Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

The Man Who Kept Opening Doors Until He Became the Doorkeeper

A self-proclaimed “political creature,” James T. “Jim” Molloy left an enduring mark on the Capitol during his decades in Washington. Using a unique blend of scrappiness, charm, and his deep roots in New York state politics, Molloy created a network of allies who vaulted him to one of the most influential staff positions on the Hill. After little more than five years working for the House, he won a prized appointment as the House Doorkeeper by ousting a longtime incumbent. Molloy assumed office, he recalled, feeling “like a kid in a candy store,” perfectly at home in a position that seemed made for the affable South Buffalo native.

Doorkeeper Jim Molloy 1977/tiles/non-collection/9/9-27-Molloy-LOC.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress This photo from May 3, 1977, pictures Jim Molloy fairly early in his career as Doorkeeper, predictably in the center of the action.
Jim Molloy was born on June 3, 1936, to Matthew Joseph Molloy, a firefighter and longshoreman, and Katherine Hayden, a homemaker. Molloy, raised in an Irish-Catholic family in South Buffalo, attended Catholic grammar school and graduated from Bishop Timon High School in 1954. After a brief stint at St. Bonaventure College, Molloy transferred to the local Jesuit school, Canisius College, where he graduated in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He studied law at St. John’s in New York City, but failed to pass the bar. Undeterred, Molloy turned to his real passion: politics.

Molloy reveled in the “sport” of politics in his predominantly Irish neighborhood. His father was a well-known and active union member in the tight-knit, blue-collar community. Another relative owned a popular local saloon and political stomping ground, “Fuzzy Molloy’s.” A third member of his extended family served as a local Democratic chairman. Jim Molloy watched and learned how name recognition and local alliances could lead to influence and power in an environment permeated by politics. He later observed of life in Buffalo, “an awful lot was built around the politics.” And local politics, he said, “was kind of like our family business.”

As a young man, Molloy, like his father, worked as a longshoreman and firefighter. While enrolled at Canisius, he successfully sued the state of New York to join the Buffalo fire department before the minimum age of 21. Molloy also directed the lifeguard assignments at the local YMCA pools and taught briefly in the Buffalo and Lackawanna schools. As the union representative for his firehouse and with his work on the docks, Molloy made valuable connections with ward politicians and established himself as a gregarious but tough local leader in South Buffalo. At the age of 27, Molloy made history as the youngest Democratic ward chairman in the state of New York.

Despite his active community involvement, Molloy grew restless. Eventually, his friendship with Joseph Crangle, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, helped him land a spot in the Erie County district attorney’s office in Buffalo. His work as an administrative assistant for the district attorney put Molloy in close touch with powerful local Democrats.

Molloy with Pages/tiles/non-collection/9/9-27-Molloy-Pages-PA2015_03_0009_FIXED.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Supervising the House Pages was one of Molloy’s many responsibilities as Doorkeeper.

“Are you interested in a job?”

After failing to pass the bar for a second time, Molloy, now in his early 30s, considered a change of scenery and a new career outside of Buffalo. Crangle, the local Democratic Party leader, and John Rooney, a veteran New York Congressman, paved his way to Washington, DC.

First elected to the House in 1944, Rooney represented a Brooklyn district for 30 years. During his three decades on Capitol Hill, he served on the powerful Appropriations Committee where he chaired the Subcommittee for the Departments of State, Justice, and the Judiciary. Rooney also ran New York’s patronage operation in the House, dispensing jobs to fellow New Yorkers active in the state’s political machine. One day, Molloy received an unexpected offer from Rooney at the behest of Crangle. “Rooney called me and asked me if I was interested in this job in Washington, DC—never, never even told me what the job was,” Molloy recalled. “ ‘Are you interested in this job?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ ” That day, Molloy flew to DC, met with Speaker John McCormack of Massachusetts, accepted the position, and resigned from the DA’s office. “And so that opened the door and I hit it off pretty good with McCormack,” Molloy remembered.

When he arrived at the Capitol, Molloy began work as the chief disbursing clerk for the House Finance Office. He oversaw payroll distribution for House employees and expense accounts for Member offices. Admittedly starstruck and in awe of his new surroundings, Molloy needed time to adjust to the national spotlight and complexities of the U.S. House.

