Press has said he wants to show his guests that Capitol Hill is “ more than a collection of government buildings. It’s a vibrant, colorful, active, diverse, warm and welcoming residential community with some great, well-informed and dedicated residents.” In this interview, Press traces his career from Catholic School, seminary, and study abroad to California politics, the “Summer of Love,” and his eventual arrival in Washington and the national political scene of television and podcast commentary.
Interview with Bill Press
Interview Date: February 14, 2023
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis
Photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke
This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.
START OF THE INTERVIEW
DEUTSCH: Okay, all right. This is Stephanie Deutsch. I’m with Bill Press. It is February 14, 2023, Valentine’s Day. [Randy Norton is also present to help operate recording equipment.]
PRESS: Happy Valentine’s.
DEUTSCH: Thank you. Thank you, Bill. It’s so much fun to be here with you.
PRESS: Thank you. Yeah. Neighbors.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, we’re neighbors.
PRESS: Long time.
DEUTSCH: Long time neighbors, long time friends. So, tell me where you grew up.
PRESS: I grew up in a small town on the banks of the Delaware River. In Delaware, of course. A little town called Delaware City. Twelve hundred people.
DEUTSCH: Can we stop for one minute? My pen just ran out.
PRESS: Mm. Do you need another one? We have …
DEUTSCH: This one will work.
PRESS: … plenty in the house.
DEUTSCH: Thank you. Twelve hundred people.
DEUTSCH: Small town.
PRESS: A segregated town. I was born in 1940, growing up in the 40s and 50s. There were a white school that I went to and a school a mile outside of town where the “colored kids”––if we were polite, that’s what we called them, otherwise, the “n word” was used a lot––walked out of town to their little one room schoolhouse.
DEUTSCH: And were you aware of that?
PRESS: I was aware of that but it was the way things were, if you will. Right? You know, it didn’t sink in that this was deadly wrong until my teenage years, I’d say. So there were white churches and Black churches and white shops and Black shops. It was a totally segregated town.
PRESS: Delaware was a border state. My father—If I’m telling you too much, let me know.
DEUTSCH: No, I love it.
PRESS: My grandfather was the mayor of Delaware City. My father became the mayor of Delaware City. My grandfather had a gas station, an Atlantic station. And my father, when he came home from World War II where he served in Japan, built his own, with his own hands his own gas station.
PRESS: An Esso station.
DEUTSCH: Okay. That dates it.
PRESS: Right. And he was the only business in town that would serve both Black and white customers. And not only serve them, but he would offer Black customers the opportunity to pay on credit.
PRESS: Which some did. At the end of the month, my mother would send out bills so that people didn’t have to pay for their gas every time they got gas. So, I was …
DEUTSCH: Were you aware of that as a conscious decision that he made?
PRESS: Yes, and I was proud of that and proud of him for that. But I also realized it was different. You know. He was bucking the trend. You know, my father also sponsored the first Black member of the Lions Club, which battle he lost. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: The Lions, which are supposed to be good citizens, I think.
PRESS: Of course, yeah. He also insisted that they move the Lions Club from wherever they were meeting to another restaurant which would agree to serve Black customers, although they still didn’t have a Black. He could not get the votes to …
PRESS: And they obviously rejected him, of course, only because of the color of his skin. So, I lived through that period and I went—maybe anticipating your next question—I went through grades one through seven. I was raised a Catholic, strict Catholic. Mass every Sunday, altar boy, the whole works, and then in the eighth grade I went to a private Catholic boys’ high school started there in Wilmington, Delaware, called Salesianum.
DEUTSCH: Did Joe Biden go to school with you?
PRESS: Joe Biden went to our competition. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Because you and Joe Biden are sort of contemporaries.
PRESS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. [Interviewer laughs.] He went to Archmere Academy. He and I joke about that. And I went to Salesianum. We were rivals.
DEUTSCH: Okay. What was the name of your school?
PRESS: It’s Salesianum, S-A-L-E-S- …
DEUTSCH: S-A-L-E-. From de Sales?
PRESS: Francis de Sales.
DEUTSCH: Sales …
PRESS: So, S-A-L-E-S-I-A-N-U-M.
DEUTSCH: I’m sure it’s probably in here [referring to a biography Press has given her].
PRESS: Yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: Okay. And he went to the—Biden went to the rival.
PRESS: He went to Archmere, Archmere Academy. Yeah. Roughly the same time, so we were ... And so I graduated and then I ... Wilmington is like half an hour away by car, maybe 15 miles.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. So, that was in Wilmington, your high school?
PRESS: That’s in Wilmington, the high school, right. So I commuted there every day and graduated from [Salesianum] in 1958.
DEUTSCH: What came then? College? In high school, what did you do? Did you do any particular activities? Were you an athlete or …
PRESS: Well actually that’s interesting because, yes. I go back to my high school once a year and teach a few classes. And I always joke that, in fact, I never left the high school because I was editor of the school paper. I was on the debate team.
DEUTSCH: Of course you were.
PRESS: Right, right. And I actually sang the lead in the high school musical.
DEUTSCH: Oh, boy. What was that?
PRESS: It was written by—I forget the name of it. It was written by the music teacher at school. [Interviewer laughs.] So it was not a Broadway show.
DEUTSCH: It wasn’t South Pacific.
PRESS: No. Exactly. [Both laugh.] Or Music Man or anything like that. No. But, so …
DEUTSCH: Okay, so you were a pretty all-around guy.
PRESS: And I was on the student council. So I was practicing politics, I was writing columns, and I was debating policy in high school and that’s what I’ve done for the rest of my life. Yeah. [Interviewer laughs.] So, as I say, I never left high school.
DEUTSCH: Right. “I never left high school.” However, when you graduated, you had to leave high school.
PRESS: I did. And I was very impressed by the priests who taught at Salesianum. They were called the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. So impressed by them that I decided I would join up. And I …
PRESS: … joined the seminary right after high school. And I was there …
DEUTSCH: Where was it?
PRESS: It was near ... The first place you go was ... So there are several steps. But I was there for the next nine years of my life.
PRESS: And the first two years …
DEUTSCH: With the intention of becoming a brother or the intention …
PRESS: A priest.
DEUTSCH: … of becoming a priest?
PRESS: Yeah. I was studying for the priesthood. And the first two years were spent in a little town called Childs, Maryland, which is just outside of Elkton. So that’s your first year of college actually. I went there. It was an extension of Catholic University. And, then, there’s a novitiate year which you’re a novice. Then I did two years of teaching high school. Now notice, I’m 20 years old now. [Both laugh.] I had kids in my class who were 19.
DEUTSCH: That must have been a little …
PRESS: They didn’t know I was only 20. So, two years of teaching at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia.
DEUTSCH: Father Judge. J-U-D-G-E?
