and New York for shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel but was never brought to trial. He was also tried for treason but acquitted.

Schuyler Colfax, vice president from 1869 to 1873, was implicated in a bribery scandal, but the House of Representatives declined to start impeachment proceedings.

Both men have marble busts, as does former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, whose bust was completed in 1965 -- long before Watergate.

Mr. White, the Capitol architect, denied that there was any deliberate effort to block the commissioning of an Agnew bust. "Not on my part, and I'm the one who's supposed to do it," he said.

When Mr. White was asked if he would contact the former vice president about a bust, he said, "Now that you mention it, I probably should."

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