Molloy soon thrived in the family-like House community of the 1970s which resembled the world he knew in Buffalo. On the Hill, Molloy organized luncheons, softball games, and social hours for staff. “See I did a lot of this back home around the saloon, the waterfront and all that, so it was just an extension of what I had done,” Molloy explained. “I had, I don’t want to say successful, but [it’s] what I liked and got me ahead of the game, so that part of it was all taken into this thing in the finance [office].”

Molloy spent six years in the finance office, helping make it more efficient and responsive to Members and staff. He dove into the complicated, tradition-bound, and in many ways, antiquated finance system, learning how to tweak and improve House disbursements. As the chief disbursing clerk, Molloy had access to the House Floor. He met and got to know the Members, excelling in one-on-one interactions and displaying a knack for anticipating what they wanted. “And I took it to the next level because of the floor provision. I dealt with the Members . . . ‘Here’s your check, sir,’ the whole bit. And I treat it at a very personal level. So, I would go to the [House] Floor every day.”

"Family Business'
James (Jim) T. Molloy, Doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives
Molloy on the Rostrum/tiles/non-collection/9/9-27-Molloy-Rostrum-PA2019_03_0043.xml
Quick Turnaround
James (Jim) T. Molloy, Doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives
"Family Business'
Jim Molloy explains his personal connection to politics.
James (Jim) T. Molloy, Doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives
July 10, 2010
Item 1/3
This photo shows Molloy seated alongside Clerk floor staff at the rostrum.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Item 2/3
Quick Turnaround
Jim Molloy recalls how he made a quick decision to accept a patronage position for the House of Representatives.
James (Jim) T. Molloy, Doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives
July 10, 2010
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Financial Officer

From 1969 to 1974, Molloy’s work in the finance office and active role in the Capitol Hill community raised his profile in the House. Eventually, he took it upon himself to upgrade his own title from chief disbursing clerk to finance officer. “I actually assumed the title of ‘finance officer’ because I liked that a lot and it sounded a lot better,” he recalled. “Actually had business cards printed on my own and if you wanted to get in a conversation with me, I would somehow let you know that I was the finance officer of the House of Representatives.” Although he considered running for elected office in Buffalo, Molloy now felt most at home on the Hill. It seemed like only a matter of time before he leveraged his connections to win a coveted position as a House Officer.

But one formidable obstacle stood in his way—William “Fishbait” Miller. First elected House Doorkeeper in 1949, “Fishbait” became a recognized name (and voice) across the nation for his boisterous introductions during Joint Sessions, most especially, when he presented visiting chief executives: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!” With the exception of two years when Republicans controlled the House during the 83rd Congress (1953–1955), Miller had served as Doorkeeper since 1949. He oversaw a sprawling, eclectic office of more than 300 employees that included Pages, barbers, mail clerks, and telephone operators. Unlike traditional House Officers who worked quietly behind the scenes, Fishbait yearned for the public spotlight—courted it—and relished the attention he received from Members, press, and the public. Over the years, Miller meticulously—many thought obsequiously—cultivated Representatives. Fixing eyeglasses, lighting cigarettes, landing prized tickets to sporting events—no request was too much for Miller, who prided himself on the personal care of Members.

Miller’s ceaseless quest for the limelight eventually soured Members’ appraisal of him. With the election of a reform-minded class of lawmakers—known as “Watergate Babies”—in 1974, Miller’s prospects dimmed. Seeking to make the House more responsive to junior Members, the large contingent of new Representatives revolted against entrenched, powerful committee chairs. They saw Miller, who owed his position to the old guard, as one more manifestation of an institution that was out of step with the times.

Gallery Pass/tiles/non-collection/9/9-27-Molloy-Gallery-2019_054_000_FIXED.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
As Doorkeeper, Molloy’s signature appeared on gallery passes for visitors to the House of Representatives.
Groomed in the sharp-elbowed world of ward politics, Molloy saw an opportunity and jumped at the chance to dethrone the longstanding Doorkeeper for the 94th Congress (1975–1977). Representative James Vincent Stanton of Ohio, an ally, offered to manage his campaign. “We had a similar background,” Molloy recalled of Stanton. “His father was a fireman, his brother was a fireman . . . and I met him through one of these check disbursing things on the [House] Floor.” In his tell-all memoir, Fishbait acknowledged the alliance between the Ohio lawmaker and his soon-to-be successor. “The word was that he was determined to get me out and put someone more to his liking, James Malloy [sic] chief of the Finance Division of the House, in my place.”

