When Curtis Prins set up an inquiry into money laudering last year, he had his star witness wear a hood -- all the better to dramatize the danger that stemmed from his soured relationship with the mob.
Likewise, when he arranged a hearing on a medal to honor the songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin, he brought in singer Tony Bennett to serenade lawmakers with Gershwin classics.
"Curt knows how to put on a show," said one of Mr. Prins' colleagues. But the 58-year-old staff director of the House Banking subcommittee on financial institutions knows more than that. He knows how Congress works, and he knows how to move legislation.
"Props are very useful," said Mr. Prins. "Eight or the thousand bills get introduced every Congress, and only 300 to 400 become law. So you have to do something to get your legislation out of the run-of-the-mill category."
At six-foot-six, the soft-spoken, silver-haired Mr. Prins is a towering presence among the legions of Capitol Hill aides who, for the most part, toil away in blissful anonymity. Mr. Prins, by contrast, is so assertive that colleagues took to calling him "Congressman Prins," a nickname intended to suggest that he had grown too big for his britches.
Among the Hill's most colorful aides, Mr. Prins once threatened to throw a fellow staffer out a window as Congress worked on the bill that raised deposit insurance coverage to $100,000. He is unapologetic, arguing that, if he "had thrown a few people out the window, maybe I could have saved the taxpayers a lot of money."
For all the controversy Mr. Prins can arouse, the aide to Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., won new respect in the early months of 1989 for organizing a series of hearings and subcommittee votes on the Bush administration's savings and loan bailout bill.
Lawmakers were concerned that Rep. Annunzio and Mr. Prins were both too close to the savings and loan industry and that they would use their new powwer on the financial institutions subcommittee to block essential reform.
Instead, members were treated to a measure of democracy that would have been unthinkable under the predecessor regime of rep. Fernad J. St Germain, the dictatorial Rhode Island Democrat who had chaired the subcommittee and its parent House Banking Committee.
Lawmakers were able to offer all the amendments they wanted -well over 100, as it turned out -and to debate each at length. When the process was ended, nobody complained about being shut out.
Tie to Annunzio
The tone of those hearings, a blend of democracy and efficiency, was repeated this year as the panel took up the administration's banking reform bill. Mr. Prins was given a large share of the credit.
a delicated golfer who once was managing editor of Golf magazine, Mr. Prins has spent 27 years on Capitol Hill, working with or for Rep. Annunzio almost from day one.
His power increased as Rep. Annunzio gained seniority. But for the banking industry, he moved to the center of the universe when Rep. Annunzio was elected chairman of the financial institutions subcommittee and Mr. Prins became its staff director.
The panel is crucial to financial institutions, since it gets first crack at almost all banking legislation.
Still, Mr. Prins has said he will probably leave Capitol Hill when Rep. Annunzio retires, and that could come next year as the veteran legislator runs in a newly drawn district that could pit him against rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means committee.
Some believe rep. Annunzio will retire voluntarily. Mr. Prins does not. "Mr. Annunzio has said he is running, period."
And Mr. Prins leaves no doubt that he believes the two of them will be back in 1993.