PRESS: Father Judge. J-U-D-, yeah. So, you know, it’s like the army. You go where you’re sent. I mean I didn’t say, “I want to go to Father Judge.” No, I was assigned there. So, after that, I had one year of college. I was assigned to finish my college education at Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York. So we had a house of study in a little town called Lewiston, New York, where we all went to classes at Niagara University as seminarians. Niagara University is a …
DEUTSCH: Is a big …
PRESS: Is a big university, right? So we were just a block of guys that came on campus wearing our black cassocks and white collars and all that. So then I got my B[achelor of] A[rts] in philosophy and French major …
PRESS: … at Niagara. Right.
DEUTSCH: Where did the French come from?
PRESS: Well, I’d studied it. You know, I’d taken it in high school and I just loved it as a language and wanted to continue. So, I did French literature and conversation, everything at Niagara. But I had to take philosophy as my major, which I did. And then I was sent [laughs] again to ... At that time, the seminarians were assigned to study theology, and most of them were at Catholic University here. But a few were sent to Europe, including me. And the choices in Europe—again, not my choice, their choice—[were] Rome, Paderborn in Germany, or Fribourg in Switzerland, which is the French part of Switzerland. And that’s where I went. So I went to the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Fribourg is a bilingual city, beautiful city. Great university. So I studied two years of theology there and got my …
DEUTSCH: Oh, how wonderful.
PRESS: … bachelor’s in sacred theology from Fribourg. And that’s when I decided …
DEUTSCH: Now, when you say “sacred theology,” is that a special—I mean, isn’t all theology sacred?
PRESS: Yeah, yeah. It’s just what they call it. It’s STB, Sacred Theology Baccalaureate. I mean, in Latin, but Sacred Theology Baccalaureate. So, at that point, I decided ... I’d been thinking about it obviously for a while, you know, so I really wondered what I wanted to do with my life. The Oblates were a teaching order and they still are. They have high schools, mostly on the east coast but also in the Midwest and on the west coast. So, basically, I was destined to either be teaching theology in a university or to be teaching high school.
And I decided I really wanted—I wasn’t sure what, but I wanted to do something more than that with my life. And, so, I told them I wanted to leave. I’d been there nine years. So they convinced me that my—when I say “they,” it was my boss, the top Oblate, who was an American but who was in Rome. I went to see him and I said I wanted to leave. And he said, you know, “We’ve invested nine years in you, you’ve invested nine years in us. Let’s take a year off and think about it before you make a final decision.”
DEUTSCH: Ooh. That was kind of a …
PRESS: So, I said, “Okay. I’ll do that.” And I said, “What I want to do is I want to stay in France and I want to live in Paris [interviewer laughs] and get a job.” And he said, “No, if you’re going to do this, you have to go back to the United States.”
I certainly did not want to go back to my little town in Delaware. So, I said, “Okay, I’ll do that.” And then I went back to Fribourg. I had met some friends there, a couple from Malibu who were on sabbatical in Fribourg for a year and a young Dominican priest from San Francisco. And I talked to them and they both gave me lists of high schools in California where I might …
DEUTSCH: Get a job teaching?
PRESS: … apply for a job. So, I wrote a letter to a whole bunch of schools in southern California and northern California and I got two job offers. One of which was in San Francisco at Sacred Heart High School and I took the job and …
DEUTSCH: Okay. I just want to stop for a minute.
DEUTSCH: Was it—and this doesn’t really have to be in the interview. But was it a wrenching? I mean, I assume it was a fairly difficult decision.
PRESS: It was.
PRESS: Yeah, yeah. It was a tough decision because I had put a lot of time into it and I ...
DEUTSCH: Yeah. And it’s a major sort of reorientation.
PRESS: Yeah, yeah. And I did it with the help of a therapist at the time.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
PRESS: He helped lead me—he didn’t make the decision—but lead me to that decision. Yeah.
PRESS: Right. So I arrive in San Francisco with a …
DEUTSCH: And what was the school that offered you a job?
PRESS: Sacred Heart High School. A job teaching French because I was from—again, Fribourg is bilingual and I also studied German while I was there. I was, by that time, fluent in French. And that’s one thing I knew I could do. I could teach high school French. Not that, again, I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. But I knew …
DEUTSCH: But it would be a good transition to ...
PRESS: Right. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Wow. So, what year is it that you’re arriving in San Francisco?
PRESS: ’67, Summer of Love.
DEUTSCH: Ooo, ooo. Okay. This is a little bit of a different mood. [Laughs.]
PRESS: Going from the monastery to the Summer of Love was, yeah [both laugh], needless to say, night and day. Yeah. And what’s interesting is that I was a seminarian in hiding. Nobody knew, except the principal of the high school, that I was actually in a trial year. And still a seminarian.
DEUTSCH: Oh, you were still a seminarian.
PRESS: Yeah. Because remember I’d said I’d take this year off.
DEUTSCH: But I thought he said you had to—oh, you had to go to the States but you could do this. Okay.
PRESS: Yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: So, you were a seminarian in hiding.
PRESS: Yeah, right.
DEUTSCH: You were pretending to be …
PRESS: Yeah. I wasn’t too concerned about living the life of a monk when I was living in the Summer of Love in San Francisco. [Laughs.]
PRESS: Without getting into any more details. But anyhow, at the end of that year I’d said, “No, I’m totally convinced I want to make a break.” Which I did.
And at the end of that first year, I was fired from my teaching job because I was wearing a peace button. I was ordered to remove my peace button because that was an evil influence on the high school students. Which was absurd. But, at any rate, it was a good parting of the ways. Again, I didn’t want to be teaching Catholic high school and by that time I had started to … I’d always been interested in politics. I remember riding around with my grandfather in his red pickup truck and …
DEUTSCH: When he was the mayor.
PRESS: … the fact that he was mayor, just, you know ... People would stop him, “Can we get that street light fixed?” Or, you know, “What about this pothole?” And, of course, he would say “Yeah, I’ll take care of it.” And I was always impressed with …
DEUTSCH: Dealing with issues that people cared about.
PRESS: Yeah. And the power this politician had, this mayor, you know. So I was always interested in politics. And in high school, again, I was on the student council, I debated the issues. I interviewed John F. Kennedy as a …
DEUTSCH: You did?
PRESS: … high school junior for our newspaper. You’ll see the picture in here [referring to the biography].
DEUTSCH: Oh, my god.
PRESS: So, I was very, very much interested, very interested in politics. During the seminary, it was no politics. Yeah. Didn’t talk about it, wasn’t old enough to vote. [Laughs.] Not involved at all. So when I got to San Francisco I could come out of my bubble and get involved. Which I did. And I volunteered in the Eugene McCarthy for President campaign. Spring of ’68. Then, [it was the] end of the school year, plus I’d been fired, but my contract went until the end of the summer so I had a salary and I had all my free time. So I volunteered full time for the McCarthy campaign and liked it so much that I thought, “If I could get a job in politics, now this is where I’d like to work.”
PRESS: And I did.
DEUTSCH: So, what’d you get?
