OFF LIMITS

Queen for a day: All that congressional talk of welfare cuts so concerned Denver resident Clarissa Pinkola Estes that she contacted Congress herself, offering to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee as a living, breathing example of a welfare recipient.

"Either I'm a welfare queen, in which case I want a crown," Estes told the committee last month, "or I and hundreds of thousands of others are America's best dreams come true." In the five minutes alloted to her, she related the story of how she had been on welfare over two decades ago, in 1970-1971, when she was going through a divorce and trying to take care of her young daughters. "It was just enough to get across that ocean, a little raft that the people of America gave us so that we would cross that ocean between the underclass and the middle class," she said. "It was just a little raft, not a yacht, and we did our own rowing."

Estes's speech so moved the crowd that they gave her a standing ovation, and several members of the committee told her she should write a book.

Too late. Estes is the author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, a coast-to-coast hit that was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. But she didn't present herself to Congress as a successful author and cantadora (keeper of the old stories). She was there as a welfare success story. "Welfare for me was food stamps and well-baby care," Estes says. She was also part of a food-supplement program and remembers coming to the area now graced by Coors Field---when it was not exactly the hippest part of town--to collect her allotment of powdered milk, processed cheese and canned chicken. She also signed up for a federal work-study project; it was so successful she subsequently worked her way through a college degree and on to a Ph.D. in ethnoclinical psychology and a career in Jungian analysis and writing.

Estes will be back in Washington soon; Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey has asked her to testify before the Senate. This time, though, she'll be equipped. Since her testimony started airing on C-Span, Estes has started receiving crowns in the mail.

Family feud: Saturday's debate between mayoral candidates started off slow--Bob Crider wasn't able to attend because his mother was ill, and the audience was much smaller than Capitol Hill United Democrats had anticipated. Those who stuck around to the end, though, were treated to a classic jibe from Mayor Wellington Webb, who said that candidates who talk about improving the public schools should send their kids there. That jab could apply to only one candidate, Mary DeGroot, who sends her daughter to a private school. After Webb's snipe, DeGroot shot back, "Wellington, I won't talk about your children in this campaign and you don't talk about my child in this campaign."

There isn't much you can actually say about DeGroot's preteen daughter. Some of Webb's children, on the other hand, have popped up rather frequently in the news, most recently when Allen Webb was arrested for possession of crack cocaine.

Webb left the hall without responding to DeGroot's charge, but the debate is far from over. On Monday DeGroot fired off a letter to Webb, reminding him of the suggestion she'd made in a personal note after Allen's arrest that they keep their families out of the campaign. With this considerably less private letter, she enclosed a $10 check--so that Webb could replace the charts DeGroot had marked up Saturday during a dispute over police staffing.

 
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