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Working for Grandma Waters on Capitol Hill

Mikael Moore is the congresswoman's chief of staff, and her grandson. His family ties were kept relatively quiet until the ethics investigation into the Democratic lawmaker.

August 12, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Many people who encounter Mikael Moore, the chief of staff for Rep. Maxine Waters, see a typical Capitol Hill aide: a young, serious, BlackBerry-toting workaholic in a business suit with an intense belief in the importance of his work.

If they know he is also Waters' grandson, making him a rarity in Congress, it is not because he talks about it much, if at all.

Colleagues say Moore rarely offers information about his family connection, and that they have instead come to know him as a talented, politically gifted peer who has brought order to a sometimes tangled office and quickly grasped the intricacies of Washington.

Moore's family ties to the powerful Los Angeles Democrat became better known last week when the House Ethics Committee noted their relationship in charging Waters with ethics violations for her work on behalf of a minority-owned bank during the 2008 financial crisis. He was not accused of any wrongdoing.

Many young staffers rise quickly to positions of power here, making it not uncommon to have 25-year-olds fielding press calls or writing legislation for members of Congress.

But even at 32, Moore is a young chief of staff. It is a position he sought after coming to work for his grandmother, whom he refers to only as Congresswoman, after graduating from Morehouse College in 2004.

Family ties are not uncommon in Washington — note the Bushes, the Kennedys — and though Congress has nepotism rules against hiring most siblings and spouses, grandchildren are excluded.

Moore is the son of Edward Waters, one of the congresswoman's two children, both of whom were noted in a 2004 Los Angeles Times story about money the family has made by doing business with companies and candidates the congresswoman has helped.

Moore's parents never married, yet both played a role in raising him, and he remained close to his grandmother.

As a young child he moved around. His mother, Michelle Moore, is a retired air traffic controller who took assignments in various cities before settling in the Seattle area. Mikael Moore became a high school basketball star. The Seattle Times called him "a whirling, slashing penetrator" for the Ingraham Rams.

But it was in the coffee shops and poetry readings in mid-1990s Seattle that the teenage Moore seems to have articulated the deep political philosophy, rooted in positive black history, that sent him to the halls of Congress — and the office of his grandmother.

Carl Mack, the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Seattle, saw a rare talent early in Moore, and suggested the teen join him to speak to prison inmates in the Pacific Northwest.

"I told him, 'I got a hard audience for you to go to give your message of hope,' " said Mack, who is now the executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers. "He became the star of the show."

"If ever anyone is doing what he is born to do, he is," Mack said. "If ever you want to talk about a positive young man, it is him."

After assisting at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Moore began working in Waters' Capitol Hill office the way most young staffers do — answering phones. He earned $16,000 that year.

Waters had been without a chief of staff for several years, and in 2007 Moore presented the congresswoman with a binder full of reasons why he should get the job. After a months-long conversation, he did.

His colleagues in Washington, many of whom asked not to be named because of Waters' ongoing ethics investigation, say Moore is able to hold his own with the fiery congresswoman in a way that others might not. He earned $129,000 last year.

"He's top-notch," said Paul Brathwaite, a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus and now a lobbyist at the Podesta Group. "He's the kind of person we want to encourage to be in public service."

The ethics investigation has clearly weighed on Moore, whose friends worry about the fallout on his burgeoning career.

Instead of appearing in feature stories, including one from BET.com that included him on the list of "Hottest Blacks Working on Capitol Hill," his name is linked to the ethics case.

The Ethics Committee report said that Moore, in his capacity as chief of staff, worked to help OneUnited Bank, one of the nation's largest black-owned banks, whose executives had asked the congresswoman to intervene on behalf of minority banks seeking Treasury Department aid during the 2008 financial crisis.

The committee says there is an ethics violation because the congresswoman's husband had once served on the bank board and still owned stock in the company — stock that the report claims would be worthless if the bank had collapsed.

Waters has said she did nothing wrong — she is a longtime champion of minority banks — and is pressing for a full hearing to air the case.

The committee's jurisdiction is over lawmakers, and it suggests that the congresswoman should have told her staff not to continue activities for the bank once she understood there to be a potential conflict of interest.

Moore's mother has been staying with him at his Capitol Hill home for the last month, and he recently bought a bicycle so he can relieve stress by riding the neighborhoods at night — after his long days at the office.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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