PRESS: I got a job as the administrative assistant to a San Francisco County supervisor. San Francisco is a county and a city. They don’t have a city council. They have a board of supervisors. One of the members was Roger Boas, B-O-A-S. And he was looking for an administrative assistant. As he said, I didn’t know shit from Shinola about San Francisco politics [interviewer laughs] but I was available. He needed somebody.
So I became his administrative assistant at City Hall, San Francisco. And then, he was running for re-election and I ran his re-election campaign in 1969. And, by the way, back to Fribourg [and] my STB in Fribourg, UC Berkeley agreed to accept it as equivalent of a master’s. So I started working on my doctorate in theology at the Pacific School of Religion, which is part of UC Berkeley. So I was doing that and working running this campaign, working full time for Roger Boas, who was a very talented guy but also somewhat of an asshole.
DEUTSCH: I’m not going to put that in the article.
PRESS: Okay. So, I …
NORTON: It all gets recorded though.
PRESS: That’s true. I couldn’t wait. And we won. And the next day I resigned [laughs] and joined a campaign management firm founded by a campaign manager for Dianne Feinstein by the name of Sandy [Richard] Weiner. This was a citywide campaign. When he was running for re-election, there were, like, five open seats. There were a lot of candidates running. And this was her first run for public office. And that’s when I met her and became close friends. Sandy Weiner was her campaign manager, an older guy. I mean, yeah, “older.” He was probably in his 40s, right?
PRESS: And he started a campaign management firm and asked me to join him. So, it was Weiner and Company and I went to work for them with Sandy. We started that firm. [Coughs.] Pardon me. And I remember looking for office space in San Francisco. You know, getting furniture. We started from scratch.
One of our first candidates was a Republican supervisor from Marin County by the name of Peter Behr, B-E-H-R. Wonderful guy, environmentalist. I read about him in the paper, called him up. He invited me to have lunch and then he went to … It was really a wonderful kind of convergence. He liked me but he thought I didn’t have enough experience. So, he called Sandy Weiner and said, “I’d like to hire you to run my campaign,” and Sandy said, “Oh, good. I’ll do that, but I have somebody I want to work on your campaign I just hired named Bill Press.” Whoa.
So I end up, working under Sandy, running Peter’s campaign. Well, he was running not for re-election. He was running for state senate. So this is 1970. And I ran his campaign for state senate and he won.
I jumped over one thing. While I was working for or volunteering for Eugene McCarthy in the summer of ’68, I met—you know, we were all “Clean for Gene,” right? All kids who were inspired by McCarthy and, you know, went out of the way just to work for him as volunteers. And I met a young woman who came from Rhode Island to San Francisco for the summer to volunteer …
DEUTSCH: I think I know where we’re going with this.
PRESS: Right. [Laughs.] And, then …
DEUTSCH: She was volunteering, too?
PRESS: She was volunteering. And I was in charge of volunteers at the office. So I made sure that she had a position close to me in the campaign headquarters. We were married in April ’69, while I was still working for Roger. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Did you go back to Rhode Island to get married? Did you get married …
PRESS: No, San Francisco. Mm-hmm. And her whole family came out. As did my family from Delaware. Carol.
Peter gets elected. He invites me to go to Sacramento as his chief of staff—I mean, not that I was that old, but I was a lifelong Democrat for how long my life was at that time—to work for this Republican senator. But he was what we call progressive today, right? He was a Republican but he was a big environmentalist and that was my interest, too. Right? So, saving the coastline, saving the wild rivers in California, saving the Sierras, everything fit. And he was the leading environmentalist in the legislature once he got there. He had run a campaign just before I met him to create the Point Reyes National Seashore. So, the article I read was about this guy who organized his campaign, a volunteer campaign. They created the National Seashore. I was very impressed by that and that’s why I wanted to reach out to him.
At any rate, here I am, I’m working on my doctorate, and I’ve got this job offer in Sacramento. And I went to the professor who was my mentor and, what’s the word? I don’t know. My director, if you will. The professor in charge—they were all assigned different doctoral candidates, right? And I went to him and I said, “I’ve got this real problem. I’ve got to make this decision. What do I do?” And he said, “If you don’t take that job in Sacramento, I’m going to take it.” [Both laugh.] “So my advice to you is quit your doctorate. This is really what you want to do. Forget about the doctorate.” Right? So I did.
DEUTSCH: Well, coming from a professor, that …
PRESS: Yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: And what did Carol say about—what did your bride say about moving to Sacramento?
PRESS: We were not sure. We were living in San Francisco in a great apartment, upper floor of a Victorian in San Francisco, with a marvelous view of the entire East Bay and the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz. It was spectacular. And Sacramento? Basically, a glorified cow town.
DEUTSCH: Not quite as pretty, not quite as pretty.
PRESS: Right, right. Not at all. So we decided that we liked Peter and it was a great, great opportunity. We decided we would try it for a year. By this time Mark was born, in November of ’70. So, we went to Sacramento, rented a little house for a year. And figured we’d stay there about a year and then go back to San Francisco. Which is not what happened, but you never know, right?
DEUTSCH: You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.
PRESS: Yes, exactly. So I worked for Peter for two years as his chief of staff. Very exciting time. I’m jumping over a lot because …
DEUTSCH: Yeah, I don’t need …
PRESS: …you don’t need to know all of those details.
DEUTSCH: And it will be in here [the biography].
PRESS: Then I was recruited to serve as the head of a state-wide environmental organization called the Planning and Conservation League, PCL, Planning and Conservation League. It was the political lobbying arm of the environmental movement in California. All the organizations, including the Sierra Club—Sierra Club had its own lobbyists, but every organization, including the Sierra Club, belonged to PCL. I was the lobbyist for the combined environmental organizations. Executive director and lobbyist for two years. This is 1972 to 1974. A little longer, maybe ’73 to ’75 actually.
In 1974, I met Jerry Brown, who was running for governor. Did not support him. We supported the speaker of the Assembly whose name was Bob Moretti, because he carried our legislation. He carried our environmental legislation. He was thinking of running for governor and he wanted some good props in the environmental area, so we supported him. But once Jerry won the primary, won the general, [he] then offered me the job to be his head of an office called the Office of Planning and Research. It’s not what it sounds like. It’s really the policy office of the governor’s office. It’s part of the governor’s office and it has one function, one department which is the liaison between the state government and county and city plans. They all have to have plans for zoning and all that kind of …
DEUTSCH: Sounds really important.
PRESS: And that was sort of the administrative responsibility of the office. But the other side of the office was basically a think tank for the governor. And for Jerry Brown—no, he was the think tank. [Both laugh.] He’d just spout it off. He had so many ... It was a very exciting time. So many ideas in so many different directions. And we served as a filter, you know. He would come up with some idea and call me in and lay it out and say, “I want you to work this out, develop it.” Or, if somebody else came in, like one of the other cabinet secretaries with an idea, he would call me in and say, “Here, take this and look it over and tell me what you think about it.”
