John Feehery: Speaking Engagements



Posted on March 11, 2010
I always liked David Bonior.  Sure, he was a left-wing, pro-labor, hard-core Democrat, who opposed much of what my personal world-view may be.

But he had integrity.  He was pro-life Democrat, which takes a lot of courage.  And you could tell he really cared about people.

My former boss, Speaker Denny Hastert, liked Bonior too.  He was somebody in the opposition’s leadership who would always give the Speaker the straight scoop.

So, when he and his wife invited my wife and I to dinner at their new restaurant on Capitol Hill’s Barrack’s Row, I was happy to accept.  Bonior is the major investor, and his son and daughter-in-law, who have long experience in the restaurant business, actually run it.

Called “Zest”, the restaurant is just about what you would expect from somebody like David Bonior.  It serves good, American food at great American prices.  It’s not particularly flashy, but it is very comfortable, nicely lit, with a good vibe to it.

There is a bar towards the front of the restaurant with a nice-sized big screen television, which I am fairly certain will have ESPN on it all day.

Bonior, as anybody in Congress knows, is a sports fanatic.  When he served in the House, he was a mainstay for the Democrats baseball team.  He played football at the University of Iowa, and has had three back surgeries to prove that he played hard.

During dinner, he told the story about how the priests at his high school extolled the virtues of his debating skills, neatly overlooking the fact that David didn’t debate in high school.  He competed on the athletic field and was a big-time sports star.  But his sports exploits were largely ignored in the school’s Hall of Fame.  As David himself pointed out, kids don’t need inspiration to play more sports.  They need inspiration to become doctors and lawyers and political leaders.  So, the priests doctored his high school career a bit, and he became an inspiration to all the debaters who passed through the doors of his school.

In fact, when Bonior first came to Congress, he had a legislative assistant who was dedicated to sports.  The Bonior Sports L.A. should not be confused in any way with the famous Sports Club L.A.

The food is very tasty.  For appetizers, we all shared an order of the chicken pockets and an order of calamari.  The calamari was grilled, done without breading, and seasoned with lemon.  The chicken pockets were my favorite (naturally), but the squid was very good.

I had the mixed green salad, which was a healthy portion, but I eyed with some envy my wife’s beet salad.  She didn’t share.

For dinner, I had the salmon, which came served atop an outstanding spinach risotto.  Very, very tasty.   My wife had one of their signature dishes, the cod, and that too looked very good.

We talked mostly about raising kids on Capitol Hill, about how they met (in college, and then, after a while, on the Hill), how we met (The Dubliner), about the troubled economies of Michigan and Illinois, and the decline of manufacturing in the country.

It was a very pleasant discussion and a very pleasant evening.

Bonior has had a run of bad luck in politics.  He left the Congress a couple years before the Democrats took back the House, because he wanted to pursue his dream of being Michigan Governor.  He lost in the primary to Jennifer Granholm.  He then picked the wrong horse in the race for President, beguiled by the populist message of John Edwards.  Many thought he would be picked for Labor Secretary (including me), but he told me that he didn’t want the job.   Too many grandkids, and too many other things to do.

But whatever bad luck has followed him in politics didn’t follow him in the restaurant business.  “Zest” shows Bonior’s zest for life, and that is a great tribute to him, no matter what his politics.

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