Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek leverages cigars and politics
From the Print Edition:
Armand Assante, Mar/Apr 2008
At the orientation for new members of the U.S. House of Representatives elected in 2002, rookie representatives got up and introduced themselves. They told of their accomplishments. They related their credentials. When his turn came, the man sent to Capitol Hill by Florida's 17th congressional district was a bit more succinct.
"I stood up and said, 'My name's Kendrick Meek, and I'm a Virgo,' and I sat down." The comment was met largely with silent puzzlement. "I'm a jokester," Meek explains, "I love to try to be funny every now and then."
The 41-year-old Democratic congressman was simply following advice his mother had given him. "My mom told me the first rule of politics is 'be yourself.'"
Meek's mother, Carrie P. Meek, is a political icon in Florida who served 10 years in the House. When she announced her retirement in 2002, Kendrick B. Meek announced his intention to run for the seat. He was unopposed. For Meek, who grew up in Miami, being himself also means not running away for the sake of political expediency.
"I'm not one of these people who hide that I smoke cigars," Meek shares over lunch at Smith & Wollensky in Miami Beach, even though he admits he might be criticized for smoking cigars. "The thing about America is that everyone has an opinion. What I do personally is a different situation. When I get free time, I like to enjoy a nice cigar."
Meek has also used cigars as a sort of diplomatic and political currency. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and also the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He has been known to hand out cigars to fellow members of Congress and staff members who might enjoy them. Meek even hosts an annual cigar party to bring people together.
"It's a social event. People get to know one another and share great cigars," Meek explains, adding that the next one will likely not be held in the Capitol.
One of the first moves by the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, after the Democrats won a majority in 2006, was to ban smoking near the House floor. Members can still smoke in their offices and Congressman Meek has been known to offer that opportunity, along with fine Scotch, to special visitors.
"I personally like to smoke on the western balcony of the Capitol, the one that looks out at the Washington Monument, if it's warm enough outside," Meek says. "Sometimes you have to go on a walkabout in the middle of the day and think about policy."
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Meek has traveled to distant parts of the world in which the United States is represented by the military. He has presented boxes of Padrón cigars, his favorite, to various luminaries and military commanders, including the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, U.S. Gen. David H. Petraeus. Toward the end of 2007, Meek found himself on the balcony of his room at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, enjoying a Padrón 1926 Serie 80 Years. He calls it his most recent favorite cigar experience.
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