PRESS: So it was a very exciting time because whether it was transportation or energy or health care [or] education, we were in the middle of it, you know. Yeah, yeah. For the youngest and the smartest and the most charismatic and popular governor in the country at the time. Who was all of 35 years old. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Wow. I had sort of forgotten that. I mean, of course, I remember him but I didn’t remember that he was so young.
PRESS: Yeah. Then he ran for president …
PRESS: … two years into his term, 1976.
DEUTSCH: That was a little bit of overreach maybe, but …
PRESS: A little premature. ’76. And as head of …
DEUTSCH: Another governor won.
PRESS: Right. As head of his policy office, I had lots of things on my plate at the time, major legislation that was moving through the legislature. But he yanked me out of that job and took me off on the campaign for almost all of … The day after he won the Maryland primary, which was, you know, March, April, whatever, I went into his office for a meeting I thought on coastal legislation and an hour later I was on a plane with him to Oregon and I was the deputy of the Oregon campaign. And I came home nine months later.
PRESS: Yeah. I went to Portland with the clothes on my back. Not even a toothbrush. I mean, clothes on my back, right. Carol put clothes …
DEUTSCH: “Could you send me a care package?”
PRESS: … in a suitcase on a Greyhound. [Both laugh.] And I went out in Portland and bought whatever I needed until my suitcase arrived.
DEUTSCH: What an amazing experience.
PRESS: Yeah. That was the kind of life under Jerry Brown that you kind of—yeah. So, I came back and then picked up my position again until 1979 and, then, I thought I really wanted to do something more. As much as I loved that job, I wanted to do something on my own. I‘d been a chief of staff for somebody, you know. I’d been an administrative assistant to somebody. I’d been a policy director for a governor. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I just told Jerry I was looking for something I could do on my own.
There was a bill that we were pushing through the legislature. We knew we couldn’t get the votes for it. And I said, “I’ll tell you what, Jerry. Why don’t I do this? How about if I quit and I lead an initiative campaign to get that passed by the people because the legislature won’t pass it?” It was a bill way ahead of its time, I guess, to tax the excess profits of oil companies—they were making so much money at that time—and use that for mass transit.
PRESS: Yeah. The campaign was called Tax Big Oil. And we very successfully got enough signatures to get it on the ballot and we raised a good deal of money. But the oil companies really emptied their tanks, as you can imagine, with ads against us. So, lost. By this time Carol and I had built a house and moved to Marin County, in Inverness, a house we still have. And, so, there I am in Inverness without a job.
DEUTSCH: Two kids by now?
PRESS: Two kids by now. And so I decided, you know, “Politics, I’ve had a lot of fun at that.” I obviously had done a lot of interviews and written a lot of op-ed pieces as part of my job. You know, “Maybe I’ll try the media. And why not television because you reach more people on television than through print or radio?”
So I wrote a letter to—I didn’t know where to start but I decided I’d start at the number one station in the state and work my way down. And I wrote a letter to the number one station in the state, a guy I never met, news director of KABC in Los Angeles, and basically told him, “You may be number one right now but if you don’t hire me, you know …” [Interviewer laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Who can tell what will happen?
DEUTSCH: You’re having a unique opportunity.
PRESS: And he called me up and said, “You know, I’ve seen you on TV. Why don’t you come down.? Let’s talk.” I went down. He offered me a job. So, here I get a job in LA.
DEUTSCH: Oh, my god.
PRESS: We were, like, two or three months into our new house in Marin County and Carol said , “You may have a job in LA. I’m not moving to LA.” [Both laugh.] And Mark and David said, “We’re not moving to LA.” So, for nine years, I commuted between Marin County and LA.
DEUTSCH: Oh, my god.
PRESS: Doing nightly television in Los Angeles. And I arranged it so that I could tape—I wasn’t a reporter. I was a political commentator.
DEUTSCH: But you were on every night?
PRESS: Mm-hmm, for two and a half minutes in the news every night.
PRESS: Help yourself. You want … And I arranged that I could tape for Friday evening.
DEUTSCH: So, this is the local station or this is the …
PRESS: Yes, this is ABC Los Angeles, which was the number one station in the state and LA is the number two market in the country.
PRESS: New York, LA. So, you know, it was major. Again, the ABC, they called them “O and Os,” Owned and Operated.
PRESS: Yeah. And I did political commentary on the five o’clock news. It was two and half minutes but I would tape my piece for Friday so that I could go home Thursday evening after the five o’clock news. And, then, I would fly back down on Monday.
DEUTSCH: Wow. How old were your boys at this point?
PRESS: They were in grade school, yeah, in Point Reyes, which is right next to Inverness. Right. So, I did that for nine years.
PRESS: And, then, I ran for statewide office in California. I had to get politics out of my system. [Interviewer laughs.] You know, you have that itch, you have to scratch it. And I ran for … There had been another initiative I wasn’t involved with––I supported it––that made the office of insurance commissioner elected for the first time. It used to be appointed by the governor and it was always somebody from the insurance companies who were regulating the insurance companies. So, the big consumer movement, “Let’s make this elected and make it and make it a consumer affairs department,” which appealed to me.
DEUTSCH: “Make this guy work for us.”
PRESS: So I ran as a consumer advocate for the first time it was an elected position in the Democratic primary. Came in second. So, again, here I am, out of a job. But I went to work for another TV station in Los Angeles, another local station, Channel 13, which was KCOP. Again, doing political commentary.
DEUTSCH: Was your political commentary national? I mean, a lot of it was California based, I assume. But also …
PRESS: Whatever, whatever. Local, state, national. I could talk about whatever I wanted to talk about. And I did a lot of national because, you know, well, when I started Reagan was president. He’d been governor, you know, there was a lot of ...
DEUTSCH: Okay, right.
PRESS: Plus, this was, you know, Nicaragua, the Sandinista war, the Contra war. I mean, there were all kinds of things that people were very excited about. And, anyhow, we’re at Channel 13 and during that time, also, I got a call. Even though I’d been so involved in politics, I’d never been involved in the party. I was never a member of any party committee. I never went to a party meeting. I was just a Democrat, so I supported Democratic candidates. I ran as a Democratic candidate. I got the support of the California Democratic Party but I was never involved in it. But they needed somebody to run for chair of the party from Southern California. And even though I lived in Northern California, I was known because I was on television every night. And had an apartment in LA as a Southern California Democrat. So, I said, “Sure, why not?” and I ran for state chair and was elected the chair of the California Democratic Party. So I’m doing radio, I’m doing television—radio on the weekends, television at night––and, in the day, I’m volunteer, I might add, chair of the California Democratic Party.
