Former Rep. Wayne Hays, one of the most hated and feared men in Congress whose 28-year career in the House was derailed by an affair with a staff member hired to serve only as his mistress, died Friday. He was 77.
Hays died in the emergency room of Wheeling Hospital about 3 p.m. EST, apparently of heart failure, nursing supervisor Linda Crook said. The Wheeling News Register said Hays had visited a heart specialist in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday for tests.Hays, an Ohio Democrat, was former chairman of the House Administration Committee, the panel that controlled the perquisites on Capitol Hill and could make life miserable or pleasant for House members.
Described as "the Archie Bunker of Capitol Hill," Hays took delight in settling personal scores with members who crossed him, and he won little sympathy when his career was shattered in 1976 by news that he was having an affair with Elizabeth Ray.
Ray, 33 at the time, had been hired as a clerk in Hays' office but actually was paid $14,000 a year for two years to serve solely as the congressman's mistress. She later admitted, "I can't type. I can't file. I can't even answer the phone."
Hays was renominated in a primary election right after the scandal broke, but soon afterward took an overdose of sleeping pills and nearly died.
The House Ethics Committee began an investigation into Hays' possible misuse of government funds, prompting the congressman to give up his committee chairmanship. In September 1976 he resigned from Congress, and the Ethics Committee probe was dropped.
Hays, born May 13, 1911, returned to his 160-acre cattle and horse farm near Belmont, near the Ohio River. Living with his new wife, Pat, he served on the board of the Citizens National Bank in nearby St. Clairsville.
Though he left politics for a while, politics never left him. He threatened to run for Congress again. He threatened to run for governor.
In 1978 Hays ran for the Ohio House, where he had already served in the 1940s on his way to Washington. He won the 99th District seat at age 67 and returned to Columbus, mainly as a curiosity.
During his two-year term, Hays was a model of exemplary behavior. He shunned the nightlife and kept an apartment with his wife. He helped write energy and consumer legislation and battled electric utilities, which he accused of "ripping us off."
He held young lawmakers spellbound with political yarns and was carefully observed for signs of a budding power grab. But Hays apparently was content to have committee input and respond to his constituent requests, which were considerable.