Molloy and Stanton ran a formidable campaign. Stanton used his standing among younger lawmakers to gather votes while Molloy doggedly tracked down Members to make personal appeals for his candidacy. “Go after them hard and strong” became Molloy’s approach. At the behest of Molloy and Stanton, supportive Representatives from larger state delegations (New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California) rallied colleagues to back Molloy’s candidacy and build momentum. Stanton also drafted an “anti-Fishbait” tally sheet to whip Representatives who held grudges against Miller for alleged slights as simple as having selected “a lousy seat” for a Member’s spouse during a Joint Session.

Molloy also benefited from the backing of the Burton brothers from northern California. First elected to Congress in 1964, Phil Burton—a towering and intimidating figure known for his intelligence and short temper—built a reputation as an institutional reformer. Burton’s desire to shake up the entrenched seniority system and bring “the winds of change” to the House fit well with Molloy’s campaign to oust Miller. Burton’s younger brother, John, who won election to the House in 1974 as part of the Watergate Baby class, helped Molloy gain traction among new Members who had no allegiance to Miller.

Molloy’s diligence paid off when the Democratic Caucus gathered to organize for the 94th Congress on December 2, 1974, voting for its leadership team and slate of House Officers. That day, Molloy beat Miller, 150 to 77—John Monahan, a tally clerk, captured 32 votes. Traditionally the election of House Officers generates little interest, but Molloy’s victory and Miller’s stunning downfall made national news.

Molloy and President Reagan/tiles/non-collection/9/9-27-Molloy-Reagan-PA2018_06_0013.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Accompanied by Sergeant-at-Arms Benjamin T. Guthrie, Molloy escorted President Ronald Reagan during one of his visits to the Capitol. In contrast to his predecessor, Representatives viewed Molloy as a less aggrandizing personality.

The Doorkeeper

Only 38 years old when he took charge of the Doorkeeper’s Office, Molloy’s youthful exuberance mirrored the mood that swept the House, propelled by the crop of new lawmakers elected in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. The House Doorkeeper’s responsibilities had grown to encompass numerous vital functions over the course of its nearly 200-year history. During Molloy’s 20 years on the job, he managed hundreds of employees who carried out a diverse range of tasks from chamber security to maintaining the cloakrooms. Like his predecessor, Molloy possessed a unique style on full display under the bright lights during Joint Sessions of Congress. With his distinctive New York accent and direct mannerisms, he ran the Doorkeeper’s Office much like a local political boss who understood the needs and nuances of the institution while keeping people happy. “He achieved all that national prominence in his own simple way,” his mentor Joseph Crangle observed. “It was his personality. Everybody liked Jim Molloy.”

But just as a moment of reform helped usher Molloy into the Doorkeeper’s office, a similar effort to modernize the House two decades later ended it. Following the 1994 elections, Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, leading the first Republican majority in 40 years, reorganized the House. Many of the processes that had evolved under the institution’s various officers were streamlined. And as part of that effort, the Office of the Doorkeeper, a position as old as the House itself, was abolished. Molloy’s tenure ended in January 1995 with the close of the 103rd Congress (1993–1995). After a career spent in Washington, Molloy eventually moved back to upstate New York. He died on July 19, 2011, in Rochester, New York.

Sources: “James (Jim) T. Molloy Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (20 July 2010); James Molloy, interview by Bruce Collins, Capitol Agenda, C-SPAN, 20 August 1989, https://www.c-span.org/video/?8784-1/house-representatives-doorkeeper; Atlanta Constitution, 3 December 1974; Boston Globe, 28 November 1974, 3 December 1974; Buffalo News, 19 July 2011; New York Times, 25 March 1971, 3 December 1974, 28 October 1975, 23 July 2011; Washington Post, 3 December 1974, 11 April 1983; William “Fishbait” Miller, Fishbait: The Memoirs of the Congressional Doorkeeper (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977).