PRESS: Which, yeah. A lot on my plate. And that kind of got me up to—I’m breezing through—to 1996. And one of my goals when I was at KABC in LA ... Yeah, I used to watch all those Sunday shows and I always thought, you know, “I could do that. Shit.” I kept trying. I’d get in touch with these guys. You know, “Why don’t you try somebody from outside the beltway once in a while?” Right? You know. [Interviewer laughs.] “I’ll come back, I’ll fly back, do one show or something, be a guest, whatever.” No. Never, no response. They didn’t care that everything stopped, you know, at Silver Spring or something.
DEUTSCH: Right. Exactly.
PRESS: [Laughs.]Yeah. So, I read in the LA Times, this is 1996, that [at] Crossfire, Michael Kinsley was leaving and they were interviewing who was going to take his place on the left. And it was a list of people, the same old names. I mean, Juan Williams, Bob Schrum, I forget who else. But they were all Washingtonians.
DEUTSCH: Sort of DC types.
PRESS: DC, yeah. DC. At most, maybe New York, right? But the Amtrak corridor, right? So, I called the executive director of Crossfire and said, you know, “Look, I’ve been doing commentary out here in LA. I talk about these issues. I know as much as they do and, you know, I’m not from Washington.”
And he had seen me debating Pat Buchanan at some book fair somewhere in the country. I didn’t even remember it. So, he remembered me from that—Rick Davis is his name—and he said, “Oh, yeah, I remember you. Well, let me think about it.” And he did. He called me up and he said, “Why don’t you come back and we’ll put you in the mix for the audition?”
So I came back and auditioned. I came back again. And I came back a third time. And then I got the job, co-host for Crossfire. And part of the deal was I had to resign as state chair of California, Democratic chair of California. I had to move to Washington, we had to move to Washington. And I was on every other week. So, Geraldine Ferraro …
DEUTSCH: Oh, gosh.
PRESS: … and I shared the seat on the left. And, so, Carol and I moved to Washington and bought this house on Capitol Hill.
DEUTSCH: Wow. How did you decide on Capitol Hill?
PRESS: Well, that’s a funny story, too. Because one of our best friends at the time was Dianne Feinstein and Dick Blum, her husband, who passed away a year ago. And, you know, Dick was one of the wealthiest people in the country and Dianne had a lot of wealth of her own thanks to her former husband, Dr. Feinstein. But, at any rate, they were well off and they lived in Kalorama. I remember, they first said, “Oh, this is so great. Well, you know you can’t live in the District because it’s not safe, so you ...”
DEUTSCH: Dianne said that?
PRESS: Mm-hmm, yeah. Dick, more Dick than Dianne. But you had to live in Potomac …
PRESS: No, Potomac or McLean.
DEUTSCH: Okay. [Laughs.]
PRESS: Well, first we couldn’t afford it. So, we had a house in LA. One of the things that I jumped over is, after our kids were off in high school, boarding school, Carol moved to LA. I stopped commuting. We bought a condo in LA. We still had our house in Inverness and she would go back and forth, but we lived in LA. So, we had a house in LA …
DEUTSCH: A house in Inverness.
PRESS: … a house in Inverness, and we needed a third house in Washington. Now CNN paid for the move. They did not pay for the house.
DEUTSCH: Right. The house in Potomac.
PRESS: Plus, even when I was in LA at KABC and at KCOP, I never lived more than ten minutes from the studio. I mean, I never used the freeways, you know. For me the idea of a long commute was out of the question. I wasn’t going to live all the way out there. And, plus, I love city life. So that was obvious.
So I said, “No, we’re going to live in the city.” “Well, then, oh, well, then ...” This is Dick again. “Well, you can’t live—you have to live in Kalorama. It’s the only safe place in the city.” [Interviewer laughs.] “Well, again, Dick, there’s just one little problem. Kalorama is a little outside of our range.”
So we had friends on the Hill, still live at 1316 East Capitol, the other side of Lincoln Park, who had been there probably by that time 15 years maybe.
DEUTSCH: Who was it?
PRESS: Jean Max and Jean Francois. Jean Max Guieu, G-U-I-E-U. Jean Max Guieu and Jean François Thibault.
DEUTSCH: Mm-hmm. Ils sont Français?
PRESS: Oui. Les deux Français. Jean Max est de Marseille et Jean François de Paris. And they said, “No, you really ought to look at the Hill. We’ve got this guy named Michael Tubbs, who’s our friend, who’s a realtor and who knows every house on the Hill.” And so Carol was doing all the leg ... We sublet an apartment up in Adams Morgan for a couple of months. But Carol did all the legwork and, you know, she came here, looked at this house, looked at a few other houses, and I was just operating by the old rule you never buy the first house you look at, right? I mean, whatever. But Carol said “No, I really like this house on Capitol Hill.” So, I came and looked at it and said, “Yeah. Sold.”
And then we met people, you know, on the Hill who said, “No, this is a great neighborhood,.” Like Max and Angela, our up the street, [said], “No, we raised our kids here and, you know, it’s great.”
DEUTSCH: Bonny [Wolf] and Michael [Levy] across the street.
PRESS: We met them after we moved in.
PRESS: But, you know, while we were looking, we just met some of the neighbors. And this house was owned by Mike Synar, the congressman from Oklahoma, young Democrat from Oklahoma. Died very early from a brain tumor.
DEUTSCH: He had owned this house?
PRESS: He owned this house, lived here. It was a two-story house at the time. Mike’s family was selling the house. And it was full of his furniture, his clothes, everything. Nothing had been taken out. Everything was here. And, so, we bought the house and here we are. We did all of this [renovation], opened all of this up. These were two little windows, ugly. Just some kind of sliding glass doors or something. And bars on them, you know. Yeah. A fence there and a little shack in back of it. So we opened this up and then we built the studio. And then, about 15 years ago, we added a third story.
NORTON: Let the record reflect that he is referring to the back of the house.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Beautiful.
PRESS: Right. Put all the French windows, French doors, here, that open up to the garden, and then built Carol’s weaving studio. And, we had a choice—well, we didn’t have a choice. We wanted to build a garage with the weaving studio above it. But at the time …
DEUTSCH: You couldn’t.
PRESS: … you could not have two stories back there.
PRESS: So, it was studio or the garage. And I had met the police chief through a labor union friend of mine, whatever his name was at the time. And I said, “What do you think?” And he said, “Oh, park on the street.” He said, you know …
DEUTSCH: “It’ll be fine.”
PRESS: He said, “Just don’t leave anything of value in sight and you’ll be fine.” Plus, Carol really needed a weaving studio, right?
PRESS: A place to work. And so we did. And we wanted to put a little bathroom out there, but, again, at the time, the code said no. You couldn’t have a bathroom but you could have a weaving studio. So we love this house and love the neighborhood and it’s just gotten better ever since we’ve been here.
DEUTSCH: So, what …
PRESS: So, I did, you know, Crossfire and now, after CNN, that was six years. Then I did MSNBC for three years with Pat Buchanan. Then I started my own radio-TV show for Current TV in the mornings, 6 to 9 a.m. And I did that for fourteen years.
PRESS: Then, I finally had done enough — I got tired of getting up at four o’clock in the morning.
