Husband-wife aides to Byron take stock of their post-election future

August 23, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- Life changes tomorrow for the husband-wife team of R. Douglas and Paula M. Mathias.

The two have spent much of their married life working together, first for U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland and then for U.S. Rep. Beverly B. Byron, D-6th.

Tomorrow -- because the voters were in an anti-incumbent mood in March -- Mrs. Mathias will commute to Baltimore to a new job as a benefits counselor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs instead of heading toward Mrs. Byron's office as she's done for the last 11 years.

"If I had a choice, I'd still be working for Bev Byron," she said.

But Mrs. Byron, 60, a 14-year incumbent, lost in the primary and will be leaving Congress in January. Her office here will close Aug. 31.

In a democratic system, employees of elected officials take their chances, said Mr. Mathias, 40.

He will continue to work for Mrs. Byron in her Frederick and Washington offices as projects director and district coordinator until her successor takes over. Since 1983, he has traveled throughout the district to represent Mrs. Byron at municipal meetings and other events.

State Del. Thomas H. Hattery, D-Frederick, defeated Mrs. Byron by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent in the March 3 primary.

Mr. Hattery faces Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett, a retired researcher and homebuilder from Frederick, in the November election.

Mrs. Mathias, 35, has managed Mrs. Byron's office here since it opened in 1981. She also handled constituents' complaints and questions in the seven-county district.

People came to the cramped two-room office at 6 N. Court St. with problems concerning Social Security and veterans' benefits, and questions about immigration and workers' compensation.

"You get them through the red tape," Mrs. Mathias said of the visitors.

The office served constituents in Carroll and Howard counties and handled about 3,000 inquires annually.

"In many offices, it's difficult for a husband-wife team to work together," said Mrs. Byron. But Mr. and Mrs. Mathias "complement" each other, she said.

"We do different jobs, but it is a team process in the office," Mr. Mathias said.

The couple put in long days together during congressional recesses when Mrs. Byron would travel the district, often making as many as 18 stops a day.

"We were absolutely exhausted," Mr. Mathias said.

"It was fun, though," his wife added.

The couple's years of experience as staffers for a senator and then a representative have given them intricate knowledge of how the U.S. government works.

"We were kind of a one-stop shop" for people with government problems or questions, Mr. Mathias said.

"I have been very fortunate to have an outstanding staff that has met the needs of my constituents more than 100 percent," Mrs. Byron said.

She feels that having staff members stay with her for years, as the Mathiases did, has helped her constituents.

"Continuity is something that's very important for individuals when they call with a problem," Mrs. Byron said.

The Mathiases met in 1977 when he was a statewide representative for Mr. Sarbanes and she was a college senior interning in the senator's Washington office.

They started talking one day while she answered phones during a staff meeting.

They were married about two years later, the same year she became a full-time staffer for Mr. Sarbanes.

The couple lives in Westminster, where Mr. Mathias' family has a history of public service.

His grandfather, Joseph L. Mathias Sr., was the city's mayor for 21 years and a council member for another 20 years. His father, F. Kale Mathias, was active in the community, especially at Carroll County General Hospital and Western Maryland College. He also was a council member.

Mrs. Mathias is a Baltimore native and is the first -- and only, she says with a smile -- member of her family to be involved in government work.

Mr. Mathias isn't sure yet what he'll do in January, but would consider another government job or one in business.

He worked in the family business, Mathias Monuments on Main Street, before going to work for Mr. Sarbanes.

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