The Nation: That Other White House Woman

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

The relationship between the diminutive, breezy Midge, with her penchant for salty language, and the straitlaced President is light and easy. As Carter greeted her with a hug and kiss at one group meeting, Costanza cracked, "Well, now you all know what I do in the White House." Says a veteran Carter hand: "Midge puts a little fun in his day—and he needs it." Some feel that her joshing comes on a bit too strong. But, notes an associate, "a more serious woman would be too threatening to them." "Them" refers to the Georgia Mafia led by Hamilton Jordan and Powell. Midge insists that they do not close her out of the action: "The only place they don't invite me is to the men's room." She is more a conduit and an expediter than a policymaker, but sometimes she can see direct results; for example, the President increased day-care provisions in the welfare package after she relayed to him the concerns of the "women's coalition."

Daughter of immigrants from Palermo, Costanza began her career as a switchboard operator. Over 24 years, she rose to executive assistant to a Rochester entrepreneur, and carried out a parallel career in city and state politics. For Vice Mayor Midge (she uses her formal name, Margaret, only on voting machines), politics led to an acquaintanceship with Carter—and, ultimately, her present job. Never married, Costanza lives alone in a Foggy Bottom condominium and devotes virtually all of her waking hours to the job. (The man in her life died last year.)

After the day's appointments are over, she sits on the floor of her cluttered office next door to the President's private study, and deals with the flood of letters stacked on every horizontal surface, reading and making notes until about midnight. "In the Nixon years," she says, "this office was a p.r. tool. People who came in were given a photo of the President and a list of his accomplishments. Now they tell us what they think, positive or negative. They don't all leave here getting everything they ask for. But they do get the opportunity to participate in their Government." There has been some speculation that Midge, the outsider, would be the first to go. Thus far, though, there has been no complaint from the man next door.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page