PRESS: Yeah. So, two or three years ago I shifted, dropped the daily show and started doing what I do now, which is two podcasts a week, two columns a week, and other occasional stuff.
DEUTSCH: Where are the columns for?
PRESS: I write a column for The Hill every Tuesday, like today’s column up today.
PRESS: The other is for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. So, the Tribune has—they provide columns and, you know, editorial cartoons and all that kind of stuff to newspapers around the country.
PRESS: Yeah. I’m one of their columnists. And the podcast, the Bill Press Pod it’s called. I do one on Tuesday, an interview on Tuesday. Today’s interview is with Susan Glasser who writes a column for New Yorker magazine. Married to Peter Baker of The New York Times. She’s great. She’s the new—Remember Elizabeth Drew, of course, who used to do the “Letter from Washington”?
DEUTSCH: I certainly do.
PRESS: Yeah. So, Susan …
DEUTSCH: David Deutsch [interviewer’s husband] went to India with Elizabeth Drew.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, oh, yes.
PRESS: So, she does a column called “Letter from Biden’s Washington” every week for The New Yorker. I interviewed her yesterday. And, then, Friday I do a reporter’s round table with three Washington reporters, you know, from Politico or the Post or The Hill or wherever, NBC. I mean, we have about 50 reporters that we rotate.
DEUTSCH: And that’s radio or …
DEUTSCH: Podcast. That’s part of the podcast.
PRESS: Yeah. It’s all audio only.
PRESS: Yeah. And before COVID we did our reporter’s roundtable here in this house around that dining room table. And COVID hit and we started doing it online using the Zencastr [remote podcasting platform]. And we’ll never go back to being around this table because they prefer to do it at home, you know.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
PRESS: Yeah. They can do it in their pajamas. You know, they don’t have to take …
DEUTSCH: I’m sure you miss the collegiality of doing it here, but …
PRESS: Well, I do, but I don’t miss getting up early …
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah, making the coffee.
PRESS: … fixing the coffee, getting juice, getting bagels, getting, you know, fruit.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
PRESS: I mean, yeah.
DEUTSCH: So, at what point did the Hill Center enter your life?
PRESS: So, the Hill Center now, you would know more than I. What is it? Twelve years now, maybe?
DEUTSCH: Oh, it’s more than that.
PRESS: Is it?
DEUTSCH: Well, we can check what year it actually opened. [Hill Center opened in 2011 after several years of planning and development.]
PRESS: Okay. Well, I think I’ve been doing …
DEUTSCH: You’ve been there about ten years?
PRESS: Maybe 11. You know, Diana [Diana Ingraham, Executive Director, Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital] could fill in the blanks.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
PRESS: Okay. But the Hill Center came into our life soon after we moved here. You know, you cannot be on the Hill without escaping the attention of Nicky and Steve [Cymrot].
DEUTSCH: [Laughs.] Right.
PRESS: God love her. I mean, she’s just a force of nature.
PRESS: And I remember they got in touch and wanted to talk and, you know, we had coffee somewhere. I forget. And they told us about their dream of this Hill Center. And they were raising money very successfully through the Congress and through the City Council but also asking individuals on the Hill. We loved the idea.
Just backing up, my first awareness of the building was shortly after I got here. Again, you meet somebody and it ends up [involving] something you’d never have thought about. But I became part of the kitchen cabinet for Tony Williams when he was mayor.
PRESS: It was a small group of us. And Ted Leonsis [DC businessman and investor] was one of them …
DEUTSCH: How interesting.
PRESS: And we used to meet with Tony at The George Town Club maybe once a month. It was off the record. And he would just talk about things he was dealing with and then ask our advice. A whole range of things, you know.
DEUTSCH: Tony Williams?
PRESS: Tony Williams.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
PRESS: Yeah, the mayor.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Oh, I remember him well.
PRESS: And one night the issue was, “There’s this building on Capitol Hill which is rundown and unoccupied and …”
DEUTSCH: Full of pigeons.
PRESS: “… nobody knows what to do with. And somebody’s proposed making it the mayor’s residence.” And so, I said, “Well, shit, I live not that far away. I’ll take a look at it. You know, I’ll take a look at it,” whatever. It was pretty rundown, as you know, at the time.
DEUTSCH: Oh, yeah.
PRESS: The carriage house, as well, had all kinds of problems. Well, Diane [Williams, the mayor’s wife] ... [Laughs.] Tony got so far as bringing Diane over to take a look at it. She said. “No way.” So, that was dropped.
So anyhow, because of that I at least knew about the building. That idea went nowhere, thanks to Diane. She said there was no way she was going to live in that ...
DEUTSCH: Well, you know, it could have been a magnificent dwelling.
PRESS: Could be. Yeah. Or a lot of work to make it a living space. So, when Nicky and Steve Cymrot talked to us about [the Hill Center], the building, at the location, I said, “Well, this is the answer.”
DEUTSCH: This is a much better use of the building.
PRESS: So, flash forward, it’s, you know, inaugurated. I think we were all there when they did it.
PRESS: And, then, shortly after that, you know, Diana’s hired, and I don’t know whether they called me and invited me over or something. But Diana and Nicky and I, I remember meeting in that little office as you go in to the right. [We] talked about how I might help out with things.
PRESS: And I had always been impressed by and envious of the 92nd Street Y [New York, New York] and reading about the programs that they had there. And I said, “You know, we could do something like that here. And I’d be interested if you’re interested.” And, of course, they were. We kicked around a couple of ideas and decided, I think it was Nicky’s idea, to call it “Talk of the Hill”. And we launched.
DEUTSCH: Do you remember what the first interview was?
PRESS: Yeah. Brian Lamb.
DEUTSCH: Oh, boy.
PRESS: Who was a friend of mine and I thought, you know, C-SPAN, everybody watches C-SPAN. Everybody knows about C-SPAN. Brian didn’t do a lot of public speaking like that but he did do it for me. So, yeah. It launched and 11 years later … The goal was to do one a month. But, again, everything ... How many times have I said “before COVID,” “after COVID” ? Right?
PRESS: COVID changed everything. And so we couldn’t do one a month. We couldn’t do them in person. So we scaled back the number and did them all on ZOOM. And now, since COVID, we’ve done only two, I think. Two or three at the Hill Center. There was just an awkward period, “Well, is COVID over or isn’t it?”
DEUTSCH: Right. When people were kind of—yeah.
PRESS: “Will people come and feel comfortable wearing a mask?” There was no clear time when you could say, “Okay, from now on, we’re back just the way we were before.” In fact, we’re still not.
DEUTSCH: We’re still not? The one you did last night?
PRESS: I mean, I think in general the world is still not sure where we are.
DEUTSCH: But, last night, you had a hundred and some people there.
PRESS: Last night, we had 114 people. A wonderful event. But there were probably ten people in the audience wearing a mask the whole time.
DEUTSCH: I saw someone jogging the other day wearing a mask. And I was sort of, like, I mean, you’re outside. You’re really probably okay, but …
PRESS: Yeah. But it’s really worked—I think it’s worked out. I love doing it. I think it’s worked out really well and I think it’s given the Hill Center, you know, a good program that people are interested in. We always have a good turnout. But sadly, the room only holds a hundred people.
PRESS: I mean, yeah, you can squeeze in a few more, right? 120, maybe. And last night it was 114. Now, not every guest is going to get, you know, two or three hundred people, but sometimes we could handle …
DEUTSCH: Yeah. When you think back on all the interviews you’ve done, is there one or are there a couple that stand out as having worked particularly well or been particularly the right person for the right moment or … ?
PRESS: Well, first of all, we’ve had a great range of interviews, I think. You know, we’ve had members of Congress, US Senators, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, leading journalists, a bishop, a nun [laughs]. Everybody but sports figures, I guess, because I’m not really interested in sports. So. [Interviewer laughs.]
But I think the one that I’m most proud of and was probably the biggest success was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who’s such a great person and was so generous with her time and so warm and welcoming to the people who came. And, you know, she does this and I ... Well, it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen her do it, but it still strikes me. When questions [are asked], she gets up and walks through the crowd, you know. She doesn’t just sit up there. She likes to get right down and let them ask a question right to her face.
DEUTSCH: Oh, gosh.
PRESS: Talking, walking around. People were just blown away by her. We had an overflow room for her. That’s the only one we’ve had to do. That was great. But that would be, you know, my all-time favorite, I think. Yeah. But I’ll tell you what was very, very, very close, maybe equal billing, is Congressman John Lewis.
DEUTSCH: Oh, my god.
PRESS: He’s always been such a hero of mine.
DEUTSCH: Was it hard to get him?
PRESS: No, you know, it wasn’t hard. I had done a congressional delegation trip with him as a journalist through the civil [rights] sites––Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma––three or four days, which was so powerful, so remarkable. I got to know him a little bit on that trip and, anyhow, he came. And with him was Eleanor Holmes Norton, our congresswoman.
DEUTSCH: Mm-hmm. Who lives on the Hill.
PRESS: And neighbor. And I was really blown away. I had not realized what a leader she was as a young woman …
DEUTSCH: Oh, yes.
PRESS: … in the civil rights movement.
DEUTSCH: Wasn’t she one of the people who pulled together the March on Washington?
PRESS: Yes. Yes. So she and John Lewis telling stories about ... Look, they were both in their early 20s, you know. And they were friends in the early days of the civil rights movement. Hearing them talk about it was just so moving.
DEUTSCH: So, did she come the night ...
PRESS: She and John Lewis, right. I think she introduced him actually. I had her introduce him. And I didn’t realize their personal connection, right? Until that night. And hearing all those stories was just remarkable and so moving, so inspiring.
But, I mentioned, you know, Bishop Gene Robinson, who was the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. Sister––I’m blanking on her name now, but the head of the Nuns on the Bus––was the one nun that we had. Sister ... Oh, damn, damn. [Sister Simone Campbell]
DEUTSCH: I can look it up.
PRESS: Yeah. I’ll get it for you, too. And occasionally C-SPAN will cover. We also had, I’m thinking, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Chris Dodd, who also lives on the Hill, right? Justice Stephen Breyer. You know. And, then, this really outstanding …
DEUTSCH: I just—I blanked for a minute. Who? Chris Dodd.
PRESS: Chris Dodd.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Chris Dodd, of course. I used to see him trick or treating at my house. [Both laugh.] Yeah.
PRESS: And leading journalists like Robert Siegel from NPR [National Public Radio], Jane Mayer, again, from The New Yorker. And occasionally C-SPAN will cover them. I mean, we always invite them. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Who knows why?
So one night, one of the funniest, it was Nina Totenberg. [Interviewer laughs.] So Nina, whom I met and she didn’t—whatever—I don’t think she had her new book. At any rate, she was the guest. So Donald Trump’s in the White House and it was right after Donald Trump had said, you know, “We don’t need any more people from those shithole countries. We need more people, like, from Denmark and Sweden.” [Interviewer laughs.] You know, white people, right? And, you may recall, it became an issue as to whether or not reporters could use … [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Could use the word “shithole”?
PRESS: Could use the word. In print or on the air.
PRESS: Right. So I asked her what the rule was at NPR. I mean, I could say “shithole” at the Hill Center, right? [Laughs.]
PRESS: I asked her was it [allowed]. And she said, “Oh, my god, no!” She said that became a real issue. That absolutely not, that will not be allowed on the air. So she said, you know, “We had to use all these obscenity ‘s-blank,’ whatever, as ways around it.” [ Interviewer laughs.] And she said it was so awkward and the on-air talent really were so annoyed at this they finally went to whoever the manager was and said, “Look, everybody else is doing it, you know, we’ve got to do it.”
DEUTSCH: “We’re too prissy to …”
PRESS: And he said, “Okay.” So then, she said, “It was so great just to be able to say ‘shithole’!” [Interviewer laughs.] And then she told the funniest story. Robert Siegel had retired from “All Things Considered.” And Robert [laughs] heard them say “shithole” and he was so jealous that they could say this one. All the time he was on the air ... So he asked if he could come back [laughs] and do a show just so he could say “shithole” on the air. Oh, god, it was so [funny]. We laughed about this so much. And then, the program was over and this guy walks up to me and he said, “Oh, man, that is the most obscenity we’ve ever heard on C-SPAN.” [Interviewer laughs.] I didn’t know C-SPAN was there. They had forgotten to tell me, and Nina did not know C-SPAN was there.
DEUTSCH: Oh, dear. Oops.
PRESS: So, I said to Nina, “They forgot to tell us something.” Well, then, all we did was laugh about the fact that this was C-SPAN’s problem not our problem. [Both laugh.] So I did call Brian Lamb, but he didn’t care. C-SPAN, they can carry anything because we were quoting the president of the United States. But it was the wildest time.
But I, you know, I enjoy doing the program. I think people like it. And I think it’s good for me, it’s good for the Hill Center, it’s good for the community, and I hope and plan to do a lot more. I’m working right now on ... So, I decided I think maybe six a year is probably just about what I can handle now with everything else going on. I’m in touch with Pete Buttigieg.
DEUTSCH: Our neighbor.
PRESS: Last night we had Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy. I’ve been in touch with and trying to work down the date with Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation. And then I’m also working with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who was just thrown off of the Foreign [Affairs] Committee to see if I can convince her to …
DEUTSCH: Come on.
PRESS: And she’s interested. I’ve talked to her in person about it.
PRESS: She’s interested. We have to see if we can nail down a date. So. The next one I have booked is with Neil King, another neighbor, lives on Ninth Street. Former Wall Street Journal reporter who has a wonderful new book out about his adventure now almost two years ago. He walked from Washington, DC, from his house right here on Ninth Street to Central Park, New York. Twenty-six days and three hundred and fifty-some miles or whatever. And it’s a wonderful book called American Ramble.
DEUTSCH: American Ramble.
PRESS: Yeah, about the people he met, the communities he went through.
DEUTSCH: I love that name.
PRESS: He didn’t walk up I-95, right, I mean.
DEUTSCH: No. You wouldn’t.
PRESS: We think of walking there. No. He went up through Pennsylvania Dutch country, Revolutionary War country. So, Gettysburg, Trenton.
DEUTSCH: So he’s going to do one.
PRESS: Yeah. He’s booked on, I think, May 4, I think. Yeah. And it’s a wonderful book about American history, just about the people he met. But also about, as all travel books are basically, self-discovery as well, you know. When you’re walking that long you’ve got a lot of time to think about what life’s all about and what am I doing. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: So, you have a lot going on.
PRESS: And writing a new book.
DEUTSCH: Oh, god.
PRESS: So, yeah. So, since I’ve been in DC, I’ve published a collection of ... I‘ve done ten books, I guess is what I’m saying, nine of them written in this house. I published a collection of my commentaries in LA. So, that was my first book. But I’ve written nine books here and, right now, as you can see I’m sort of a book collector, hoarder, book hoarder. Over the years, I’ve built up a big collection. I started in LA and I’ve built a big collection of Charles Bukowski. David Deutsch.
DEUTSCH: [Laughs.] Yes, of course.
PRESS: And that led to, as part of that, the complete collection of Black Sparrow Press which published Charles Bukowski as the leading author, right? Their leading author. So last year I donated my Bukowski-Black Sparrow collection to the LA library, Los Angeles’ main public library.
DEUTSCH: Public Library.
PRESS: Yeah. And shipped off 92 boxes of books.
DEUTSCH: Oh, my goodness. 92 boxes.
PRESS: Yeah. So, they’re archiving the collection right now and we’re going to have an opening of the collection, I’m not sure whether this fall or next spring. And, as part of that, I’ve just about finished a book that I’ve written on Bukowski and me. Basically why I decided to collect him, why I like him, why I stuck with him. What he means to me basically. Bukowski and me. So a book unlike any of the other political ... Most of the others are political books about Trump or Bush or Obama or whatever. This is something totally different.
DEUTSCH: Bill, you have a lot of energy. [Laughs.]
PRESS: Yeah, yeah. [Laughs.] If you think somebody has energy, you should have seen Jennifer Granholm last night. God, she was on fire. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Well, I wish I had. Anything else you want to say about the neighborhood? Or about …
PRESS: Well, I love the neigh[borhood]. I mean, we love Capitol Hill, you know. You know, Hillary [Clinton’s quote], it takes a village. I mean Capitol Hill is a village. We’ve made the best friends on the Hill, right?
PRESS: Let’s see if I can name ... You’d know most of them, right? Just great people. The Eastern Market is such a treasure, you know, and to know the vendors there ... And the restaurant we walk [to] … We never leave the Hill basically. Why?
DEUTSCH: No, no, no. I was with people the other day and they mentioned a restaurant in Northwest and I said, “Well, we don’t go to restaurants in Northwest. Not because we don’t like them but we have restaurants.” [Both laugh.]
PRESS: Yeah, there’re so many choices here. I mean, we lost, as you know, I think our two best, Aqua al Due and Montmartre. But new ones have popped up. That’s kind of the cycle. That’s the way it is. And there’s still so many choices right here on the Hill. I mean, it is rare, rare, rare and with only great reluctance will we ever go to dinner where we have to either get on Metro or get in the car to go out to dinner. Why, when you can walk and … you know. So it’s just such a great [neighborhood].
The people are great and to be able to walk to the Capitol, walk down the Mall, right? Walk to Navy Yard, walk to the ball park. I’m sure there are other great neighborhoods in Washington but I think Capitol Hill is by far the best residential neighborhood. And the most, you know, the most walkable. I mean the best people, the greatest opportunities. We just love it. Yeah. The only complaint is if you move your car on a Saturday or Sunday when the Market is full and open, you might have to park two blocks away. BFD. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: And you face the challenge that I faced the other day of thinking, “Where is my car? I know it’s here somewhere, but where?” [Laughs.]
PRESS: You don’t have a garage?
DEUTSCH: No. We turned our garage into a storage room.
PRESS: Oh, oh, okay. Yeah. Well, we, as I told you, you know, that was our choice. We laugh about that because that’s the sole inconvenience.
DEUTSCH: That’s the …, yeah.
PRESS: Yeah. And, so, we loved the house so much, when we knew we needed a little more room, basically for our books—the third floor is a library plus our bedroom—rather than move from Capitol Hill we just decided …
DEUTSCH: Build a third floor!
PRESS: Build a third floor. Which we were able to do because this house was built in 1965 and it’s obviously not your typical Capitol Hill house. I don’t know what happened here. I think this house and the next one burned down or something. So these two were built in the 60s as opposed to ... Most of these houses are 19th century houses. And they’re all three stories. So for us to build a third story, we were conforming with the neighborhood.
DEUTSCH: Conforming rather than —yeah.
PRESS: Yeah. Carol did all of that work but it was easy, relatively easy. There was no opposition, right? And the City—pretty smoothly we got the permits. Because we wanted to stay here and we were able to stay here. And, glad that we did. Plus, then we put solar panels on the roof. So we’re like a little power plant here. We generate more electricity than we need and can use and we get a check from the solar people every thousand kilowatt hours, you know, for $400 bucks or something like that. Yeah. So, it’s …
DEUTSCH: Good. It’s all good.
PRESS: Yeah, it is. And now you can see there’re panels over there. Wally [Mlyniec] and Abby [Yochelson] just put a whole mess of panels on, much more than they need. Bonny and Michael.
DEUTSCH: Have they put the panels on?
PRESS: Yeah. They had panels on their roof probably a couple of years ago. They used the same company we did. Yeah, people are getting into it. Yeah. The one regret––we’re now trying to figure this out––is I’d like to get an electric car. But without a garage, you know ... The only thing we could do—and some people do this—is run an extension out across the sidewalk or up in the tree and down to the car. But that assumes you can find a parking place in front of the house, which is not, as you know, not always the case.
DEUTSCH: No, that’s not. My around-the-corner neighbor has solar panels and a garage with a charging station in it. But you do kind of need a garage for that.
PRESS: Yeah, yeah. So, once there are more charging stations in the neighborhood, maybe we’ll do that. But, again, we live in the city, right?
DEUTSCH: Yeah. We don’t need our car that much. You know, find a good parking place and it’s there a week later.
PRESS: I don’t know what we haven’t covered unless …
DEUTSCH: I think this is good.
PRESS: Really? Okay.
DEUTSCH: I think this is good. Are we done? Yeah. Okay.
END OF INTERVIEW
Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project
Bill Press Interview, February 14, 2023